Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 S 4MATIC road test

Tue, 30 Jul 2019

Mercedes-AMG has added yet another high-performance vehicle to its range with the introduction of the CLA 45 S 4MATIC+. The result is the fastest production CLA model ever.

The new CLA Coupe was introduced early 2019 and brought significant improvements in a number of areas with a new chassis, updated interior, revised engines and the latest generation infotainment. Now the AMG magic has been added to the mix to create a thunderous swoopy saloon. At the time of writing Mercedes-Benz were yet to confirm UK pricing, but did indicate a starting price of around £52,000 – close to that of the comparable Audi RS3 saloon and BMW M2 Competition.

As with the outgoing car the CLA 45 S AMG uses a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, but the motor itself is all-new and features a number of technical enhancements to improve performance and efficiency, most notably that its position under the bonnet has been rotated by 180 degrees for better aerodynamics and weight distribution. The result is what Mercedes-AMG claims is the world’s most-powerful four-cylinder engine, with 421PS and 500Nm of torque. The non-S version with slightly less power and torque will not be sold in the UK.

To harness the engine’s power the CLA 45 S comes with 4MATIC+ four-wheel-drive as standard, and for this particular model it has some additional features that enhance the driving experience still further. The key element is that the rear axle has two multi-plate clutches that allow the engine’s torque to be varied not only front to back but also side-to-side; that means better traction in tough conditions but also a ‘drift’ mode where the driver can indulge in big powerslides.

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Visually the CLA 45 S AMG is pumped up compared to the standard car, but in a relatively subtle way, with the distinctive AMG grille, power dome on the bonnet and wider wheelarches housing 19-inch wheels on S models. If you’re a fan of the CLA’s curvy appearance then the AMG version certainly enhances those looks, but if you’re seeking something with a more conventional appearance the Audi S3 saloon and BMW M2 coupe might be better options.

Inside the CLA 45 S AMG has supportive bucket seats finished in man-made leather, a host of yellow detailing, including on top of the chunky sports steering wheel, and AMG badging throughout. The latest generation MBUX infotainment system is also standard, with specific displays for the AMG model. There are many sub-menus and features to control, and the touchpads on the steering wheel are more fiddly to use than the controller on the centre console, although the system itself works well.

Overall the cabin is comfortable and stylish, although the CLA’s more dramatic design means that rear headroom is slightly reduced in the rear compared to the A45 hatchback. With 460 litres of space available in the boot it offers more space than the A45 with the rear seats in use, but only the hatchback offers the facility to fold the rear seats for carrying bigger loads.

Even though it is comfortable the fastest CLA to date, driving the AMG version requires no more effort than the standard car, at normal speeds at least. With the drive select set to the most comfortable settings, the power delivery is tame and the eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox shift smoothly and efficiently, although at motorway speeds eight gear can feel too tall, forcing it to shift down even for a slight increase in speed.

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It is a comfortable car to travel in too, with little wind noise and not much in the way of engine noise with the exhaust in its quiet mode. Ask for a little more acceleration and there is a pleasing mechanical gruffness at higher revs. The ride appears to be impressive, with a firm but comfortable quality over bumps of all sizes, although we will have to wait to drive the CLA on the UK’s poorer surfaces for a definitive judgement.

Getting the best out of the CLA 45 S AMG requires a little fiddling with the drive modes, with Sport+ and Race mode putting the throttle, gearbox, suspension and drivetrain in their most aggressive settings. Even then it proves to be a more balanced car than its predecessor, with less harshness to the ride quality and sharper, more responsive steering. The acceleration is certainly rapid, with 0-62mph possible in 4.0 seconds, although the engine does its best work at higher revs. Full-throttle upshifts are not completely smooth but super-quick, and in manual mode it responds quickly to reasonable requests.

What impresses most about the CLA 45 S AMG is the way the four-wheel-drive system works to fire the car out of a corner with full acceleration, adding more of the power to the outside wheel to keep it on line with zero fuss. Disengage all the safety system then engage drift mode and the CLA proves to be remarkable controlled, but this is best kept for the safety of the racetrack.

Ultimately the CLA 45 S AMG is a fast and hugely-capable performance car that is undemanding in normal driving too. The biggest issue is the substantial price tag, but with its key rivals costing similar money it may still prove to be a popular choice with performance enthusiasts.

The Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 goes on sale in mid-August with prices expected to start in the region of £52,000.

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