Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG review: Beware thy neighbour

Guerilla warfare? No, just a CLA 45 AMG driving past (Credit: CarBuyer Issue 220)
Guerilla warfare? No, just a CLA 45 AMG driving past (Credit: CarBuyer Issue 220)

Hands down, the raunchiest car on sale today has got to be the Mercedes A 45 AMG. It may be small, but it sounds and goes like a cat with firecrackers lodged in its bum*.

Just starting the engine makes the exhaust crackle, and owning one will cause your neighbours hate you because driving the car down a quiet street turns it into what sounds like a war zone. More to the point, the A 45 would beat a Porsche 911 in a race to 100km/h. Not bad for Mercedes’ first crack at a hot hatch.

The car you see here is a sister of that demented baby rocket. The CLA 45 AMG has the same 2.0-litre engine and the same all wheel-drive system, but it comes with two more doors than the A 45, for $10,000 extra.

Yet, given the DNA it shares with the A 45, the CLA 45 cuts a surprisingly low-key figure. Unlike its hatchback sibling, it doesn’t have a rear wing, and though there are prominent air scoops and vents in the bumpers, there isn’t much on the CLA 45 to single it out as a car that eats driving licences for breakfast.

Front seats look nicked from a racing car (Credit: CarBuyer Issue 220)
Front seats look nicked from a racing car (Credit: CarBuyer Issue 220)

Look inside and there are racy bucket seats, but outside there are fairly subtle ‘Turbo AMG’ badges on the front fenders, and the brake calipers are painted a lurid red. Those are pretty much the main clues to the car’s hell-raising streak.

Receive your big brake here (Credit: CarBuyer Issue 220)
Receive your big brake here (Credit: CarBuyer Issue 220)

Underestimate the CLA 45 AMG at your peril, however. You can’t squeeze blood from a stone, but if you’re Mercedes-AMG you can wring enough oomph from a little 2.0-litre engine to make it feel like something twice as big.

Mind you, it’s not just any engine. At Mercedes-AMG (Company motto: “Lunacy is the best policy”) all engines are built by hand — every motor that leaves the factory is signed by the person who bolted it together.

The one in the CLA 45 also happens to come with a large turbocharger plumbed into the works, to feed it with enough air to make it the most powerful 2.0-litre engine in production.

Thanks for the by-hand job, AMG (Credit: CarBuyer Issue 220)
Thanks for the by-hand job, AMG (Credit: CarBuyer Issue 220)

Accordingly, the Mercedes doesn’t exactly pull its punches when you step on the accelerator. Once you hit 3,000rpm, the CLA 45 whips into action like a berserker, charging at the horizon in a way that makes it seem intent on dislodging some of your vital organs.

It handles with similar alacrity, too, and makes good use of its broad, sticky tyres to cling to the tarmac like it thinks the laws of physics are a joke. And because all four wheels are powered by the engine, there’s never a moment when you flex your right foot a little too hard and make the tyres scrabble for traction.

As for those painted brakes? They bite ferociously.

Basically if you can’t drive fast in the CLA 45, it’ll be because you’re anatomically similar to Barbie’s boyfriend.

But for all that, there’s an element of wickedness missing from the CLA 45 AMG, compared to its hatchback sibling.

The A 45 AMG somehow prods you into maximum attack mode more readily, like a beefy pal who prowls the nightclubs with you looking for fights to get into. But the four-door seems altogether more sanguine. It’s marginally less eager to dive into bends, and the explosive sound from the exhaust is noticeably more distant than in the A 45.

Perhaps that’s a good thing — if nothing else, it means choosing a CLA 45 AMG over the A 45 AMG is that much more likely to let you hang onto your licence.

Mind you, as a useful sedan the CLA is a pretty poor choice. In the back, legroom is fine but the seatbacks are practically vertical, forcing passengers to sit bolt upright. The car’s swoopy silhouette means that there’s precious little headroom back there, too — not so great if you’re a living adult, but fine if you were once married to Henry VIII.

The suspension is tuned much more for sportiness than comfort, too. So hard and jiggly is the ride that the Mercedes feels like it has springs made of granite instead of steel.

That might be more acceptable in a market where the Mercedes is aimed at much younger people, since it’s unlikely to cost more than two years of a junior exec’s wages overseas. Given its pricing here (at $306,888 with COE) the CLA 45 AMG is likely to be scrutinised by a generally older and wealthier crowd instead, whose spines might not appreciate the abuse.

All that said, there’s nothing like a fast car to recapture a bit of youth, and there are few faster than the CLA 45 AMG, outside of the dedicated sportscar world.

It’ll probably sell better than the A 45 AMG here, either by virtue of the fact that four-door cars tend to outsell hatchbacks in Singapore anyway, or perhaps because its milder character is easier to live with overall.

Between the two, it’s the CLA that should offer a more sensible balance between outright performance and the constant temptation to be naughty. Choose wisely, but know one thing: your neighbours will hate you either way.

The view you're likely to see most often (Credit: CarBuyer Issue 220)
The view you're likely to see most often (Credit: CarBuyer Issue 220)

NEED TO KNOW: Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG
1,991cc turbo in-line four, 16V
MAX POWER 360bhp at 6.000rpm
MAX TORQUE 450Nm from 2,250 to 5,000rpm
GEARBOX 7-speed dual-clutch
TOP SPEED 250km/h (limited)
0-100KM/H 4.6 seconds
CO2 165g/km
PRICE $306,888 with COE

*Note: If you’re curious what that might be like, please head down to a Mercedes showroom and ask for a test drive. For the love of all that’s decent, don’t go looking for strays with a box of fireworks in tow.