With competition heating up in the luxury car market, the top three German luxury brands are getting hungrier for numbers. What have been feeding this hunger are new entry-level models, which lure the customers with their low cost and high brand value. For Mercedes-Benz, the cars that have lifted this mantle are the A-Class and the B-Class. Since both these cars, based on the NGCC (New Generation Compact Cars) platform are doing extremely well for Merc, it is a no-brainer that the CLA compact sedan that sits on similar underpinnings will make an entry into India too. But that will only happen after the 2015 C-Class is launched here. Until then, Mercedes-Benz India would like to create some noise - quite literally - about the CLA. Enter the CLA!
Rear three quarter is the best angle for the CLA 45 AMG
The CLA is a stunner in the looks department - thanks to its CLS-inspired four-door coupe form. The AMG version pushes the envelope further though with a hunkered stance and sportier bodywork. It is like a college heartthrob getting an extreme makeover that makes her all the more desirable. It has matte-black alloy wheels like those on the SLK 55; large wedge-shaped air intakes and scooped out air-dams like the ones on the new E 63; a splitter, a diffuser, fins on the side skirts and of course the new AMG tailpipes. All of this is customisable even for the India-spec model, when it is launched in the third quarter of 2014.
The Recaro seats are more comfortable than what you would expect from sports buckets
There are the customary AMG badges too, but this time, there's a new one - 'turbo'. That is because the CLA 45 AMG comes with the all-new engine from Affalterbach - a 2.0-litre, inline four-cylinder turbocharged petrol. The big deal is that this is AMG's smallest engine ever. The bigger deal is that AMG claims this to be the most powerful production four-cylinder petrol engine in the world. It puts out 360PS and 450Nm, which coming from an AMG motor are clearly not the kind of numbers that will make you jump out of your seat. But for the tiny sedan that the CLA is, this output is good to catapult this car from naught to 100kmph in 4.6 seconds - that is 0.3s quicker than the SLK 55 AMG!
AMG sports shifter has a nice look and feel
The CLA's stock gearbox is replaced with AMG's seven-speed dual-clutch SpeedShift sports transmission. It is quick to respond when you step on the throttle, however, on part-throttle, it tends to be slower to downshift. But with an AMG, you are better off using those sporty, aluminium paddle shifters. In typical AMG fashion, it matches revs when you downshift, but at the same time you'll miss the series of little explosive sounds that you get from AMGs with bigger engines. Speaking of which, this engine doesn't sound throaty like the V8 mills. Instead it sounds more like the European in-line four-cylinder sports bikes that have a certain degree of roughness to their exhaust note. But what you will simply love is the wastegate whistle - which is frequent and sweet enough to give the tuner cars a run for their money.
The transmission feeds all the power and torque down to a 4MATIC four-wheel drive system. Predominantly, this system runs in a front-wheel drive configuration for better fuel efficiency. But when you need better grip on slippery surfaces or when you want to put all the thrust down to the road, up to fifty percent of the power and torque is sent to the rear wheels - and that is enough to get the tail wiggly if you intend to.
The M133 is the smallest mill that AMG produces, but claims to be the most powerful four-cylinder engine in the world
The interiors are similar in look and feel to the A-Class. There are additional AMG bits though like a flat-bottom steering wheel, sporty Recaro seats and AMG badging. The upholstery and accent trims can be customised with options from the AMG Performance Studio - and you may want to replace the clumsy plastic bits in the dashboard and centre console with carbon fibre.
The plastics also tend to become noisy with time as the stiff suspension setup allows quite a bit of vibes and thuds to filter into the cabin even when you are driving in 'Comfort' mode. Picture it as being worse than what the A-Class does to you on Indian roads. The stiffness of the suspension is responsible for the minimal body roll of the CLA 45. However, the vehicle has the inherent understeer of a front wheel drive system, when compared to its rear-wheel driven siblings. But that said, the CLA 45 AMG feels sure-footed through corners and makes for good driving fun.
The CLA 45 AMG feels sure-footed through corners and makes for good driving fun
The CLA 45 AMG then is a car that looks great, has the performance to match and acoustics that are new to an AMG, but every bit as mesmerising. Like any other sportscar sold in India, the CLA 45 AMG's only downside is the ride quality. But more importantly, unlike most other exorbitantly priced sports sedans, we expect the CLA 45 AMG to be priced lower than the C 63 AMG - which itself is quite a bargain.