Car reviews - Mercedes-AMG - CLA45 - Shooting Brake
Incredible engine never fails to impress, hilarious sling-shot traction out of corners, great on-board tech, head-turning looks, sheer athleticism
Room for improvement
Uncompromising ride/front seats/character, interior finish does not live up to the price, occasionally clunky transmission
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25 Sep 2015
Price and equipment
POSITIONED $37,500 north of the least expensive CLA Shooting Brake, the $89,510 (plus on-roads) AMG variant is also $13,710 more expensive than its smaller A45 AMG sibling.
It carries a $1110 premium over CLA45 sedan and costs $9470 more than the GLA45 SUV.
Sharing a ballistic four-cylinder drivetrain, seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, all-wheel-drive setup and gargantuan brakes with those cars plus its own beefed-up suspension tune, the AMG Shooting brake has a long standard equipment list befitting its flagship status.
This includes a full suite of driver aids such as adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assistance, parking assistance and sensors for both ends, plus a power-operated tailgate and 8.0-inch TFT colour display accessing the top-spec Comand APS navigation system, reversing camera, DAB+ digital radio and media interface pumping audio through a Harman Kardon 12-speaker surround sound system.
Also on the spec sheet are automatic bi-Xenon headlights, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming interior mirror, keyless start, electrically folding and heated door mirrors, rear fog-lights, rear privacy glass and a panoramic sunroof.
Being an AMG there is a full bodykit including de-chroming treatment and 19-inch alloys, while inside are red seatbelts, stainless steel pedals, ambient lighting, an AMG gear selector, a special instrument cluster with race timer, a sports multi-function steering wheel wrapped in suede-like Dinamica and Nappa leather, red-cut black leather bucket seats, AMG branded floor mats and red contrast stitched imitation leather trim on the dashboard and door trims.
Metallic paint is a no-cost option and we really liked the eggplant-like, almost black Northern Lights Violet of our test vehicle.
A number of options packages are also on offer and our car was fitted with brake dust hiding matte black multi-spoke 19-inch alloy wheels ($490) and $990 worth of carbon-fibre interior trim.
Enzo Ferrari famously said that to purchase one of his cars was to pay for an engine and get the rest of the vehicle for free. It feels that way in the AMG Shooting Brake because the interior’s swathes of cheap plastic and unconvincing imitation leather are not befitting a car pushing six digits once options and on-roads are accounted for.
An Audi RS3 might not provide as much visual drama as the junior AMG interior fitted to the CLA45 and its siblings without an expensive visit to the options list, but neither would it make the driver feel short-changed on perceived quality and premium feel.
The Shooting Brake’s race-style bucket seats are pretty uncompromising for those of even medium build, even with the adjustable bolsters on their most relaxed setting. But they set the scene for an uncompromising driving experience perfectly – more on that later.
We never really found a driving position that was perfect for both cruising and attacking twisty roads, so the two-position electric seat adjustment memory setting came in handy. The pedals are offset to the right, meaning a splayed-leg position is required, but the seat bolsters do not allow much ‘manspreading’. Neither does the hard surface our left shin had to rest against, because there is little room for that leg to stretch out.
Apart from lacking enough reach adjustment, this car’s steering wheel is one of the best in the business, although some of the colour rubbed off onto our light-coloured trousers as we clambered in and out of the low-slung cabin.
Perhaps we were too brightly attired for the cave-like cabin, which is mostly black and dimly mood-lit without providing sufficient illumination to see what you are doing when parked in the dark.
Happily the on-board tech is top-flight with great graphics on the large and hi-res central screen, all accessed via an easy-to-use combination of dashboard buttons, rotary controller, multi-function steering wheel and efficient voice control.
Skinny but numerous windows mean all-round visibility is reasonable and the reversing camera display is one of the sharpest we have seen, with useful diagrams providing trajectory and proximity to obstacles.
Two tall blokes can almost sit in tandem, and the one at the back has just enough headroom but is peering downwards through the narrow side windows while anyone in the central position would need to be vertically challenged endowed with an iron posterior.
It is better to sit two in the back, who can enjoy the comfortable armrest with two fold-out cupholders while benefiting from air-conditioning vents and a 12V outlet, although the solid front seat frames mean there are map pockets.
All four doors have bottle-holstering door bins but the central cupholders are oddly sized and divided by a cheap feeling plastic card holder. For our readers’ benefit we took a leap of faith with a regular takeaway coffee cup and escaped without scalded thighs, so they do the job.
The glove compartment is small and made up by a decent sized cubby with two USB sockets beneath the front central armrest. A sunglasses holder is located above the interior mirror, along with controls for the panoramic sunroof and sun blind.
A long load bay is revealed by opening the boot, but the swooping roof line limits load height above window level but the high seat-backs of the rear bench combine with the low roof to serve as a decent cargo barrier when stacking luggage and other objects.
Predictably the 495-litre seats-up (or 595 with the seat-backs vertical) and 1354L seats-folded capacities are the largest of the compact AMG bunch, with the GLA45 playing second fiddle at 421L/1235L. For comparison, the CLA45 sedan’s boot capacity is 470L.
There are no run-flat tyres on this model, so beneath the lockable boot floor is a large space surrounding the puncture repair and tool kits, while two sizeable pockets book-end the load bay.
Engine and transmission
This is where the party starts and ends. Much incredulity ensued when AMG announced it had wrung a V8-like 265kW and 450Nm from a 2.0-litre four-cylinder, and more followed when people found the engine to be tame, tractable and everyday usable.
Recently, jaws dropped further when Affalterbach revealed it had squeezed an extra 15kW and 25Nm from the unit, and was fitting it to the facelifted A45 (this update will be applied to the CLA Shooting Brake in due course).
Not so long ago, such a highly strung engine would have been almost undriveable on the road and needed to visit the service department more often than Joan Rivers visited the plastic surgeon and run up a fuel bill larger than Oliver Reed’s bar tab.
Yet we found the engine could be docile – more on that below – while the 20,000 kilometre service intervals make a Toyota look needy and the official combined fuel consumption figure of 7.2 litres per 100 kilometres was not far outside the bounds of reality in our experience.
Of course it does not take much to make this car feel – and drink pricey 98 RON – like an afterburner has been ignited.
A little patience is required to get it off the line (unless going through the complicated launch control procedure) but once up and running the thrust feels unstoppable, stepping up markedly between 4000rpm and the 6000rpm power peak when the turbo really comes on song.
In the first four gears, each redline up-change from the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is accompanied by an even more determined gathering of pace. It is addictive, hilarious and requires a strong will to avoid dancing with the demerit devil.
Just in case bystanders had not noticed the AMG bodykit or huge bright red brake callipers behind the 19-inch wheels, the engine makes its presence heard.
Starting from cold, there is an ear-splitting and guttural throat-clearing from the exhausts for at least 30 seconds before the idle settles down. In our underground carpark the reverberations were downright embarrassing. In a quiet suburban street at 5am it would destroy friendships with neighbours.
But epic engine sound is core to the AMG brand and while there is no hiding the fact this is a four-cylinder, the hot Shooting Brake does make some interesting noises under load and above 3000rpm. The noise is ever-present around town and a little boomy at suburban speeds but thankfully it quietens down at a motorway cruise in seventh gear, with the engine purring away at well below 2000 revs.
As if to parallel the two seating positions we required for different types of driving, the Shooting Brake’s powertrain has two operating modes Comfort and Sport.
In our experience, Comfort is ideal for motorway or country road journeys with the cruise control on and Sport is best for everything else, because the former’s fuel-economy-biased throttle response is infuriating in traffic and makes the car feel like it has terrible turbo lag.
Selecting Sport mode from the button at the base of the gear selector reveals how super responsive this heavily turbocharged engine is, making it perfect for the cut-and-thrust of urban traffic or tearing up your favourite stretch of tarmac.
It also makes gear-changes more aggressive, with full-bore up-changes delivering a whack-bang from the exhaust reminiscent of New Year’s Eve in Sydney, while down-changes and the overrun deliver some theatrical tail-pipe crackle.
A third, Manual mode, prevents the transmission taking over from the driver if they stop using the paddle-shifters, which brings us onto the subject of the the robotic cog-swapper.
Most of the time it is fine, with rapid and seamless shifts. Perhaps the extra engine and exhaust noise give the impression that it is never as smooth as the similar unit fitted to non-AMG variants, but we are inclined to believe its down-shifts are not as well executed. We certainly noticed occasional sluggishness dropping a ratio or two in preparation for a tight corner in Sport mode.
It also takes ages to switch either way between drive and reverse, can be jerky when crawling in traffic and gets confused when, for example, slowing to join a queue of stationary traffic on a hill and then accelerating because the traffic starts moving. We experienced the latter twice, once leading to an unintended surge of acceleration.
During our week of mixed driving with the Shooting Brake, fuel consumption averaged 9.5L/100km, 2.3L/100km more than the official combined figure. A motorway run returned a respectable 6.2L/100km and a cross-city journey using Comfort mode (which activates idle-stop) resulted in 10.9L/100km.
It’s thirstier than claimed but still impressive considering the car’s other statistics include 0-100km/h in 4.7 seconds and a 270km/h top speed.
Ride and handling
Australia's scarred roads are not an ideal theatre to enjoy the CLA45 AMG Shooting Brake, for its ride is less yielding than Taliban policy on women’s rights, with urban potholes and patchwork country lanes causing more jiggle than a Brazilian street carnival.
The way it absorbs the initial impact of speed humps might prove how excellent the damping is, but the lack of isolation from poor surfaces combined with heavy steering requiring two hands on the wheel just to make minor adjustments make for an exhausting vehicle to drive day-to-day.
As we said in the Interior section, the cabin – particularly the front seats – sets the scene for an uncompromising driving experience. This five-seat wagon belongs on a track, or an Autobahn.
We know from launch events that these compact AMGs excel on track, and while having a capability that might never be exploited is part of the charm, a little concession to the daily grind would be nice.
The CLA45 AMG Shooting Brake is one of the few cars we took for a second go on our local national speed limit stretch of twisty, hilly hinterland road – but not because we enjoyed it.
Despite its boisterous personality and giggle-inducing ability to sling-shot out of corners, we came away unsatisfied from driving it in the scruff-of-the-neck kind of way it engenders.
On our second go we dialled back the aggression and turned up the finesse.
Reminiscent of an early Subaru WRX, the Shooting Brake rewarded us by coming alive. Delicate, considered steering and pedal inputs reveal pin-sharp, laser-guided steering accuracy and brilliant throttle-adjustable balance.
A more mindful approach also gave us time to appreciate the presence of at least some steering feel and feedback. The brake pedal offers some of the best feel – and force – in the business, too.
Driven this way, the Shooting Brake presented prodigious cornering confidence even on recently rained-on roads. Getting on the power hilariously early coming out of corners was a still a given but all the more satisfying when applying the accelerator more progressively.
And while we complained about the ride quality, the CLA45 recovered its composure well after bottoming out on a severe bump just before a corner and doggedly held its line when encountering mid-corner ripples.
This is a seriously well set-up car and we are glad we took the time to allow the Shooting Brake to fully reveal its talents, but the ride is a back-breaker and possibly a deal-breaker.
Good news comes in the form of the more compliant and only slightly less spacious GLA45 AMG.
Safety and servicing
The CLA Shooting Brake has not been rated by ANCAP but the sedan received a maximum five-star rating in December 2013 with 36.16 points out of 37 overall, 15.16 out of 16 in the frontal offset test, 16 out of 16 in the side impact test and 2 out of 2 in the pole test. Whiplash protection was deemed ‘good’ and pedestrian protection ‘acceptable’.
Complimenting the usual Mercedes-Benz alphabet soup of electronic safety and stability aids, the CLA45 AMG comes with a reversing camera, nine airbags, autonomous braking, accident anticipation, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and driver fatigue monitoring as standard.
Service intervals are 12 months or 20,000 kilometres and the warranty lasts three years with unlimited kilometres.
In Australia small wagons are a bit of a niche. Luxury ones even more so, given the CLA Shooting Brake is the only one available.
Add crazy levels of performance and all-wheel-drive while subtracting comfort and you end up with a product so niche that if it was a band, hipsters would love it (although under hipster logic the first one to discover it would, and from then on it would be considered too commercial).
We have to hand it to Mercedes for creating such a beast, but unless you are philosophically opposed to SUVs and crossovers, the GLA45 AMG is a great little car that does a better job of being a more practical alternative to the A45 AMG while being priced more attractively than the Shooting Brake.
But if you don’t mind the comfort compromises of an A45 AMG and just want a bigger boot, the Shooting Brake is the car for you – if you can stomach the fact it costs the equivalent of a Nissan Micra more than the hatch.
Our advice to those who like the GLA45 AMG Shooting Brake’s looks but not the compromises? Buy one of the lesser CLA Shooting Brake variants and spend the change on AMG options plus a pocket rocket like the Fiesta ST.
Audi RS3 from $78,900 plus on-road costs
Not released yet and therefore untested. But the psuedo-wagon looks, 270kW/465Nm five-cylinder engine and all-wheel-drive mean it is likely to be cross-shopped against the CLA45 AMG Shooting Brake. One thing’s for certain: the RS3 will beat AMG at its own game when it comes to engine sound.
BMW M135i from $62,900 plus on-road costs with eight-speed automatic
Like the CLA45 AMG Shooting Brake the M135i is a little different. Rear-drive, six-cylinder, hatchback body. Pricy options but there is a lot of price difference to make up between this and the Shooting Brake. Tick the right boxes and it becomes a proper little luxury powerhaus, while 240kW and 450Nm going to the electronically locking rear differential is a recipe for slideways fun. Try that in your all-wheel-drive Mercedes or Audi.
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