When is a hot hatch not a hot hatch? When it’s a Mercedes CLA45 AMG. Beneath the skin of this musclebound four-door Merc coupe lies the guts of the AMG A45 we drove last month, reconstituted primarily for the US market, which doesn’t get the five-door. So while it might look like a traditional front-engined, rear-wheel-drive Benz, the CLA45 is powered by a transversely mounted turbocharged 2.0 four, delivering its efforts to all four wheels.
Those efforts include 355bhp which, AMG claims, gives the 45 motor the highest specific output of any road car engine save the V8 in the back of the McLaren P1. Pull the two shift paddles backwards to engage launch control and the thing explodes off the line to hit 62mph in 4.6sec and 100mph in only ten.
Is the CLA 45 AMG's rorty four-pot worthy of a Mercedes badge?
It’s a gem of an engine: not big on revs, but gutsy, largely lag-free and growly enough to sound like part of the AMG family, if not to get mistaken for one of the mighty V8s. And it is staggeringly economical given the level of performance, Mercedes claiming 41mpg and CO2 emissions of only 161g/km.
It’s an engine that deserves a slightly better transmission than the standard-fit seven-speeder, here fitted with a tunnel-mounted AMG-style shift lever in place of the cooking CLA’s column shifter. Flicking between Normal and Sport modes we struggled to find an auto mode to fit the bill, preferrring to shift ourselves.
So it's just an A45 with a bootlid?
Spring and damper rates are subtly different to the A45’s, but only to account for the difference in size and weight. AMG’s R&D boss Tobias Moers says the cars were designed to feel identical. Both share a firm ride and a steering rack with linear gearing, swapped in for the variable-gear rack on the regular CLA at Moers’ insistence. The response and weight build-up off centre, plus the lack of on-centre autobahn slop, are impressive, but a C63 is more descriptive of Tarmac texture.
The 4Matic four-wheel-drive system operates in front-drive mode in normal driving, shifting a maximum of 50% of torque rearwards when slip is detected, so it’s never going to feel like a tyre-smoking, tail-happy C63. But what it lacks in exuberance it makes up in agility, flicking from apex to apex with impressive ease given the rotund 1510kg kerbweight. A big lift will set the tail free, but understeer is the dominant on-limit characteristic.
Is the cabin fit for a £42,000 car?
Inside, the handsome, tactile dashboard is shared with the A45 hot hatchback, and rear legroom isn’t bad. But like the bigger CLS coupe its styling apes, a heavily sloping roofline means headroom is compromised.
That CLS connection, and the frameless door glass, helps cushion the pain of a £41,845 base price, which makes the CLA £4000 more than the A45 before you’ve added the visually essential 19in alloys. We can see the appeal, both are fine cars. But if you’re after the authentic AMG experience, the Merc used car locator was showing a six-month-old, 5000-mile C63 for £20 less…