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First drive: Mercedes-AMG CLA45 touches down

Mercedes-AMG’s popular CLA45 S sedan returns with increased dimensions and power

11 Jun 2020

ONE of Mercedes-AMG’s most popular offerings in Australia, the CLA45 compact sedan, has returned in all-new, second-generation guise, having grown up with increased dimensions and a monstrous powertrain to match.


Now available in higher-spec 45 S spec for the first time, the CLA thunders into local showrooms priced from $111,200 plus on-roads ($19,000 more than its predecessor), powered by the same 310kW/500Nm 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder mill as found in the rabid A45 S, representing a 30kW/25Nm boost over the outgoing model.


The new CLA has increased in size significantly compared to the old model, increasing in length (58mm), width (53mm), height (7mm) and wheelbase length (30mm), to the point where it is actually now slightly longer than the C-Class mid-sizer.


Gone is the Shooting Brake wagon version, with the demand for a roomier version to be taken up by the likes of the GLA45 and GLB35.


One main benefit for AMG fans is that for the second-gen version, AMG engineers were able to influence the chassis development from the ground up, helping fit a number of components to help increase torsional rigidity.


Mercedes-Benz Australia said the CLA, its platform sibling the A45 and the equivalent C-Class – the C43 – all attracted different buyer types, and would not result in a great deal of cannibalisation.


According to the brand, the A45 attracts a younger type of buyer who cycle through their cars more often, while the CLA attracts a more mature buyer – usually childless – with a greater focus on design.


The C-Class, meanwhile, is usually chosen by a more established Mercedes customer who is more family-oriented and enjoys the feel of a six-cylinder engine over the four-pot A45 and CLA45.


In its previous generation, the CLA45 was one of the most popular offerings in AMG’s local stable, eclipsing sales of the A45 and battling with the V8-powered C63 S for sales supremacy.


When asked whether the new version will replicate the success of the original, the brand’s local arm said the greater mix of new grades such as the CLA35 and all-new offerings like the GLB35 and GLA35 may take some sales, however only time will tell.


As a generational changeover, the CLA has new, updated exterior styling, however the biggest changes lie inside the vehicle.


Entering the CLA 45’s cabin for the first time, we are impressed by the number of new technologies from higher-grade models that have made it into the CLA, considering it is one of the brand’s compact and more affordable models.


Features such as the new-gen MBUX infotainment system with intuitive voice control and twin 10.25-inch touchscreens, a head-up display and ambient interior lighting are all included as standard, which would commonly be expected to be found on more expensive models.


Furthermore, active safety kit including lane guidance is also standard, making the CLA 45 feel like a technological heavy-hitter despite outright performance being its number one draw.


Some nice trims including leather upholstery on the seats and dashboard, brushed aluminium on the doors and Alcantara for the flat-bottomed steering wheel along with a panoramic sunroof all add a feeling of quality, however the CLA’s cabin still sports its fair share of black plastics, and some of the cabin rattles don’t help.


When driving, we experienced a particularly loud squeaking and rattling sound at the B-pillar, which combined with the harsh ride and low-profile rubber made for plenty of unwanted noise coming into the cabin.


Like its A-Class sibling, the CLA is let down by a slightly tinny build feel, which is usually an area in which the European heavy hitters excel, and comes as a disappointment given the CLA45’s six-figure pricetag.


Where AMG never fails however is in the powertrain department, with the new-generation 45 S range taken to new heights by the firecracker of a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine lying in wait under the bonnet.


The turbocharged four-cylinder unit is the most powerful 2.0-litre production engine available today, punching out a fearsome 310kW at 6750rpm and 500Nm from 5000-5250rpm, with power being fed to all four wheels via an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.


One of our favourite aspects of the four-pot mill is that despite being so highly strung, it still offers a gentle and relaxed character when in comfort mode and driving around town.


However twist the steering wheel-mounted drive selector dial to Sport or Sport+ and the heckles on the back of the CLA’s neck instantly stand up, with the engine springing to life like a pitbull wrenching at its chain.


Opening up the full 310kW brings a level of performance for a compact car that would have been met with disbelief ten years ago, thrusting the car forward and bringing an equally violent response from the quad-exit exhaust system.


The majority of the 500Nm on offer is available through most of the rev range, with a big surge coming through in the middle of the rev band that pushes the CLA through corners before the 310kW takes over as the tachometer reaches redline.


During our drive we recorded an average fuel consumption figure of 10.5 litres per 100km, up on the 8.9L/100km official figure.


The new 4Matic all-paw system features fully variable torque distribution at the rear axle to allow for easier drifting, and while we didn’t fancy testing the system out in case we lost our licence or wrapped the car around a tree, the system does channel the huge amount of power to the road well, with only a hint of oversteer coming out of corners.


Straight-line acceleration does produce a limited amount of torque steer, but overall the car feels very stable in dynamic situations.


Steering is precise and well calibrated, while six-piston front brakes ensure the CLA pulls up in quick time.


As mentioned earlier, the overly firm suspension set-up and 19-inch alloys provide a stiff and uncomfortable ride, which on less-than-perfect roads also lead to a significant amount of road noise entering cabin – an all-too-common feature of explosive small cars.


Combined with the practicality of a generously sized (460L) boot and decent seating for front and rear occupants (although tall occupants will struggle with the sloping rear roofline), we can see why the manic CLA45 has appealed to so many.


With the 35 added to the range and a number of new AMG compact models on the way, it remains to be seen whether the CLA45 will retain the same level of popularity as before, however the engineers at Affalterbach have certainly done their best to give it a fighting chance.

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