2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG First Test
The Bitty Benz with a Bite
AMG's engine laboratory in Affalterbach would probably impress NASA's top tinkerers. The impeccable workplace sits adjacent to the building housing the division's famous "one man, one engine" production line. "How's the new turbo four-cylinder coming along?" I bluntly asked a powertrain engineer during my laboratory tour. At the time -- last October -- the engine was a rumor. So too was the car it supposedly would power in the States. The car that would eventually become the Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG.
He smiled and looked around like a gossiping schoolboy, then whispered, "You'll be amazed at what's coming: its power, efficiency, and, yes, its sound." He smiled and shot me a thumbs-up. Could a four-cylinder AMG be a real AMG? AMGs are about torque on top of torque with a side of torque. They're dealers of tire destruction. They're autobahn annihilators.
One year later, I got my first crack at the final product, a 355-hp, 332 lb-ft of torque, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder codenamed M133 that's packed neatly inside the nose of the CLA45 AMG 4MATIC. The division's first engine with fewer than six cylinders is also the most powerful inline-four to ever propel a production car. It's a gem of a mill that's constructed to the same meticulous standards as AMG's mighty V-8s and V-12s, though it's done in Kölleda, Germany. Color me amazed.
At just 2250 rpm, every pound-foot is first routed through a newly developed seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, then directed to the brand's 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system tuned for AMG duty. The setup uses a two-part propeller shaft to route torque to the rear wheels via a multi-clutch rear differential when slip or hard cornering is detected. It's a front-wheel-drive car in normal circumstances for fuel economy's sake, but can ultimately split torque 50/50 between the front and rear axles.
I began questioning the engine's claimed power output as I cruised through some of Virginia's suburbs. For more than 350 horsepower, it's superbly calm. However, instances of powertrain confusion were created by jumping onto the throttle too quickly in fuel-sipping ECO start/stop mode. The gearbox and engine hiccupped, but they usually recovered quickly with a surge of smooth, hefty pull. If the pull wasn't enough, instantaneous -- almost imperceptible -- shifts and beautiful BRAAP BRAAP noises from the quad exhaust clearly indicated that the 45 means performance business. Few turbocharged cars of this caliber possess a gearbox that can match the hustle and silkiness of the CLA's.
There's a distinct lack of torque steer when jetting off from a stop, though the tires did slip some. The helm has a stout, progressive weightiness to it, but struggles to clearly communicate the nuances of the passing road. Our test team needed only 4.2 seconds to get the nearly 3600-pound CLA 45 to 60 mph from a dead stop. That's genuine sports car territory, ladies and gents, and it's faster than Mercedes' quoted 4.5 seconds.
In fact, spool the twin-scroll turbocharger to its full speed and the little Benz will keep up with a Bentley Continental GT V8 (4.2 seconds), BMW M5 (4.2), and Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE (4.3) from a stoplight. A quarter-mile sprint came in 12.7 seconds while travelling 108.3 mph. The brake pedal had an immediate -- almost too touchy -- initial bite, yet halted the sedan from 60 mph in a decent but not spectacular 109 feet.
On the skidpad, the CLA45 bests the C63 sedan with a 0.96 g (versus 0.94 g) lateral acceleration, and amazingly, matches its figure-eight lap time (24.9 seconds) with a higher average g load (0.79 g versus 0.78 g). The CLA can definitely dance and has a playfulness to it, but push it to 10/10ths and you'll notice it plowing into corners.
The CLA45 proved its AMG pedigree on winding roads. Engaging the Sport mode on the ESP and gearbox felt like the car was given an espresso IV . All of its ECU-calculated reactions immediately made excellent use of the tauter AMG-tweaked suspension. Its chiseled body barely leaned atop the underpinnings and grip stayed abundant. The exhaust barks are the best part of going hard. It's as if the pipes from a Lancer EVO X and a MINI Cooper JCW (Gatling gun backfires and all) had a baby. It's the sort of addictive, highly engineered exhaust sound that makes you grin like a three-toed sloth on hallucinogens. Also like the EVO and JCW: The CLA's suspension absorbs little and communicates a lot. It's not harsh, but if comfort is priority numero uno during a road trip, then grab the keys to your E350.
Our lunch spot doubled as an examination area. In approaching this latest "four-door coupe" from afar, you can't overlook AMG's signature touches: sharper aerodynamic bodywork with silver accents at its lower edges; blackened 18-inch alloys covering massive red-tinged AMG-spec brakes; a slightly lowered stance; quad exhaust peeking from an aggressive diffuser. The 45 has arrived at the entry-level luxury performance party dressed to the nines. Its physical charisma is unrivaled by its base brethren, and that's exactly how it should be.
Inside is a sporty space decorated with aptly placed carbon-fiber trim on the dash (a $950 option), MB-Tex faux leather, and standard power front seats that are highly capable body huggers. Our "well-equipped" tester included a $2300 Premium Package (iPod/USB media interface, heated seats, dual climate control, satellite radio), $2370 Multimedia Package (COMAND, rearview camera, six-disc changer), and $2500 Driver Assistance Package (Blind Spot Assist, Distronic cruise control, and Lane Keeping Assist). Radar-based Parktronic ($970) and a Panorama Sunroof ($1480) were added as well, though you could do without either.
So, who's the ideal buyer of this speedy Stuttgart sedan, err, coupe? Well, someone with a good amount of disposable income. Its base price is $47,450. Tack on all of our tester's options, plus a $925 handling charge, and that number quickly climbs to near-C63 levels. (The sedan starts at $62,875 with $925 handling and $1700 in gas-guzzler charges.) It's no democratizer of the brand, no "cheap" AMG, which to some shopping in the segment could be a turnoff. And it may take more than the usual one or two acceleration runs to pulverize its Continental rubber, and a few extra seconds for it to get to 60 mph. But the 45 is undeniably a successful custodian of the AMG name on multiple levels. And for certain buyers, that's all that matters.
|2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$58,945|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||2.0L/355-hp/332-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed twin-clutch auto.|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3599 lb (60/40%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||184.7 x 70.0 x 55.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.2 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||12.7 sec @ 108.3 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||109 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.96 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.9 sec @ 0.79 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||23/31 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||147/109 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.75 lb/mile|