£43,245 - £45,115 Price range
The Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 is a compact four-door saloon, and the most powerful CLA on sale. Direct rivals include the Audi S3 Saloon and Subaru WRX STi, but it might also steal sales from the likes of the VW Golf R hatchback.
The CLA 45’s interior is made from expensive materials – and it’s very well put together. Rear passenger space is sub par though, a direct result of the eye-catching sloping roofline. Boot capacity is above the class average, though.
Some criticisms are leveled at the regular CLA for its firm ride, but it makes more sense in this AMG version, which has huge grip levels and an agile chassis, yet is comfortable on a long drive.
With 381hp on tap, the engine powering the CLA 45 is one of the most powerful four cylinder engines currently on sale, but it has noticeable turbo lag – if you prefer instant throttle response to explosive power delivery you’re better served by the Audi S3 Saloon.
All CLA 45s come with an extensive array of equipment that includes an intuitive infotainment system, park assist to aid with the poor rearward visibility, climate control, adaptive suspension and AMG branded everything – from the bodykit to the floor mats.
Inside, there isn’t too much of a difference between the CLA 45 and an AMG A-Class, but that’s not a bad thing because the cabin is very premium for this size of car. You get some classy touches such as the red stitching on the leather that covers half the dashboard and the gear selector looks like it’s been lifted straight from the £80,000 E63 AMG.
The infotainment system is relatively easy to use thanks to the rotary dial positioned on the centre console. That knob lets you navigate through the menus where you can adjust many things such as the car’s driving modes, your smartphone or the sound system. If anything it’s baffling why Mercedes decided to keep a full numeric keypad on the dashboard – it only makes it look dated next to the S3 Saloon’s cleaner cockpit. It also takes a good while to learn the slightly baffling menu layout.
Mercedes CLA passenger space
The CLA 45 has a low, sporty driving position. Plenty of electrical adjustment to the front seats means anyone can get comfortable easily, but that sporty seating position is a double edged sword, because you have less all-round visibility than in a S3 Saloon.
Things are worse in the back where the stylish roofline, combined with the small rear windows bring a sense of claustrophobia that isn’t helped by the mostly black interior. If you plan on regularly carrying passengers in your AMG, then the slightly larger C-Class 43 AMG is the one to go for.
Mercedes CLA boot space
Where the CLA 45 scores back some points is with its big boot. At 470 litres in capacity it’s only 10 litres behind the bigger Audi A4 Saloon. Compared to rivals, the CLA 45’s boot is larger than the Audi S3 Saloon’s 425, but only 10 litres larger than the Subaru WRX’s load bay.
The AMG 45 model gets an electronically controlled four-wheel-drive system that gets special traction and stability control calibrations allowing for a neutral handling balance that extends to controlled powerslides in slippery conditions. On a twisty stretch of rain-soaked road the Mercedes might not bring the sort of enjoyment a BMW M235i will, but you’ll be tucking into your second bratwurst by the time the M235i has completed the same set of corners.
Criticism is leveled at the standard CLA for being too firm for UK roads, but that is not the case with the 45 AMG, fitted with the optional £595 adaptive dampers. In Comfort, it’s no Rolls-Royce, but does a good job of dampening out the worst of potholes. Switch it to Race and there are very few performance cars that can keep up with the 45 AMG in the rain.
A 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol might seem a little ordinary for a Mercedes carrying the esteemed AMG badge. However, nothing is ordinary about 381hp, 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds and a 155mph (limited) top speed. The Mercedes even verges on frugal – fuel consumption of around 38mpg is deeply impressive for such a quick car.
The amazing power output is achieved by fitting a large turbocharger. It’s an old-school way of increasing power and that translates to the way the CLA 45 drives – after pressing the accelerator pedal there’s a noticeable delay before you are pinned into the driver’s seat with increasing force.
Compared to the howling straight six of a BMW M235i and the off-beat rumble of the WRX STI, the four-cylinder Mercedes isn’t the class leader in terms of sound. However, it’s one of the most harmonic four-cylinders currently on sale – something that is further enhanced by the pops and crackles of the £460 optional performance exhaust.
You get a lot of standard equipment including modern necessities such as climate control, park assist and selectable driving modes. Because it’s an AMG product you also get upgraded brakes and distinctive AMG styling.
However, optional equipment prices vary. For example you can get the AMG Aerodynamics package which adds small exterior details that make the CLA 45 really stand out for a reasonable £735, but if you want to raise the speed limiter to 168mph it will cost you £1,940, although that price includes a day’s instructor training at a circuit in mainland Europe.
Despite this there are some worthwhile options such as the £680 Harman Kardon sound system and the £1,870 Comand infotainment system with internet access and a larger 8-inch screen.
The CLA 45 has huge grip, an addictive engine, sleek styling and a big boot. Yes, it’s not the most spacious for passengers, the ride is definitely on the firm side and it’s quite expensive, but it’s a great starting point to AMG ownership where some cars carrying the three-letter badge easily surpass six figures.