So, automotively speaking, if the standard CLA 200 or CLA 250 Sport don’t rock your boat, Mercedes-Benz will point you to what could assuredly be a better driving experience in the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 4MATIC.
The refreshed CLA 45 arrived in Malaysia last September with better styling and an upgraded interior. This, being an AMG car, it comes with performance upgrades.
The pre-facelift model was already powerful in its own right and the new one piles on the performance with an improved engine along with a retuned suspension, better aerodynamics and various cosmetic changes.
The engine is certainly impressive for the RM409K that’s traded for the car, which is a whopping RM172,000 premium over the base version.
We could think of many other ways to spend that money. Like getting a much bigger luxury car whose performance wouldn’t be shabby either. But big isn’t always what every car buyer wants.
There are those who like them small, light and powerful, the better to make ‘em dance to the driver’s steering and pedal input.
They are a select few who would think nothing of plonking down that amount of cash in the pursuit of motoring pleasure. And it is by its nature a selfish pursuit with little thought given to practicalities, which are best left to the one or two SUVs/MPVs parked in the family garage.
If a mini CLS-looking car with real performance chops grabs you, the CLA 45 is right up your alley. In the AMG realm, this fully imported model is “affordable” luxury, serving as a starter car to move up the AMG totem pole.
In this refresh, the numbers and feature set are made more appealing.
With 381hp (+21hp) and 475Nm (+25Nm) on tap, the CLA 45 remains arguably the most potent 2.0-litre car in town, accelerating from rest to 100kph in just 4.2 seconds, compared to 4.6s previously. Combined fuel consumption is 6.9l/100km though you would be hard put to achieve such low figure in reality, but that number is of cursory importance to those who pick the CLA 45.
This car was never bought because the owner wanted to save a bit of petrol. No, it’s for hedonistic pursuits, and the only thing that matter is to salve the itchy right foot by letting it loose on the go pedal as often as is desired out on the open road.
When it comes to thrust and low-end punch, this car, lowered as it is, can really go fast – and looks good doing so. Few would dispute that.
Thanks to a guy named Martin Topf, the engine of the test car purred as sweetly as a shopping addict after a satisfying retail therapy session. Topf is but one of a number of AMG technicians whose job is to hand-build each engine to completion under the Mercedes-AMG policy of "One Man — One Engine"
With the name plate of the technician affixed to each engine he builds, the AMG car owner will always know who personally assembled the heart of his ride. It’s one of the little charming touches of the AMG brand, you see.
On the outside, the CLA 45 is a figure of sporty aggression coupled to swoopy lines.
A big part of the huge cash outlay goes into the AMG mill but it also pays for the better detailing and muscular front and rear bumpers as well as 19-inch AMG light-alloy wheels.
The CLA 45 shows off a darkened diamond radiator grille with twin louvre finished in silver chrome. LED High Performance headlamps are standard where previously it wasn’t. The AMG front apron is now fashioned in a new A-wing design with front splitter inserts in matt titanium grey and high-gloss black flics that help to improve the flow of cooling air.
The rear diffuser insert comes with four vertical fins. A black AMG spoiler lip at the rear plus spoiler lips over the simulated air outlets on either side at the back round off the exterior.
Open the doors and frameless windows set the tone for entry into the cabin.
Like the muscular-looking exterior, the cabin is dramatised through the use of carbon fibre panelling and a dark interior that’s interspersed with red accents on the dash as well as the leather upholstery.
Seatbelts are fiery red and both rows of seats have red stitchings and detailing, which are more lavish for the sports seats upfront.
A beefy steering wheel with paddle shifters and studded pedals are standard fitment. Instrumentation is well laid out and within easy reach in a cabin that looks well put together.
Unlike the standard CLAs, the AMG variant gets a proper gear lever on the traditional centre console – as it should be - instead of a stalk behind the steering wheel.
It hooks up with AMG SPEEDSHIFT DCT 7-speed sports transmission that has shorter gear ratios this round. On top of that, the AMG DYNAMIC SELECT allows the driver to choose from different drive modes that modify the engine, transmission and steering behaviour according to his whims and fancies.
Look up and there’s a sunroof that is retractable on days when you want to let in the sun and the wind.
The front seats are what refined sport seats should look like, being purposeful and providing high lateral support when the car starts getting tossed into corners. Rear seats lack thigh support and are tight even though seats have been thinned a bit, proving that there’s only so much space you can carved out in a small car.
Besides, it’s often the case that back row passenger comfort plays second fiddle in many driver-oriented performance cars.
The saving grace is that for short trips, rear passengers should find it bearable.
From the piloting point of view, rearward vision is okay but is reduced to letterbox slot if the midship headrest in second row is raised.
On the other hand, there’s little to complain about the 470l of boot space which is reasonable in this class.
Wake up the engine, and it fires up with a pop and crackle from the quad pipes to remind all it's no ordinary runabout. With a little shiver, the car meshes the 7-speed dual clutch and gets going.
On the move, the enormous power and speed prove to be highly pleasurable especially with the accompanying soundtrack from the rear pipes, which take on a raspier tone from mid-range onwards.
The elevated exhaust note, however, may not be appreciated by neighbours on a quiet Sunday morning.
If there was any turbo lag, we didn't feel it as we rev the engine to quicken the pace. With this car, going fast is the default, and pottering along in crawling traffic is most vexing.
Few cars on local roads can match it for outright thrust and there's little danger of challengers overtaking it unless the CLA 45 driver allows them to.
AMG engineers have tuned the CLA 45 suspension to be a bit softer than the A 45, both of which share the same platform. While the A 45 is meant to be the hot hatch, the CLA 45 is presented as the more laid back sibling.
With drive to the four corners, the CLA 45 is grippy and predictable; steering is communicative with good road feel so you really know where the wheels are pointing.
The CLA 45 offers up four drive modes: “Comfort“ (C), "Sport" (S), "Sport+" (S+) and "Individual" (I). The Individual setting allows for full manual mode with shifting done via paddle shifters.
City driving with all the troublesome stop-start traffic it entails is best done in Comfort mode. Turn the heat up in the three other sportier modes and the car's dynamics sharpen up for the joyride.
The CLA 45 is in its element when tackling corners though there's some understeer when shoving the front-biased car around.
The 4MATIC system is able to shunt 100% of the torque to the front axle or split it 50:50 between the axles as required within milliseconds.
With performance cars like these, brakes have to be better than okay. In this regard, the CLA 45's stoppers are highly effective, showing minimal fade, as we worked the car hard during three days of driving.
As we returned the key to Mercedes-Benz, we could say without reservations that the CLA 45 is no pretender. Cloaked in curvy sheetmetal, it has the scope to be beastly at a moment's notice. As it was meant to be.