Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG India review, test drive
7th Jul 2014 4:30 am
Mercedes’ most affordable AMG model for India comes in the form of the swoopy CLA 45, packing one of the wildest four-cylinder engines around.
What is it?
A number of things. It’s the fifth AMG car to have been launched in India in the last 12 months, it’s the most affordable AMG you can buy here, and it’s also our introduction to the CLA-class – the compact sedan Mercedes will bring to India later on to rival the Audi A3. But while the ‘conventional’ CLA-class will be powered by petrol and diesel engines similar to the ones you get in the A-class and B-class, the engine under this car’s hood is a little bit special.
While every other current AMG car is powered by either a V8 or a V12 engine, the CLA 45 AMG sedan gets a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder motor. Now while that might sound like something you’d find in your run-of-the-mill executive sedan, it features direct injection and a twin-scroll turbo, which helps give it 355bhp and the title of most powerful production four-cylinder engine in the world. The ‘45’ in its name represents the 45.9kgm of torque it produces, which is something you’d only have seen in full-on sportscars not very long ago.
As for the car itself, the CLA is the sedan – or four-door coupé in Mercedes parlance – version of the A-class, and the family connection is plain to see. Viewed head on, you’d have to focus pretty hard to realise the headlights are a bit different from the hatchback. In profile, however, we’ll go along with Mercedes’ contradictory body-style definition, because although it has four frameless doors, the arced roofline does make it look like a coupé. It looks fabulous. Add to that the elegantly tapered boot with its subtle lid spoiler, and the CLA really does look like a shrunken CLS. Finally, this being the AMG version, there are a lot of ‘go-faster’ add-ons, like a meaty diffuser under the rear bumper, big 18-inch alloy wheels and large air intakes in the front bumper.
The dashboard will be familiar if you’ve ever been in an A-class, and that includes the beautiful rotary air vents, fantastic build and material quality, and the tablet-like screen for the COMAND system. There’s an Alcantara-trimmed AMG steering wheel that feels great in your hands, plenty of red stitching all over the cabin, and red seatbelts too. The gear selector, as with most AMGs, is a stubby lever on the centre console, rather than Mercedes’ usual steering-column stalk.
The front seats are pure sportscar stuff – electrically adjustable and heated Recaros that are very snug and just a tad too firmly cushioned. They look great, though and really make you feel like you’re in a proper performance car. The rear seat is quite similar to that of an A-class, albeit with a fair bit more legroom, and headroom is just about adequate for a sedan this small.
What is it like to drive?
Apart from the smaller displacement and lower cylinder count, the biggest difference between the CLA 45 and most AMGs is that it’s not rear-wheel drive. It uses Merc’s 4Matic four-wheel-drive system to help manage all that power better, but since it’s based on the A-class’ MFA platform, it’s primarily front-wheel drive, with additional power being sent rearward as and when necessary. As a result, there’s a lot of grip, but also a lot of understeer, and you have to drive it like a front-wheel-drive car to really get the most out of it. To properly tuck this nose-heavy car into a corner, it’s best to lift off, add some steering lock and then power through, rather than just flooring it round a bend. It’s at this point that you’ll also notice that the steering is a bit too light at speed, and doesn’t feed you much information from the road. This lightness is great in traffic though, and the CLA’s small dimensions (it’s about the size of a new Toyota Corolla) make it easy to manoeuvre.
The CLA’s body movements are also superbly contained when you’re being enthusiastic with it, and that’s all down to the way the suspension’s been set up. It’s not adjustable or adaptive like some of the bigger AMG cars, and the corollary of that good body control is a somewhat firm ride. It’s acceptable for a car with sporting intent to be stiffly sprung, and we’re sure the standard CLA will be a lot more comfortable, but the 45 AMG’s ride simply lacks the sophistication and flexibility of bigger sports sedans, including Merc’s own E 63. It also lacks a bit in refinement, letting in a lot of road noise at highway speeds, although you can’t argue about the fact that it feels very stable. You must, however, remember to ‘crab walk’ the car over big speed breakers or rumblers, as it has a long wheelbase and not a lot of ground clearance.
Finally, that engine. Five minutes in and you won’t doubt Mercedes’ lofty claims about it. Whether you’re attacking some corners or just cruising, there’s plenty of power available anywhere in the rev band. In fact, it’s easy to lose track of how fast you’re going if you don’t periodically check the speedo. That’s partly because there’s no perceivable step or shove in its delivery, just a great big surge from the get-go, with mild peaks around 2,000 and 4,000rpm.
Trouble is, apart from a small gurgle between gears when you’re really caning it, this engine doesn’t sound very sporty; in fact it’s quite refined by any standard. It’s not fair to compare it to the big V8s, but powerful as this motor is, that characteristic AMG ferocity is missing, which is a shame.
The transmission has three modes – Comfort, Sport and Manual – the last of which will hold gear until you pull one of the paddles. The gearbox is AMG’s Speedshift DCT – a seven-speed dual-clutch auto, and as a performance tool, it works really well. It’s quick to shift gears and not very harsh when it does. However, it fumbles a bit in slow, casual driving, where it sometimes misinterprets your inputs and gives you a gear too low. You can get used to it in time, however.
Should I buy one?
The CLA 45 doesn’t feel quite like a traditional AMG, lacking the drama and excitement that the bigger cars deliver so well. However, it’s important to remember that this is still a relatively practical four-door luxury sedan, with good equipment and a decent sized boot as well. It’s not what you’d call slow either, with the turbo four packing some serious punch. And of course, it looks absolutely amazing, and will doubtless part crowds anywhere you take it. The CLA 45 AMG is likely to cost in the region of Rs 70 lakh (ex-showroom) when it goes on sale, and that does seem like a lot for what is not a very large car. However, there aren’t too many all-out performance cars in this price range, and the CLA 45 makes a good stepping stone to the AMG club.