Oscar Wilde once said: Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess. While that may be a stupid thing to say when it comes to food, with the calories found in our nasi lemak ayam goreng and what not, it certainly holds some truth in relation to cars.
Buyers nowadays expect more with their personal forms of transportation – more power, more safety, more equipment, more value, you get the picture. And with demand comes supply, so car manufacturers are more than happy to meet (and exceed) those needs, including Mercedes-AMG.
The famed acronym has been on a roll lately, delivering nearly 100,000 cars in 2016 – a 44.1% growth from the year before that (2015). Part of this success comes from the variety of options offered to buyers, including a few entry-level options like the A 45 and the CLA 45.
The latter is the topic of today’s review, with the facelifted model going on sale in September last year. The outgoing model is already a formidable performance car on the road, and blessing it with more power (what else can you expect from AMG) certainly sounds like a recipe for success following Wilde’s words of wisdom. Is it really? Well, we spent a few days driving around in one to find out.
We’ll just jump straight into the part that grabs the headline here, the power. Under the hood, you’ll find a handcrafted M133 2.0 litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the same as that from the new A 45.
This particular unit is the work of a Mr. Thomas Saitzbach, and produces 381 hp at 6,000 rpm and 475 Nm at 2,250 to 5,000 rpm. That is an extra 21 hp and 25 Nm compared to the previous car, sent through an AMG Speedshift DCT seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, which has been tweaked for shorter gear ratios, and Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel drive system.
As you’d expect, the new car accelerates a lot quicker than before, capable of making the 0-100 km/h sprint in just 4.2 seconds (down by 0.4 seconds) with launch control. From there, it’ll go on to an electronically-limited top speed of 250 km/h.
To make sure all this savagery is delivered in controlled doses, the car comes with a new AMG Dynamic Select dial, with four modes to choose from – Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual (no Race mode like on the A 45 here).
The former helps to make sure the M133 mill consumes as little fuel as possible, decoupling the gearbox while coasting, and isn’t that exciting to the more youthful crowd of our readers.
Rotate the dial to Sport, and the powertrain gets more aggressive, offering drivers a quicker throttle response, shift times and rev-matching on downshifts. In Sport+, which you’ll want to use on track, the AMG Performance Exhaust button is lit, so you’ll know your ears are in for a treat, much to the dismay of your neighbours. If you’re the sort of person that still wants the loud exhaust even in Comfort mode (or any other mode), you can manually do that with a push of said button too.
Performance-wise, it’s an occasion every single time you put your foot down as you watch the revs climb, matched by an increasingly angry-sounding engine note. There’s a sense of terror and awe throughout the experience, before the crackle and burble of the exhaust “shouts at you,” and you move on to the next gear, starting the process all over again.
Make no mistake, the CLA 45 picks up speed at an incredible rate thanks to its power bump, so much so that the pre-facelift model seems “tame” by comparison. If you’re not careful with the angle of your right foot, you’ll likely be way past the speed limit before you know it, while being pinned in the snug AMG sports seat.
If there is one complaint about the drivetrain, it is the transmission. If you’re progressive on the throttle, it’s superb and seamless as it cycles through the gears. However, if you’re just cruising and suddenly decide to stomp hard on the accelerator for a burst of speed, it takes the odd second before the dual-clutch unit acknowledges that need and delivers.
This can be remedied by swapping driving modes to the more aggressive Sport and Sport+. Alternatively, you can also opt to perform the gearshifts yourself by pushing the manual button near the gear level, but both options aren’t something that is catered towards daily driving.
All this power is nothing without control, so the CLA 45 gets AMG-tuned suspension and 4Matic to tackle corners. Unfortunately, AMG Ride Control two-stage adaptive dampers – standard on the facelifted A 45 – have been given a miss here, which is a baffling omission.
As a result, the Dynamic Select here only deals with the powertrain, but Mercedes has retuned the suspension to be more tolerable in the ride department, without sacrificing handling.
It doesn’t show at first, with primary ride still feeling harsh when driving around on the crater-filled roads of Petaling Jaya. However secondary ride is improved slightly than the previous car, with minor bumps no longer upsetting your back as much as before despite the car’s firmness.
In terms of NVH, the exhaust drone is still pretty audible at highway speeds, even with the loud exhaust mode switched off. The large 19-inch AMG multi-spoke alloys don’t help the situation either, with tyre roar that can make long drives unpleasant. These deficiencies shouldn’t be a big concern to the youthful but may put off more senior customers.
Then again, this is to be expected especially when you consider what the CLA 45 is capable of in the bends. There is no shortage of grip here, as the 4Matic system ensures just the right amount of power is delivered to both axles to keep you going, aided by the rigid chassis.
Turn-ins are sharp and direct thanks to the steering’s precision, with barely any body roll following after. Accelerating early out of the corner is non-dramatic, as the all-paw system does its best to sort things out, ensuring you get the best possible speed on exits.
While it may sound wonderful, you’ll still need to practice some restraint with the rightmost pedal as the CLA 45 does present a fair bit of understeer if you suddenly choose to unleash all 381 hp mid-corner. Also, despite the steering’s precision, it does suffer from a lack of feel although you can change its weightage via the aforementioned driving modes.
Even so, the car is happy to oblige you as your confidence builds, and you want to push the car further to its limits. It takes a lot to upset the previous CLA 45, and this one is no different. Should you want to break traction at the rear, you’ll have to force sharp changes of direction to do so. Even when provoked to oversteer, it is something that can be corrected with ease given enough space.
Once you’re done with your drive through the twisty bits, having properly excited your heart and ears, the cabin then calls for your attention. The main highlight is the large carbon-fibre piece on the familiar dashboard, followed by plenty of red highlights on the seats, multifunction steering wheel, seatbelts and instrument cluster.
Other standard items include the AMG Dinamica Cockpit package, where you’ll find the microfibre material on various contact areas, including the steering wheel, along with a pair of powered AMG sports seats.
It certainly makes you feel like you’re driving a racing car when you’re inside, and when you step out, that perception is amplified further. If the outgoing car wasn’t aggressive enough for your liking, Mercedes has gone ahead and given it more aggression.
The revised face now includes a new bumper, which features the same A-wing design from the updated A 45, accompanied by a thinner front splitter and canards. Less obvious items are the addition of full LED High Performance units and a silver chrome finish for the twin-louvre grille.
Some of these items are part of the AMG Aerodynamics package, which also include a black AMG spoiler, plus spoiler lips over the air outlets on either side at the back. Also at the rear is a new diffuser, now with four vertical fins that are displayed more prominently.
These upgrades only serve to make the CLA 45 appear even more of a street brawler than it already is. The stunning designo Polar Silver Magno you see on this car only helps to make the visual assault even more effective, although we’ve been told that it will cost you an additional RM2,000 on top of the RM408,888 for the car.
For the amount, which is a fair bit more than the A 45 (RM349k) mind you, the CLA 45 equipment list also includes a new, slimmer 8.0-inch infotainment display screen, linked to the COMAND Online system (now with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support), a dual-zone automatic climate control system, panoramic sunroof and a bevy of safety assist systems.
Coming to the conclusion then, the new CLA 45 is a perfect representation of Wilde’s quote, where excess is a welcomed thing. In a way, the quote is perfectly in sync with AMG’s philosophy of “just enough isn’t enough,” and there’s always room for improvement (aka more).
You may not had known that the outgoing model was “short on power” and yet, Mercedes decided to give more of it. Previous car was not showy enough? Here’s some more visual drama. Was it loud enough? Who cares, here’s an active exhaust system as standard. There’s no playing it safe with this facelift, it’s all about making the best CLA you can buy, excessively better than needed.
It may have a bumpy ride, lack of rear headroom (anyone taller than 170 cm will not like it) less than desirable NVH nor does it have keyless start functionality. But on the days where you can really put the hammer down in it, all that excess starts to make sense. You’ll then forget all about those “minor” niggles, and start believing that your last name is Hamilton.