So although a dinky little four-cylinder coupé may not sound like the kind of car that would normally wear Mercedes' most prized of badges, times are a-changing, even at AMG. And in the process, the raw performance of the cars is suffering not one bit.
And when you look at what the CLA 45 AMG offers, at least on paper, it’s hard not to be impressed by the numbers it generates – except for one, which we’ll come to in a moment.
The headline figures are as follows: 375bhp, 332lb ft, 0-62mph in 4.2sec, 162g/km of CO2 and 40.9mpg on the combined cycle. That is an extraordinary series of statistics by any reckoning, and pace you can really feel on the road thanks to its grippy four-wheel-drive chassis. On wet UK roads in particular, we doubt there are many cars out there that could keep up with it.
As for the standard equipment on the CLA 45, it includes all the gubbins found on the CLA AMG 250 and adds AMG-tweaked braking and exhaust systems, suspension, and seven-speed sports transmission, along with 19in alloys, an aggressive bodykit, LED headlights and performance-styled sports seats.
When you then dial in the combined effects of a cabin that is both well made and surprisingly spacious front and rear, plus a decent-size boot and a level of on-road sophistication that’s unprecedented from a four-cylinder, four-door coupé, it’s not difficult to see why the CLA so impressed those who drove it at its launch.
Yet there are two factors that count against it, one of which is rather more important than the other. The first is the slightly odd realisation that it doesn’t drive as crisply as the hatchback on which it’s based.
The only difference between the cars, according to AMG’s amiable engineering boss Tobias Moers, are the damper settings, the CLA’s being fractionally softer in both bump and rebound to make it feel that little bit more chilled than the hatchback on the move. Which is fair enough in theory, even if the reality seems to be 10 percent less zing pretty much everywhere.
The second difference is the price. The CLA 45 AMG costs more than £44,000 in base form. Throw a few options at it, in other words, and maybe go for the smarter-looking 19-inch wheels that were fitted to most test cars, and you will be looking at £50k-plus. For a Mercedes A-Class. Blimey.
Admittedly the CLA 45 AMG neither looks, goes nor drives like your average A-Class, but in the end that wincingly high price could well be its undoing. That, plus its mildly oddball status as the world’s fastest-ever four-cylinder coupé that just so happens to have four doors.
Still, that price has not put off early buyers, quickly selling out of its initial right-hand-drive production run (most cars being well-specced, often in excess of £50,000, at that) and resulting in a long wait for those who want to sample a car that could go on to change the way we think about our more desirable modes of transport at a stroke if it maintains its early momentum.