Less than a decade ago, few compact cars were capable of accelerating from a standing start to the open road limit inside of 5sec, like BMW’s M3, for example. If you got something starting with a four, you’d head back home with a contented glow.
Nowadays, cars of this nature are rattling off low fours, and they’re not powered by 4.0L V8s any longer but with 2.0L turbo fours. Sure, the car to which we’re referring here, the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 Coupe, is a bit smaller than the M3 but for weight they’re virtually identical.
In the facelifted CLA 45 we achieved a best sprint time of 4.12sec, down from 4.62sec previously, which is incredible. Even with the latest M3 we only achieved a best of 4.47sec, yet both sport some form of launch control. The difference is that the AMG has all wheels driving, thanks to 4Matic, and that’s essentially the long and short of it; increasingly performance cars are heading down the 4WD route because rear drive cars simply cannot get the power down as well, nor grip as grimly. The M5 is headed down this path, like the E 63. Will the M3 follow?
Another reason the CLA is so quick is that its seven-speed double-clutch transmission in concert with Race Start gets it off the line and through the gears virtually without power interruption. Moreover, in the facelifted version, there’s more power (+15kW) and torque (up by 25Nm), the tallies now at 280kW and 475Nm, along with shorter gearing, enough to shave around 0.4sec from the dash to 100km/h.
Our best sprint time was a touch wind assisted but was more or less identical to that we achieved with the somewhat lighter (by 50kg) A 45 hatch variant. Its overtaking time, well inside of 3.0sec means you can get your passing manoeuvre done and dusted with just 78m of clear space on the wrong side; in most vehicles you wouldn’t dream of overtaking when you can with this, safely, not that others will necessarily see it that way. Still, they will likely be impressed by the crackle on the upshift which seems to occur when you’re right alongside their passenger window. It brings a grin to the face each time. Not so much, however, the harmonics off the PZero rubber at speed. Cabin SPLs were pretty well controlled at legal speeds, the average reading being 73.9dB over harsher surfaces. That’s more than acceptable given its spray-on PZeros.
Like the hatch variant, this is much better sorted in its second iteration. There are now five different driving modes available, along with various damper settings, and you can mix and match these to your heart’s content. In town, Comfort for both engine and suspension is fine, and out of town we often used comfort for suspension and sport for the engine, also particularly satisfying. For lone driving when you’re pushing the envelope, the second or third (Sport or Sport+) suspension setting is best, along with Sport Handling mode, ESP dialed right back.
The drive modes are so nicely sorted we didn’t often resort to using the paddles. But when we did they were a pleasure to use; the transmission quickly returns to the auto setting either by default, or simply by holding the right paddle momentarily. In the Sport mode, you’re not often in top gear when doing 100km/h, generally sixth, but that’s still tall enough for a reasonable mix of economy and hilarity. And with the coasting function we couldn’t believe the fuel readings we were seeing. Around 6L/100km is easily achieved on motorway cruising, and out of town about the worst we saw was 11.9L/100km overall (the quoted combined figure is 7.4L/100km). Mind you, on the drive day there was a fearsome crosswind hampering progress. Stability in that situation was impressive too, given this is hardly a sizeable car. We guess the improved aerodynamics package must be contributing (bigger splitter, diffuser and lip spoiler).
On the not side of the ledger, we found the alcantara-like lining on the D shaped wheel where your hands naturally slot a bit too slippery to grip easily, and the spot where you brace your left knee against the centre console is rather hard and unforgiving. When stopped at the lights, there’s a slight delay between application of gas and the turbo spooling up after idle stop fires the engine back up.
It’s a tad more expensive than when it first emerged the CLA 45, with a sticker price of $111,500 ($107,900 originally). That’s a fair bit for a compact car with limited rear headroom. Most of the extra is explained by added spec, like standard LED headlamps, performance exhaust, sports seats, uprated brakes, bigger wheels, and lane keep assist. To that we’d suggest adding $2k for the AMG Dynamic Plus package that includes a mechanical front limited slip differential. It made a big difference to dynamics of the A 45 so no doubt will do the same for the CLA 45.
Is it worth the extra over the A 45? What price style and exclusivity?
|Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 4Matic
|1991cc, IL4, T/DI, 280kW/475Nm
|7-speed twin-clutch, on-demand AWD