Review: 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA45
The AMG CLA45 houses the world’s most powerful series-production four-cylinder engine, redefining our expectations of a sport compact car.
Throughout its rich history, Mercedes-Benz has revolutionized the automotive industry in ways no other carmaker has. It manufactured one of the first-ever electric-powered automobiles in 1906, it was one of the first car brands in the world to implement a crash testing program in 1958, and it invented the ABS braking technology we all take for granted today. And many even argue that the Benz Motorwagen, built in 1886, was the first actual interpretation of an automobile.
With a past so abundant in innovation, it’s not surprising to see the German giant try to create new industry standards once more. This time around, Mercedes-Benz’s thirst for constant evolution targets the sport compact car segment with this: the 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA45, arguably the wildest pocket rocket to date.
When Mercedes launched the very first CLA back in 2013, it set into the highly lucrative subcompact luxury sedan segment, a category of cars Acura first gave birth to during the 1990’s with the EL, and that the Germans perfected to the point of dominating it.
The CLA would prove to North American consumers that a luxury car could also be affordable. More importantly, it allowed Mercedes-Benz to rejuvenate its image by attracting new blood to dealerships in hopes of securing them within the brand as they climbed the lineup ladder. And the best part for Mercedes, is that the strategy worked.
This new CLA therefore takes the entry level luxury car game even further. Except this time around, Mercedes hits the segment even harder by offering two new “cheap” models in its lineup. The Mercedes-Benz A Class, both in sedan and hatchback form, takes care of opening the door, while the CLA ranks a little higher in the lineup, while still remaining more accessible than a C-Class.
Essentially riding on the same platform and harvesting similar mechanical components as an A Class, the CLA boasts a sumptuous coupe-like design and a front end that mimics more expensive models within the lineup. From some angles, you’d swear this is a baby AMG GT 4-door coupe.
Let’s begin by dumping the cold, hard facts here on the table: the 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA45 harvests the most powerful series-production four-cylinder engine in the world. Indeed, this turbocharged 2.0-liter rascal of engine pumps out no less than 382 horsepower (416 horsepower in Europe) and 354 lb-ft of torque, sends the power to all four-wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission and will launch itself out of the hole to 100 km/h in four seconds flat.
How’s that for dominating the sport compact car segment?
More impressive even is all the trick technology the geeks over at AMG have injected in the car. My personal favorite feature is the AMG Torque Control system. AMG installed an electronically controlled multi-disc clutch connected to a driveshaft for each rear wheel, which allows torque to be distributed between both the front and rear wheels and each rear wheel individually.
This means the CLA45 can send up to 100 per cent its available torque to just the rear wheels, making it essentially rear-wheel drive. There’s even a Drift mode like what you get in a Ford Focus RS, however since I didn’t drive the car on a track, I was unable to actually test it out.
Set the AMG CLA45 in Sport + mode, which can now be activated via a new rotary dial on the steering wheel, remove traction control, hold down the brake pedal, smash the accelerator pedal, and the car sets itself up for launch control. In a furious tsunami of turbo wooshes and exhaust pops, the CLA45 hooks onto the pavement like a cheetah’s jaw on an antelope’s jugular, allowing this compact sedan to accelerate faster than a V8-powered Ford Mustang GT.
Everything about the CLA45 was designed to excite your senses, from the way its forced-fed inline four urgently delivers its power and torque, to how its entire cabin illuminates to different drive modes. It’s an exhilarating experience that makes you want to repeat the experience over and over again, one which has the potential deleting your driver’s license within a matter of seconds.
Yet, once you’ve managed to control yourself from injecting adrenaline-inducing performance down your veins, the CLA 45 is also still very much a Mercedes-Benz in the way it provides comfort and luxury. While never as polished nor refined as an E-Class, Mercedes’ current lineup is now all grown up, redefining our expectations of affordable luxury.
Like the A-Class on which it’s based, the CLA’s cabin is a beautiful blend of youthful design touches, functional technology and high-end materials. Brushed aluminum components make you feel like you’re riding in a more expensive S-Class, while the sport bucket AMG seats are not only supportive when driving the car the way it was to, but also supremely comfortable for daily driving.
When set to Comfort mode, the CLA45 tones down, its adaptive dampers soften up and its automatic gearbox shuffles up to higher gears for optimal fuel economy (10.3L/100 km average), proving once more that the premium German brands still master the art of calibrating drive modes.
In Comfort mode, you’d barely know you’re driving a compact sedan capable of such superhuman abilities. Except for perhaps the occasional exhaust pops, which can also be toned down at the touch of a button, it’s the traditional Mercedes experience in there, for better of for worse.
Because yes, this CLA inherits the same pitfalls as the A-Class. For instance, the MBUX infotainment interface offers a wide range of technologically advanced features and looks like a million bucks inside that long wide screen that spans through half of the dashboard.
But its physical trackpad remains an irritating mess of bad ergonomics. In its defense, most of the voice commands continue to be innovative and clever. But dare drive the car with the windows down, or simply have passengers talk over you as you speak, and the system downright freezes and refuses to cooperate.
Lastly, while this car’s performance abilities are up there among some of the best sports cars on the planet, it’s hard to fathom the $60,000 price tag before options, which will easily skyrocket past the $70,000 mark once you add a few packages.
Add to that a cramped rear seat and not much in terms of actual cargo space, and the CLA45 suddenly becomes an ultra-rare niche sports car rather than being actual “entry level” luxury sedan.
Yet, when this thing is boiling full swing, raising all the hairs on your body and dilating your pupils the way no hard drug can replicate, you tend to quickly forget these downsides.
2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA45
BODY STYLE: Compact luxury sport sedan
CONFIGURATION: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive
ENGINE: 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 (382 hp @ 6,500 rpm / 354 lb-ft @ 4,750 rpm)
TRANSMISSION: Eight-speed dual-clutch (AMG Speedshift) automatic
FUEL ECONOMY: 10.3/7.9/9.2 L/100 KM (City/Hwy/Combined)
OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY: 10.3 L / 100 km
CARGO CAPACITY 460 liters
PRICE: $59,200 ($77,540)
WEBSITE: Mercedes-Benz Canada