We Test: Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG

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IOL mot dec13 test merc cla

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Mercedes CLA 45 AMG is a four-door coupe powered by a two-litre turbocharged petrol engine developing an extraordinary 265kW and 450Nm.

When a two-litre car became a recipient of the AMG badge, some old-timers must have choked on their tea and biscuits as they pondered how a puny little four-cylinder engine could be worthy of this hallowed high-performance insignia.

But when Mercedes-Benz slaps an AMG logo onto a car, it’s done its homework. Proving the adage that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight that matters, but the size of the fight in the dog, the AMG two-litre turbo whips out quite astonishing outputs of 265kW and 450Nm, making it the world’s most powerful four-cylinder engine in series production.

The new-generation A-Class became the first car to be hustled along by this twin-scroll turbo engine, and more recently it found a home in the new CLA coupé which was launched in South Africa two months ago. In both cases, the power’s laid down via a 7-speed Speedshift sports transmission and 4Matic all-wheel drive.

Power distribution is fully variable.

In normal driving the car’s pulled by its front wheels to save fuel, but 4Matic can split the torque up to 50:50 between the front and rear axles.

The AMG engine makes a great pairing with the sleek-looking CLA which, despite having four doors instead of two, looks more like a coupé than a sedan due to its fastback roof design.

IOL mot dec13 test merc cla rear

Sloping roofline looks sleek but bites into rear passenger headroom. Likewise, optional 19-inch rims look great but make ride rock hard.

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It presents very appealing eye candy, and looks even more spectacular in AMG trim with black alloys, ‘twin-blade’ grille and front splitter with oversized air intakes. The rear view looks similarly aggressive with its diffuser and twin rectangular tailpipes.

NO PRETENCE AT SUBTLETY

The interior styling also makes no pretence at subtlety with red seatbelts, red-striped bucket seats, and racing-style steering wheel, flattened at the bottom. Rear legroom is quite sufficient for adults, but there’s not a lot of headroom due to the slope of the roof. The boot’s a fairly handy size – helped by the fact that there’s no spare wheel – and the split rear seats fold down to expand luggage space.

The R679 017 pricetag includes a six-year/100 000km maintenance plan, and the standard toy count on the CLA 45 AMG is bountiful: air conditioning, radar-based collision prevention assist with adaptive brake assist, and a 20-CD audio system to mention just a handful.

POWER RUSH

There’s also an Attention Assist drowsiness detector, although drowsiness is probably the last thing you’ll experience in this car, which is a ball of fire-spitting enthusiasm. Because the engine’s paired with an automatic transmission, under normal driving there’s some initial turbo lag after which the power comes in with a very appealing rush.

IOL mot dec13 test merc cla int

Aimed at younger buyers, there is nothing subtle about the racy cockpit.

However, if a hot hatch lining up next to you at the traffic lights needs some educating, the CLA 45 has a Race Start function which first raises the revs and does away with the lag. With Race Start, our test car blitzed the 0-100km/h sprint in five seconds flat in our Gauteng altitude test, placing this ’lil demon in some elite sports-car company. Top speed is a governed 250km/h. Under normal driving, expect a fuel consumption of about 11 litres per 100km.

EMOTIVE SOUND

The AMG Speedshift seven-speed sports transmission has Comfort, Sports and Manual modes. When one of the latter two is selected there’s a sporty ‘burp’ from the AMG exhaust during gearshifts as the engine ignition is briefly interrupted. It gives this ballistic little Benz an emotive sound befitting an AMG badge.

The suspension’s uncompromisingly firm on bumpy roads, in a manner that threatens to dislodge teeth fillings. The CLA 45’s standard tyres are 235/40 R18s but our test car had optional 235/35 R19s which really magnified every surface imperfection. The resulting hard ride caused some interior rattles which were a little unbecoming for a Mercedes.

What it loses in ride quality the CLA 45 makes up for in corner-attacking ability, however.

Those firm springs ensure there’s minimal body roll in quick direction-changes. The car displays exceptional agility and traction, and is very forgiving of driver errors.

Unlike some earlier all-wheel drive cars which developed premature understeer, this Benz has a neutral poise when thrown through the curves, and harsh throttle inputs fail to elicit sudden under or oversteer, nor any torque steer.

The three-mode Electronic Stability Program can be left on, switched off, or set in a Sport Handling mode with limited electronic intervention. ESP Curve Dynamic Assist supplies braking intervention on the rear inside wheel.

A lot of high-tech goes into keeping this car on the road but it’s mostly imperceptible: all you feel is a car that stays beautifully planted to the road, hugging curves like an affectionate cat. Kudos also go to the meaty feel of the steering, which communicates brilliantly, and to the brakes which proved fade-free after several hard laps of our handling circuit.

VERDICT

The Mercedes CLA 45 AMG targets a younger customer group than previous AMG models, aged between 30 and the mid-40s - those fortunate enough to be be able to afford its R679 017 pricetag, that is.

This junior AMG car packs a wicked punch and sublime handling, with a cheeky bark to match. Does it deserve the AMG badge? Yes, in no uncertain terms, and this 265kW two-litre engine should forever put to rest the outdated belief that cubic capacity is what matters most in creating big power.

But rather than a comfy family sedan with a bit of a bite, the firm ride and cramped rear headroom make this more of a car for the dedicated enthusiast.

FACTS

Engine: Transverse Four, two-litre turbopetrol

Power: 265kW @ 6000rpm

Torque: 450Nm @ 2250-5000rpm

0-100km/h (Gauteng): 5.0 seconds

Top speed (limited): 250km/h

Consumption (claimed): 11 litres per 100km

Price: R679 017

Maintenance plan: Six-year/100 000km

- Star Motoring

Follow Denis Droppa on Twitter.


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