Rocket Sedan | Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG

BY Joel Tam

The stylish CLA45 AMG is the fastest compact sedan around. It's even got the luxury branding of a Mercedes-Benz. Unfortunately, the price is also rather 'luxurious'.

I've always been a fan of the CLA. While its avant-garde good looks are debatable, I'm sure everyone would agree that the CLA is still a stylish car that Mercedes-Benz designed without the rulebook.

The CLA 200 we tested earlier was a really nice drive too. A tad bit more pliant compared to its A-Class sibling, and classy enough to garner some attention from other road users, especially if it is specced in red and adorned with the Sport kit.

Well that brings us to our test car today, the 360 bhp CLA45 AMG. Essentially the fastest compact Mercedes money can buy, the CLA45 AMG is the second-most affordable AMG - the most affordable being the A45 AMG. But I would take the word 'affordable' with a pinch of salt though, because at $300,000, the CLA45 AMG is not exactly pocket change.
But let's see what all that money will get you shall we?

On the outside, the CLA45 looks pretty much like a Sport-kitted CLA. Which is, erm, not good. I expected flared arches and a fatter bodykit, but no. Put them side by side, and you would probably be very hard-pressed to tell the difference between a CLA45 AMG and a Sport-kitted CLA200 with AMG-styled wheels. Perhaps they are saving the more aggressive look for the Black Series? Whatever the case, your $300K is not getting you a very different looking CLA.

There are some racy red trimmings that you can opt for (which can be easily added on a regular CLA too I'm sure). But aside from those, the differences are subtle. Forgive me, but many car owners here in Singapore are very superficial. In a country where businessmen would buy the lowest grade C-Class just so they can proclaim that they own a Mercedes-Benz, 'red trimmings' are not going to cut it. An AMG should have more to set itself apart.

Step into the CLA45 though, and things do (thankfully) get better. The seats that we first saw in the A45 AMG, are simply the best around. Made by Recaro, they are luxurious and sporty at the same time.

Set your butt on the well-bolstered base and there's pretty much nowhere else you would rather be - guaranteed. They look oh-so sexy too!

Other controls are standard CLA fare. Lots of neutral-colored leather, red accents, aluminum highlights and the addition of alcantara on the sports steering wheel help to distinguish the AMG from its lesser family members.

The gear lever too, is AMG-specific. Embossed with the AMG crest and crafted with such precision, it looks like a work of art in itself. It serves to let you control the 7-speed AMG Speedshift Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT). Overall, the interior is a notable step up from the regular CLA, but it still can't compare to its more luxurious AMG stablemates.

When it comes to output, the CLA45 AMG's turbocharged engine is quite the powerhouse, delivering 360 bhp and 450 Nm of torque, making this pint-sized sedan the most powerful 4-cylinder in the world. To put all that power effectively onto the road, the CLA45 AMG comes with Merc's 4Matic's all-wheel-drive system.

It's undoubtedly very rapid, and it will cover lots of ground in not a lot of time. The CLA45 AMG will do 0-100 km/h in 4.5 seconds, and charge on till it hits a limited 250 km/h top speed. Somehow though, the CLA45 feels less taut than it's hatchback brother. Where the A45 AMG is flat around the corners and direct in the directional changes, the CLA45 seems to offer an experience that is a notch lower. It's not that it has traded it for comfort either, the car just feels slower to react from inputs by the driver.

However, that's not to say the CLA45 is a blunt tool. Oh, not at all. It will still grip and respond in a direct manner when chucked into a series of tight corners. The handling is predictable and the throttle response sharp, while the reworked 7-speed dual-clutch transmission is fast and precise, although a bit jerky in start-stop traffic. Driven hard, the exhaust will emit a loud and addictive burble with every upshift too, making it a really fun steer on multiple sensory levels. The beefy AMG brakes do a great job is killing speed too - as it should, considering how it goes fast so well.

So it's quick, it's loud and it's stylish. But the CLA45 AMG is ultimately not a satisfying drive. I'd pick the A45 AMG over this, it's cheaper and sharper overall. But then at $286K, the A45 is not exactly cheap either. Mercedes has done well to price their entry-level models attractively. You could get an A-Class for less than $150K, and the A250 Sport is tagged at a reasonable $180K. But once prices start to hover around the $300K range, I don't think these three-pointed star-badged cars will find many homes, AMG or not.