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REVIEW: Is the CLA45 really deserving of the AMG badge?

2016-12-12 07:33

PROPER AMG: Though it is the 'baby' AMG sedan in SA, Wheels24 Charlen Raymond thinks the CLA45 AMG is a proper pocket rocket. Image: Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond

  Video

The SA-bound BMW M2 takes on another premium car at Germany's Hockenheim track - the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45. Watch as the two performance cars set lap times.

Charlen Raymond

Cape Town - Understand this: I am ‘one of those people’ who couldn’t give two ticks about opinionated environmentalists. Although, I do care about the environment, and that we all have to do our bit to preserve it, but the opinions of the aforementioned I can do without.

But when it comes to cars, and especially AMGs, I am of the opinion that something carrying these three letters should have a big engine and make a heck of a noise. I’m talking about a rumbling V8 on a cold winter’s morning that screams “Bloody murder!” when you open the taps. A recipe that sends kilo’s of CO2 into the air and runs through fuel faster than ice melting in Antarctica.

Regardless of how it steers or how dynamically inapt it is, as long as it’s a V8 AMG the world can pass me by. 

Unearthing the CLA45 AMG

So understand my internal dilemma when the Mercedes CLA45 AMG came to the office. For starters, it has all-wheel drive whereas other AMGs have rear-wheel drive. It has a smallish 2.0-litre engine with a turbo bolted on. And the ’45 AMG’ puts a smile on my face instead of a grin.

That’s just off the bat.

READ: Mercedes' updated CLA arrives in SA

Strangely, this AMG literally looks as if it carries a burbling V8 underneath its bonnet. And someone laying their eyes on the car for the first time or whom has little to no knowledge of AMGs, might just think this car has a big engine.

A video posted by Wheels24 (@wheels24_sa) on

Gripping design

And yet, when you look at this car, the evocative design involves you. Flaring wheel arches, a bulging bonnet, gaping front air inlets, and huge low-profile 19” tyres. On face-value this is enough to evoke a standing applause.

Inside the seats provide decent all-round support and when you’re buckled in, the seatbelt will tighten over your chest. The steering wheel is covered in Alcantra leather. Red accents adorn the facia and different coloured lights fill strategic gaps. However, as enticing as this image may be, the CLA45 is deprived of any decent space.

Bar the boot, cabin space is relatively tight. If front passengers are tall, rear occupants will have a tough time getting comfortable over long distances. And if I’m ideally positioned in the driver’s seat, no one will be able to squeeze in at the back. It’s a schlep, to put it mildly. This AMG, as someone pointed out, should have been a two-seater because the rear seats verge on being pointless.

Prove your worth, AMG

In this car you’d much rather be the driver than a passenger for two reasons: 1. You are freed from limited space because everyone needs to adjust to your settings. And 2, there is a rather big enjoyment when pushing onwards…

Drivers have the option of dialing through a number of settings that will adjust the car’s suspension from comfort to racy and all things in between. But to fully enjoy the car Race mode should be engaged and the gearbox switched into manual. In its firmest setting the suspension will be very bumpy, but use it correctly and all is forgiven.

Taking on the twisting R44 known as Clarence Drive just outside Gordon’s Bay, the CLA45 had its work cut out. Sweeping bends, hard braking points, accelerating out of corners and narrow lanes demanded full involvement and concentration from both car and driver. Going through the seven-speed AMG speedshift gearbox happens faster than an unexpected avalanche and the accompanying exhaust note each time the next gear is engaged is almost as loud as thunder.

WATCH: Track battle - BMW M2 vs Mercedes-AMG CLA 45

The 2.0-litre motor’s 280kW/475Nm is available throughout the rev range once the engine is up and running and power-surges are almost instantaneous.

Turn-in throughout was on fleek and the front wheels, despite the all-wheel drive configuration, sent enough feedback through the steering wheel to know exactly where the car is placed on the road. Braking, as well, was never an issue and showed no fade at all. Mercedes did a good job at minimising understeer as much as possible.

Any problems?

The biggest gripe with this AMG comes into play when trying to put Merc’s 0-100km/h claim to the test. The automaker says it will take 4.2 seconds to complete the dash, but it felt unresponsive and slow to react at times.

Though the CLA45 provides sufficient steering feedback, it did display steering numbness on the Franschhoek Pass when going around a slow hairpin. Faster, swooping bends are taken care of with proper steering confidence though.

The CLA45 AMG shares the same underpinnings as the A45 AMG, but it is difficult to justify the R100 000 premium over the hatchback - R838 714 vs. R737 314. You can have just as much fun - if not more - in the A45 and still have enough cash left to spec the car to your liking. The CLA45 AMG is perhaps just a tad too pricey.

In summary

This AMG makes a strong case for why it is deserving of that AMG badge, but if I had this kind of money chances are I'd give BMW a call and place an order for an M2. Or if I wanted to stick with Mercedes I'd take the A45 AMG any day.

But it does not mean that the CLA45 is not worth considering. In fact, this is about as much fun you'd have in something costing this much. For people with families who do not want to sacrifice their fuel burning habits, this car will not hurt your fuel budget, nor will your partner spur you on to "get rid of that sportscar!"

AMG sedans are not cheap and this is your first step into the AMG family. AMGs are fast, brass and loud, and the CLA45 AMG ticks those boxes.

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