The Mercedes CLA 45 AMG is not as rabid as the smaller, slightly lighter A 45 AMG, but it is still an intriguing, if pricey, entry point to AMG ownership

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In theory, the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 should be exactly the same to drive as the rabid and deeply excellent Mercedes-AMG A 45. Because despite its sweeping new junior Mercedes-Benz CLS lines, the Mercedes-Benz CLA is actually identical to the A 45 beneath the skin.

That means originally you got the same 355bhp, 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine as the A 45, the same crisp but direct electric power steering, the same seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, even the same spring rates for its new strut and multi-link suspension system.

We liked the CLA 45 AMG a lot, but it doesn’t feel as sharp as the smaller A 45 AMG

Then in 2015, Mercedes-AMG decided to turn up the wick of the engine, which saw not only the A 45 suddenly produce 375bhp, but also the CLA 45 and GLA 45. All this was in direct response to Audi's audacious attempt to make the RS3 the most powerful hot hatch on the market.

Despite the CLA weighing a piffling 30kg more than the A 45 AMG, Mercedes even makes the same performance claims for its two four-wheel-drive, entry-level AMGs.

The CLA 45, just like the A 45, will hit 62mph from rest in a claimed 4.2sec thanks in part to its 'race start' launch control system, and it’ll reach the same 155mph limited top speed, having hit 100mph in approximately 11.0sec en route, making a delicious noise in the process – particularly if you go for the optional AMG Performance Exhaust. 

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.

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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.

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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. 

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 2013-2018 First drives