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AMG has been the performance wing of Mercedes for quite a while. Whenever MB wants to inject steroids into its cars, it sends them to AMG where they magically are transformed into fire-breathing dragons (err, well not really) but they sure sound like one. Having never driven one myself before, I thought it was time to tackle this phenomenon i.e. AMG and the best way is to start from the entry-level – the baby dragon aka the CLA 45 AMG (Check out prices and specs here).
The first thing that comes to mind when you see a CLA is that it looks a lot like the CLS – which in fact, is true. It is meant to be the little brother to the CLS and hence the naming as well – S being top whereas A being entry-level. So, basically, MB has squished the CLS and made CLA – with added stickers and carbon fiber side mirrors in addition to red accents wherever there was space available. Add to that black 19” Alloys and red brake calipers and you get a short “tough guy“ ready to fight.
My opinions are mixed in this area. I like the fact that the front seats are sporty yet comfortable but they poke the rear passengers in the knees as they are too hard from the back. I had to keep the seats forward so the people in the rear can sit peacefully. I also like the nappa leather surrounding but the red stitching and seatbelts are a turnoff. Moreover, the added road/wind noise at high speeds deflated the excitement. Overall, I wanted to like the environment inside (with the carbon fibre touches) but it did not feel like a sturdy built. In comparison, the Audi S3 is a quality place to be in.
Interior Space & Visibility
It is an entry level model so expect entry level spacing. As long as the rear passengers are not 6 foot tall and above, they will be good to go. Also, the sloping roof line and drive-shaft doesn’t help its case. So it is best to travel max with 4 occupants and a child in the middle to seat well. The boot, as well, isn’t that spacious. It is adequate in diameter but small in depth so expect to fit a few shopping bags and that’s it. Visibility is average at max and one has to rely on the various sensors provided to judge the surroundings.
MB has always been the pioneer of in-car tech and the CLA is no different. Having fitted in with almost all premium features, this car is absolutely class-leading. However, there are some features which I had expected but aren’t available. First and foremost, where are the electric seats? I mean, it is a Merc and no electric seats! Forget memory seating, simple 4-way driver electric seat will suffice. Instead of the seatbelt tightened automatically, I would love to adjust myself without levers in a car that costs 240K. Also, in my opinion, the adaptive cruise control option is not something expected and shouldn’t be included in an entry-level segment. Other than that, all remaining features are welcomed and do the job perfectly.
Power & transmission
This is where AMG shines; and it shines bright. A 2.0 liter 4 cylinder engine can produce 360 BHP and 450 Nm of torque. A 2.0 liter! That’s uncanny and mind-blowing. The magicians at AMG managed to create something spectacular that blows the competition out of the park. Nothing comes close to this – except the all-new Audi RS3 hatch with 362 BHP; but alas, it is not available here. With the new Focus RS and the Golf R400 on the way, things are bound to get interesting. Okay, coming back to the wonderful piece of engineering; this tiny block accelerates the CLA from 0-100 in 4.6 seconds – ofcourse with launch control. But, during testing, I managed to achieve 5.3s and not below that. The main culprit is the gearbox as the gear shifts require that optimal rpm. It is time for Merc to change its 7 speed gearbox and make a more responsive one as it is lagging behind all its competitors. Moreover, this constant high-revving engine does affect the fuel efficiency as well. In my test run, I managed a whopping 14.2 l/100 km. This is SUV territory – from a 2.0 liter engine. The best way to save fuel is to drive in ECO mode. Even then, I managed to average 10.2 l/100 km. AMG needs to look in this department as well.
Handling, Suspension & Brakes
This is one area where I can’t think of any negative comments at all. This little monster is beautiful to drive. It handles brilliantly – the AWD traction grips the car magnificently. The suspension is a bit stiff but easily bearable over long trips. And the brakes; oh my god, the brakes are just heavenly. The best brakes I have come across yet. From 100 to standstill is achieved in 2.7 seconds without twitching. Purely sublime!
Remember how the S3 did in our first drive?
The CLA 45 AMG is an amazing piece of engineering. It is indeed a marvel. The closest competitor is the Audi S3 which produces 290 BHP and no way as fun as this car. The S3 is poised whereas the CLA is explosive. However, as a consumer, the first thing I will notice is the price. The S3 is 150K whereas the CLA is 240K. That’s a 90K difference right there considering they are still compact sedans in the end. So, as an overall package and value for money, I will go with the S3.