When Mercedes-Benz sends a model to AMG for high-performance finishing school, it’s hardly news. But until the CLA, nearly every car to make the trip to Affalterbach was packing an engine with a “V” cylinder layout. (The C30 five-cylinder diesel was the lone exception, and it never made it stateside.) So when the power brokers at AMG began dropping not-so-subtle hints that they’d already had their way with the CLA’s inline four-cylinder powerplant, our curiosity was piqued. Would the result be a roguish, hair-triggered toy or a true CLS63 AMG mini-me, blending breathtaking power with Mercedes style and luxury?
Sound and Fury
If you’re expecting the deep-throated burble of its bigger AMG brethren on startup, you’ll be disappointed. The CLA45’s exhaust note at idle is more akin to an air compressor kicking on in the neighbor’s garage than a menacing V-8. But it would be a mistake to write it off on tone alone. AMG has managed to coax 355 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque from the 2.0-liter engine, much of it on the shoulders of a twin-scroll turbocharger capable of force-feeding the engine with up to a whopping 26.1 psi of boost. To make sure the internals stay contained under all that duress, AMG uses a special crankshaft, pistons, and a sand-cast aluminum block, which is stronger than the die-cast unit found in the pedestrian CLA250. A dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission with three driving modes funnels the prodigious output through a standard all-wheel-drive system.
By the time our test car cleared the order department, it had added the $2200 Premium package (satellite radio, dual-zone climate control, heated seats, Harman/Kardon premium audio, garage-door opener, compass, and auto-dimming mirrors), the $2370 Multimedia package (rearview camera; COMAND system and enhanced voice control with hard-drive nav, six-CD changer, 10-gig music storage, and SD card slot), and the Driver Assistance package (blind-spot warning, lane-keeping assist, and radar cruise control). From the à la carte menu we added Parktronic Advanced Assist for $970, the Carbon Fiber package (front splitter, side sill inserts, and rear fascia trim) for $950, and a panoramic sunroof for $1480. All in, our car’s as-tested price reached $58, 845, nearly double the $30, 825 base price of a rank-and-file CLA250.
Whether that price discrepancy will help or hurt sales is up for debate: Certain buyers likely will dismiss the CLA45 as a pretender to the AMG throne, but its comparatively low price and fresh perspective on performance might entice a demographic less burdened with preconceived notions about what those three letters stand for. Regardless of how the sales numbers ultimately sort out, it’s a good bet Mercedes will find at least a few people looking for a car with a three-pointed star on the nose and a weapons-grade four-cylinder under the hood.