Not too long ago, Mercedes-Benz' performance division, AMG, set about creating the world's most powerful 2.0-litre four-pot production motor the world has ever seen. Having done, so they decided the A series platform was the right home for it, the result of which was the A45, CLA45 and GLA45 AMG.
This is the evolution of that combination. The CLA has undergone a few mid-life tweaks to make it a nicer car, while that 2.0-litre turbocharged motor was poked with a slightly bigger stick to squeeze out even more power.
To my eye this is the best looking Mercedes on sale today if you exclude the very expensive stuff from the equation. In my opinion, the C-class sized vehicle has become too big, across the board, which means that everything above it is even worse.
It's very difficult to make something of those dimensions look good. The CLA on the other hand is just right. The swooping coupe-esque roofline is marvellous, as is everything underneath it. The AMG treatment, with the odd flare and bulge, little wing, rear diffuser and new bumpers round the CLA off very nicely indeed.
On the inside, Mercedes made a few changes over the previous CLA too. New seat covers and trim parts as well as chrome-plated controls kick things off.
The highlight though is a much slimmer-looking freestanding eight-inch media display with a glass cover. The dials also had a makeover and now sport red needles. Merc cabins are a very nice place to be these days, it must be said.
On the right track it seems, so how does it go? Well with 280 kW and 475 Nm of torques it's a surprise the thing doesn't actually take off. The 100 km/h sprint is dealt with in a swift 4.3 seconds thanks to the AMG all-wheel drive system and launch control. The seven speed DCT box shifts quickly, but struggles to get off the line briskly enough without launch control engaged in my opinion.
The raw power on offer here makes the car feel more like a muscle car than a sports car - and to an extent that extends to the way it handles corners. The numb steering and only on-demand AWD system means the Merc doesn't feel alive when driving in a spirited manner.
That said it does offer impressive grip levels and of course the sooner you get it in a straight line the sooner you can unleash that mountain of power. In fact, it's really in wet conditions that the Merc really shows its mettle - you're really able to get the power down efficiently which makes the CLA near untouchable when it's slippery.
At a smidge over R830 000 before options the CLA is anything but cheap on paper, especially when you consider that it's based on a hatchback. Competitors are few and far between, but BMW's recently launched M2 is probably just that. Audi does an S3 which looks rather good and is less expensive, but has a lot less power as well.
Right, so what's the verdict?
If it came down to picking the CLA45 AMG on drivability alone, I think I'd go elsewhere. It's just not nimble enough to be considered a sporty drive. But on all other factors, I think it's winning the race against the competition. It looks great, is a lovely place to sit and gets off the line like a scalded cat.
Article written by Miles Downard