ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: The Mercedes-Benz CLA250 isn’t one of my favorite cars. Instead my entry-luxury money would be going towards an Audi A3, which I believe is better built, more refined and doesn’t have super small back-door openings that your rear passengers will inevitably conk their heads on while getting in or out. But how about this pumped-up CLA45 AMG? More power from the 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder and a host of handling improvements should excite me, right? It has… some.
The engine does make you chuckle when you let off the throttle and hear all the cool backfiring noises. It’s ridiculous, but amusing. What’s scary is the 26.1 pounds of boost AMG is pushing through the 2.0-liter four-cylinder to help make the 355 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. That’s a lot of pressure, but it’s required for that healthy power increase from 208 hp in the CLA250. The engine does get the CLA45 moving in a hurry, though. There’s a hesitation at launch when you roll onto the throttle from a stop, but after that the four-cylinder pulls hard up to redline.
We had this CLA45 out at Michigan International Speedway for an Autofile test and we managed to do a 4.3-second 0-60 mph run on a muggy 84-degree day, which is better than Benz’s claim of 4.5 seconds. The quarter-mile was done in 12.8 seconds at 109.5 mph. So the darn thing is quick.
Through MIS’ infield road course, the CLA45 displayed sharp turn-in with direct steering feel and nice feedback. The upgraded AMG suspension keeps body motions tidy and the 19-inch Dunlop Sport Maxx tires provided plenty of grip. Push the CLA45 a little too hard through bends, and you’ll start to push through corners, which isn’t a surprise for an all-wheel-drive vehicle. Brake performance didn’t fall off much, either, staying strong throughout the hot day, which is always a nice thing to see.
I will say this is a fun car to drive on a track, and the transmission performs quite well when you’re pedaling the car hard. Each flick of the steering wheel paddle shifters were followed by a great-sounding exhaust “blap.”
It’s a stiff ride on road, though. A long road trip would be manageable, but not something I would be thrilled about doing in the CLA45. The front Recaro sport bucket seats are comfortable in all situations from normal driving to the track where they do a decent job of holding you in place.
It’s also a good-looking piece, with all the added exterior AMG bits like the exclusive front fascia with large air dams, side sills and rear bumper. The rear at night with the LED lights is indeed a nice sight to see.
Some improvements that I think need to be made are dual-clutch gearbox’s behavior during normal driving. The lull at throttle tip-in is annoying, while Audi’s S-tronic in the A3/S3 does not suffer from that problem at all. And some of the interior pieces look and feel cheap.
Then there is, of course, the as-tested price of our CLA45 AMG, which punches in at $60K. That’s a lot of loot and puts you real close to base model 2015 BMW M3 for $62, 950. Forget about the almost $12K in options on our test car and the CLA45 is a little easier to handle at $48K. Would I pull the trigger at that price? I’m not so sure. Audi announced a $41, 995 base price for the 2015 S3. Yes, it’s down on power compared to the CLA45 with 292 hp, but I was impressed with just how solid a package it was when I did the first drive of it last year. Personally, I would probably sacrifice some power and save some money and have a S3 in my garage over the CLA45 AMG.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG comes in at a base price of $48, 375 with our tester topping off at $60, 095.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: I’m glad I had a chance to revisit the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG, since my first impressions weren’t exactly positive. This time, I tried to step back from my biases - based mostly, I’ll admit, on the fact that I have a hard time viewing Mercedes-Benz as a credible small-premium manufacturer - and look at the vehicle from an aspirational young buyer’s perspective.
There are some good things: An impressive little four-cylinder that’s eager to launch off the line, a snappy seven-speed dual-clutch that goes like a rocket once you can persuade it to move from a standstill (there’s that weird dual-clutch lagginess, but that’s not unique to this car).
And, of course, you get to casually lay that MB key fob down at the bar. Those in the know will be impressed by the AMG medallion on the back. For all they know, you’ve got a Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG parked around back.
Every time I lapsed into a meditative review of the car’s merits, though, the fart-can exhaust would cut in and ruin everything. The Fiat 500 Abarth sounds more mature, for heaven’s sake. I wouldn’t mind the sub-S-class material quality, including the patches of chintzy metallic panels covering large portions of the dash, if you weren’t paying Mercedes-Benz prices for it. I will say that even at base spec, this is nicer than what BMW uses in its stripper models.
I can’t deny that this is a fun car; even non-fans can still have a good time on the road in it. But as I said last time, what I like about this car is what I like about the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. You can get that car with a manual, though, and so what if the interior quality isn’t top shelf - it's a Mitsubishi! It’s supposed to feel high-strung, hopped up, tuned.
Benzes are, to me, about effortless power - AMGs even more so. The CLA45 AMG feels forced, and I’m not just talking about the turbochargers.