Mercedes CLA 45 AMG: AMG’s Spirit Animal

Rewind back a decade or two ago, and you’ll find the AMG line-up for Mercedes was refreshingly simple. You had the fast super-sedans in the shape of the S63, E63 and C63, a few rapid AMG SUVs, a sprinkling of coupes, and the Black models for the customers who just hated ride comfort in their cars.

Importantly, all AMG models at the time featured stonking great big V8 or V12 engines. The 6.2L V8 in particular became something of a signature icon for AMG, becoming quickly hailed as one of the best-sounding and free-revving V8 motors in the industry. In short: if you saw those three magic letters on the back of a Mercedes a few years ago, you could be sure it was a complete monster.

We’re now in a brand new decade, and as such we’ve moved quite far on from those simpler times. In recent years, Mercedes (who’ve clearly recognized the value and good reputation of the AMG brand) has expanded the name massively to all kinds of models in its range – and some are far less deserving than others.

On perhaps the most offensive end of the spectrum, we have AMG badges plastered on nothing more than regular Mercedes models – with the precious name being used as nothing more than a sporty-looking trim level. Today, you may see an AMG-badged Merc with a four-cylinder diesel engine, which is petrolhead heresy.

Less offensive but still a stark contrast to the iconic big V8 philosophy is the recent wave of four-cylinder AMG models. This started with the 2015 A45 AMG, and was quickly followed by the CLA 45 and GLA 45 – both of which share the same platform. While an AMG model with half the regular amount of cylinders was sacrilege to fans of the brand, the cars were very quick, and perhaps most importantly, commercially successful.

Clearly, Mercedes wasn’t going to let such a juicy cash cow die away any time soon. As a result, the A45 was recently refreshed, and now we have the brand new CLA 45 AMG ready to hit a dealership near you.

Mercedes calls the CLA the coupe version of the A-Class, because that makes it sound sexy and swish. In reality, it’s just a baby sedan – a step below the C-Class. The design is unmistakably from the Mercedes family tree, right down to those rear lights that look like the eyebrow expression of someone who’s just heard a really bad joke.

Importantly, the wheelbase is exactly the same as the regular A-Class; so if you want something the same size as the A-Class but without any of the hatchback practicality, the CLA has you covered.

But we’re interested in the AMG variant, and it’s here where things get a bit more interesting. You can spec a gunmetal gray paint job that compliments the lines nicely, you get quad exhausts, and you get the oh-so-important red brake callipers that surely single-handedly give you an extra 50bhp alone.  

The inside has taken a step up, too, with technology that ironically puts some of Mercedes’ more premium models to shame. A dual screen setup gives you all the information necessary, and there’s a surprisingly generous amount of metals and leather available for the baby of the range.

The drivetrain is the front and center part of any AMG model, though, and arguably it’s a mixed affair. Let’s start with the good stuff.

The engine is a brand new unit that produces a whopping 421bhp from its 2.0-litre capacity in ‘S’ trim, and can deliver 0-60MPH in four seconds flat. It outputs a power-per-litre figure that was previously only found in rally legends such as the Mitsubishi Evo, so that in itself should be applauded. It also has a redline of 7000rpm, which is never a bad thing for maximum hoonery.

Downsides? With emission regulations getting more and more strict as time goes on, it unfortunately has a negative impact on the sound the CLA 45 produces. With the standard exhaust, most reviewers have noted that the new model produces a flatter, less exciting sound than its predecessor. It’s down to new petrol particulate filters – all in the name of making the AMG greener.

On the plus side, it’s easy to swap out exhaust system components to give your CLA the sound it rightfully deserves. On the plus side, it’s easy to swap out exhaust system components to give your CLA the sound it rightfully deserves. The best exhaust for the CLA 45 AMG exhaust will give back the meaty roar that AMG models are so synonymous for. A sports exhaust system can even give the potential to boost power output.

 will give back the meaty roar that AMG models are so synonymous for. A sports exhaust system can even give the potential to boost power output.

With the CLA 45 AMG, Mercedes have crafted out an incredibly tight niche. We live in an age of SUVs and trucks, so surely paying a premium for a small sedan with less practicality than a standard A-Class is going to have very limited appeal. Despite that, the world would surely be a more boring place without crazy cars like the CLA 45.

Daniel Calvin is a European sports car enthusiast, with a special place is his hearts pistons for performance Mercedes vehicles, he works with Capristo Mercedes exhaust systems

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Mercedes CLA 45 AMG: AMG’s Spirit Animal