AMG says it is an engine maker first and a car maker second; and what an engine this is. Making a record-busting 355bhp from a grand total of just two litres, it gives new meaning to the phrase “small but powerful”. And the headlining torque figure is pretty insane too; there’s a distinctly commercial vehicle-like 45.9kgm here (it’s why the engine is called the 45). That big turbo sure must be blowing hard into the engine.
Now I’ve driven plenty of high-specific-output turbo engines in the past. Normally there’s plenty of lag. You have to wait, wait and wait some more before the turbo finally wakes up and comes in with a whoosh, spitting you towards the horizon. But not here. This turbocharged four-cylinder under the hood is firing us at the horizon like we’ve been softly rear-ended by a locomotive. It feels progressive and linear, and there’s no real spike in power. What this car also has is an astonishing appetite for speed.
The following sequence plays out often. I wait for a big gap on the autobahn, take a deep breath and stomp down hard on the gas. There’s a small step-up in power at 2,000rpm and another at 4,000, but otherwise, the power delivery is smooth enough to be termed linear.
Initially, you feel a bit disappointed after a hard run-up to the redline in first and second. There should be more performance here, you tell yourself; and maybe there should.
The feeling goes away as soon as you get access to the higher gears. Now in its power band for a longer duration of time, the CLA 45 makes really good use of all that available grunt. It feels shockingly quick from around 80 to 180kph, the speedo needle arching across the dial like it is springloaded. And you can ‘feel’ the speed, even on the wide expanse of the autobahn. It pushes you firmly in the back every time you accelerate hard and that connection between the accelerator pedal and the seat back makes you feel great. AMG engineers may have dialled back the manic response of the engine (in comparison to the A45), but the CLA 45’s raw pace still comes through.
What’s actually odd is that even though it doesn’t feel all that quick, it is seriously rapid at lower speeds too. Its four-wheel-drive system helps it launch off the blocks and spool up to 100kph in just 4.6 seconds, a fruity, bass-heavy snarl accompanying the heady rush; that’s seriously quick by any standard. So, overall performance is right up there with what you expect from an AMG, especially when you use launch control.
What’s impressive is that the handling is just as good as a rear-wheel-drive car. Of course, being four-wheel drive, it approaches corners differently, and as a result feels a bit dull and wooden when driven at medium speeds. Yes, the steering is accurate and the car has a decent amount of grip, but to get to the really good stuff, you really have to drive it hard. You have to enter corners harder, turn the car in later and add power a bit earlier than you would in a car with rear-wheel drive. And that’s when the CLA 45 AMG truly wakes up and comes alive. Suddenly, the turn-in seems more positive, the balance around a corner feels just right, and the huge amounts of grip allow you to slingshot out of corners like being shot out of a cannon. Yes, it lacks the poise and balance of a rear-wheel-drive car, but this slightly altered driving experience feels so raw and transparent, going quicker is simply addictive.
What also makes the entire experience so much nicer is the specially kitted-out AMG cabin. The brushed aluminium instrument panel, the carbon-fibre trim and the metallic paddle shifters all make it feel special. What’s also different from the regular CLA cabin (otherwise virtually identical to that of the A-class) is the fact that the gear lever is back in the centre console on this car.
The CLA 45 AMG isn’t likely to be one of the most practical cars around, especially in our conditions. Yes, it has a large boot, which is practical, but it has a low chin that will need to be babied over speedbreakers. There’s relatively little space in the rear and the stiff ride isn’t likely to be perfect for our conditions either. None of that, however, is likely to matter too much. The car looks stunning, goes like a bomb and Mercedes is expected to price it competitively too; somewhere around Rs 85 lakh (ex-showroom). This just could be one of the most successful performance sedans sold here yet.