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First Drive: 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG
The baddest four-banger ever built

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According to Greek Mythology, we’re currently smack dab in the middle of the Iron Age. This is the last of the five ages of man. It’s called the Iron Age because the previous ages were more glorious and their names reflect that by way of far more precious metals. This is supposed to be a period of decline for mankind. I think the ancient Greeks are wrong, and we’ve come full circle… into a new Golden Age.

Amazing feats of engineering and design are currently being produced at a glorious pace. Private space travel is closer than ever, a hyperloop could possibly whisk us from Los Angeles to San Francisco in the time it takes to watch a sitcom, and our phones can transmit images of our food to friends on the other side of the planet in the blink of an eye.

It’s also a Golden Age for car enthusiasts. The horsepower wars have been in full swing for a few years now. You can get V8-equipped sports cars belching out sonorous exhaust notes due to the work of over 600 horsepowers cranking from under hood. The six-cylinder machines of the world are well above the 300-horsepower mark, and a handful of four-cylinder machines are producing enough to make most folks smile widely. Now, however, the game is changing again with the arrival of the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG.

Lady and gentlemen, say hello to this shapely machine and you’re saying hello to the most powerful production four-cylinder engine ever produced. Say hello to the Golden Age.

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It’s always important to make a good impression. That holds just as true when you meet the person you hope to touch genitals with as it does for car design. If the exterior of a car does nothing for you, then it’s probably not going to hold your attention for long. Mercedes-Benz designers let the pen flow when it came to penning the outside of the CLA, and the result is a sleek four door that personifies the look of 21st century Benz products.

It’s clear there’s been inspiration from the updated CL, from the character lines on back to the muscular rear fender. The package is tighter than that of the CL though, thanks to this being a smaller vehicle. Think of the CLA as a distilled version of that bigger Benz.

This is no CLA250, however, and that’s made immediately clear with just a cursory glance of the cars taut skin. The front fascia is angular, open, and aggressive. Daytime LED running lights appear on the face like the eyes of a hawk tracking a mouse from 500 feet up in the air. The large, grille-mounted three-pointed star is upright and ready to battle the road in front of it. The profile of the CLA makes the car appear to be sucking itself down to the ground, and the rear end is the part where other drivers will see the quad exhaust outlets disappear into the distance.

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It certainly looks like a current Mercedes-Benz product on the outside, but does that mean you still wind up with a Benz once you step inside? The answer to that is a large mixed bag filled with “Yes” and “Kind of”. There aren’t any “Nopes” to be found though, and that’s very important here. You don’t want CLA shoppers to feel like they’re getting a cheap Benz, but rather a relatively inexpensive one.

While the cabin of the standard CLA250 is well appointed with comfortable sport seats and available optional goodies, the AMG cockpit focuses more closely on getting the most driver enjoyment out of the car. It’s little touches that help separate the two. The shift lever has been moved down from the steering column and into the center console. Red seat belts replace the standard dark colored units, and the dash trim features a blend of stitched leather and brushed aluminum. The steering wheel can be swaddled up in Alcantara, and a pair of even sportier Recaro front seats are available. The base seats are pretty excellent, however, as they provide the perfect blend of a sporting squeeze and cushy comfort.

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Mercedes-Benz offers up the interior with a host of standard and available features that range from navigation with 3D mapping to the excellent Harman Kardon sound system. This is clearly a Mercedes-Benz product, from the entry-level $29,000 CLA250 to this $47,000 CLA45 AMG.

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Is it an AMG product though? Very much so.

What Mercedes-Benz and AMG have done under the hood of the CLA45 AMG is nothing short of wunderbar. We’re not simply dealing with a powerful four-cylinder engine. This is the most powerful four-cylinder in a production car, ever. It’s a 2.0-liter inline-four cylinder unit with a turbocharger that produces 355 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque.

355 horsepower… from four cylinders and a hair dryer.

This is truly a Golden Age of engine production. We have V8 engines reaching for the stratosphere, V6 units that mean so-equipped “sporty” cars are actual capable machines, and now we have a four banger that’s able to return performance numbers that would’ve had Mustang GT owners drooling just a few years ago. This is the first four-cylinder engine ever produced by the AMG crew, but it’s still an AMG unit that gets the One-Man-One-Engine treatment.

Having that weapon of mini mass destruction under the hood allows the CLA45 AMG to sprint from 0-60 miles per hour in just 4.5 seconds. On the way to 60 (or onward to less-than-legal speeds), the exhaust barks with every tug of the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Ease off the gas, pop down a gear, and then a deliciously satisfied burble breathes out like the contented sigh from a job well done. That soundtrack can be made even better because Mercedes-Benz is going to offer an optional AMG Performance Exhaust that will allow even more noise to escape and make the world a better place for the driver, passengers, and anyone in a car being overtaken by the CLA45 AMG.

Nearly as delightful as the engine is the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox to which it’s paired. Shifts are extremely quick, and the paddles themselves are solid units that feel great in the hand. I did say nearly as delightful, however, because there are occasions when the gearbox seems to shift roughly for no reason. It could be a pre-production issue, but it’s something to keep an eye on when the CLA45 AMG starts to arrive on dealer lots.

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Anytime you hop into a machine with an AMG badge on the back, you know you’re in for a good time. I’m talking about the real AMG cars, of course… don’t be that guy or gal who buys the E350, opts for the sportier wheels, and then thinks that their car needs an AMG badge. You’re bad, and you should feel bad.

This four-cylinder car, however, is the real deal and it deserves that badge. It wears it well and proudly.

The power is sent to the front wheels when you’re just puttering around town or running casually down the freeway. Kick things into action, however, and the AMG-tuned 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system can split the power 50/50 between the front and rear wheels. Press the ESP button, located in the middle of the center stack, and now the car is in Sport Handling mode. This brings torque vectoring to the table, and power is metered out to the exact spots where it’s most necessary. In this mode, the car also allows for some slip angle. If you’re truly caning it, you can coax the back end out a touch. If you press and hold that ESP button, then the traction control system goes away and leaves you in complete control.

Now, you might expect the prospect of a front-drive biased AMG vehicle to be a laughable proposition. I certainly did when I was handed the keys. Then I slid into the seat, twisted the ignition to bring the engine to life, and went off down some twisty Shenandoah Valley roads. Halfway through them, I realized that it’s occasionally fun to be proven wrong. Not a little bit wrong either, mind you, but very very wrong.

The suspension offers a firm feel, but it’s one that never feels uncomfortable. Braking is consistent, with a nice progressive feel and strong initial bite. The steering relays what’s going on in terms of the rubber-asphalt connection below, and the all-wheel-drive system makes switchbacks an effortless affair with minimal understeer. There’s a bit of turbo lag on occasion, but all of the torque is available towards the low end of the rev range so the lag quickly disappears.

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As we move forward in time, it’s easy to worry about the demise of one of our favorite things in this world. The thought of fun-to-drive vehicles giving way to focused driving appliances said to be our not-too-distant future. I disagree. There will always be people eager to extract driving enjoyment from their machines. Engineers are equally eager to supply that enjoyment, and a car like the CLA45 AMG is proof of that idea.

Potent power can be had with minimal cylinders. It can be had for less than $50,000, and it can be placed in a pleasing package both inside and out. Forget the Iron Age, the Bronze Age, and the Silver Age. In fact, forget the Golden Age too… we’ve re-entered the Heroic Age.

—————-

The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250

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Of course we’re going to focus on the CLA45 AMG. That doesn’t mean the CLA250 isn’t worth talking about. In fact, the story is quite the opposite here. Mercedes-Benz refers to this as the most significant car in their current lineup. Why is that? Well, this car offers up a new point of entry into the Benz family of automobiles. It starts at just $29,990.

Does that get you an entry-level Mercedes? Yes, but the doorway you’re walking through leads to a well-appointed room. The sport seats are well bolstered and quite comfortable. Standard amenities are plentiful, and the fit and finish is exactly what you’d expect from the tri-star brand. Additional, you can check a few boxes to get a better sound system, nicer wheels, satellite radio, and a panoramic sunroof. Mercedes-Benz says it expects the average CLA250 to ring in at around $35,000.

Under the hood sits a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. This unit is good for 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, with 100% of that torque available at just 1,250 rpm. The engine is paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, and the CLA250 can outfitted as a front driver or with the 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system. In front-drive guise it will hit 38 miles per gallon on the highway, yet can also make the run from 0-60 miles per hour in just 6.9 seconds.

The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 is an extremely important for the automaker. As Audi looks to achieve global domination, an entry-level vehicle is exactly what Benz needs to stay out in front in the U.S. luxury car market. They didn’t go cheap here, and give us something that merely wears the Mercedes-Benz badge… they gave us an affordable Mercedes-Benz.

[Disclaimer: Mercedes-Benz wanted us to drive the 2014 CLA250 and CLA45 AMG so they flew us to Washington, D.C. – which is known for its amazing roads, lack of traffic, and friendly, speed-loving police force. They put us up in a hotel, served us delicious food and drinks, and even bought us shots. They could’ve given us bread and water… the new CLA45 AMG is that good.]

Images copyright 2013 Redusernab/Jeff Glucker

  • Rosso Fiorano

    It looks a touch like a car a cheerleader would drive. And the nav/display looks tacked onto the dash (afterthought?). But I like it and would take one in a second.

    • "It looks a touch like a car a cheerleader did the design sketches for."

      There, fixed it.

      • Guest

        This cheerleader must be pretty butch. That's no Fiat 500 up there.

  • I Think Not

    "This is the most powerful four-cylinder in a production car, ever."

    But… but… what about Mitsu's F***ing Quick special edition Evos?

  • I really like the ad campaign and dig what I see online. But I saw my first CLA IRL yesterday and the body was just a bit too busy, a la 1990s Pontiacs.

    • Number_Six

      It's definitely got that weird Bonneville SSEi vibe.

      • I Think Not

        But what about a Vibe vibe?
        (couldn't resist!)

        • Alcology

          It shakes it's trim off?

  • JayP2112

    The CLA looks like a candy bar left in the summer sun.
    I want a 300hp Ecoboost AWD Fusion or that Opel OPC/Regal thing we don't get.

  • Dillon

    I hate this car from the B pillar back. They chunked the heck out of the doors and they don't match at all. It looks fat and stupid, even though I know this car means business…

    • duurtlang_

      Maybe you prefer the car it's based on, the A-class (or A45 AMG like the one I pictured)
      <img src="; width="600">

  • SSurfer321

    Did the electronic parking brake prevent burnout tests? Or were they both 4-matic?

    Nice lookers, the both of them. The only aspect I don't like is the previously mentioned tacked on Navi screen.
    And those are darn impressive HP/TQ numbers.

    • Jeff Glucker

      The front driver can do burnouts…

  • "The baddest four-banger ever built"

    Oh, an inline four. That's great and all, but a proper V4 is prettier.

    <img src="; width="500">

    • I keep thinking somebody should design car around a 90-degree V-4 engine, but then I realize the Subie boxer is basically the same thing with equally good balance and an even lower CG.

    • I Think Not

      And at some RPMs, with the right exhaust, they sound reminiscent of a V8. It's always amazed me how different two engines with the same number of cylinders can sound just based on the layout and runner length of the exhaust.

      • Kogashiwa

        There's not many things that sound better than a VFR800 with a good set of pipes.

  • So, I guess I am having trouble with Mercs nomenclature. The CLA45 AMG is for US consumption. The A45 (below) is for European consumption, right? We dont get the hatch, like always. Is the CLA45 sold in Europe?

    <img src="; width=550>

    Note: GIMME!

    • Manic_King

      Yes CLA is sold here in Europe, with all kind of tiny motors, it's meant to be saloon version of A-series and also mini CLS, I guess.

    • Kogashiwa

      The styling actually makes a little bit of sense on the hatch version.

    • Maymar

      There's rumours of a B45 AMG. We get the B250 north of the 49th parallel (and also the bits below the 49th parallel that are still Canada), so I'm really hoping they'll give it to us with more PAH!

    • I Think Not

      It's a nearly-universal truth that sedans designed first as hatchbacks and adapted to the three-box style look awful and malproportioned, no matter how good they look as hatchbacks. The worst current offenders, I think: Ford Focus/Fiesta, Chevy Sonic.

      • bhtooefr

        Actually, there's not that many exceptions – the two I can think of are the Mk2 and Mk4 Jettas.

        (That's mainly because the Mk2 Golf wasn't that well balanced at the rear, and the trunk fixed that, and the Mk4 Jetta had a different nose and roofline.)

  • Manic_King

    Is there any good explanation why hood's horizontal front cut line (I hope this makes sense, I just don't know how to convey this in English) has to be just couple of inches away from grille where it would visually disappear? The more I look the more it distracts, not only in case of this MB but on many other cars, too. On this MB it would look much nicer if hood would meet upper side corner of headlight and then continue along the headlight until grille. Is it really that difficult to get it right with minimal visible gaps? Some stupid Euro safety rules maybe?

    • I wonder if it has something to do with crumplesmithing.

    • I Think Not

      Aliens?

      No, seriously. I think the chief designer must have had a Close Encounter and decided to style the car after the craft in which he saw the E.T.s fly away.

  • dukeisduke

    Any torque steer with this thing, or do they have something similar to GM's HiPer strut, or Ford's RevoKnuckle?

    • Jeff Glucker

      They just send some of the power rearwards… There is no torque steer.

    • I Think Not

      Torque steer is so… plebian. A son or daughter of the Three Pointed Star could never do anything so… uncouth.

  • nanoop

    That profile view.. not a very beautiful BMW.

    • sporty88au

      My first thought too – what is Chris Bangle doing these days anyway?

    • Guest

      I thought the same thing until I saw one of these in person earlier today. Photos really don't do it any justice.

  • Regnad Kcin

    Once again the Swabian smegheads have produced a vehicle that resembles a four wheel drive hemorrhoid designed by Ed "Big Daddy" Roth. What a convoluted concoction of lines, loops, and lumps. I defy anyone to attempt rear seat entry without inducing severe cranial damage from that sloping roofline. Looks like a 219 model run through a trash compactor and then mated with a constipated duck. When will the MB people realize that the brightness control on their TVs won't make them any smarter ?

    • Dude, save the rage for something that matters enough to…matter.

  • BobWellington

    I haven't been a fan of Mercedes' design for quite a while, and this only furthers my feelings.

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