by Michael Butler
Think of the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 as the modern interpretation of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, a compact sedan powered by a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder sending power to all four corners and slaying cars that cost twice its $54,800 base price. There are differences, though, like the fact that the CLA 45 can't be had with a manual gearbox, relying solely on an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, and the fact that this is, technically, a four-door coupe and not a sedan. But with 382 horsepower and a four-second 0-60 mph sprint time, it doesn't matter what you classify it as. This thing is brutally fast. Now in its second generation, the CLA 45 is better than ever, but with ever-present competition from the Audi RS3 and BMW M2, is it good enough?
The 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 is all-new for 2020. Based on the second generation of the CLA-class, the CLA 45 is powered by a newly developed 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 382 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque, up seven horses and four lb-ft from the outgoing derivative. The CLA 45 is the highest trim on offer and comes with standard features such as 19-inch AMG wheels which it carries over from the 2019 model, keyless entry, a 10.25-inch Digital Instrument Cluster, and 10.25-inch MBUX infotainment system.
|AMG CLA 45 4MATIC||
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
The CLA 45 is visibly a whole different animal to base CLA models and exudes aggression and performance. From the side, the CLA 45 shares the basic CLA's beautiful swooping lines, and from the front, you can say the same, but this is where the AMG styling starts to take shape. The AMG grille is matched with a deep air dam with an A-wing design. These intakes are also color-keyed. The flared fenders hide standard 19-inch AMG twin five-spoke wheels wrapped in 255/35R19 front and rear high-performance tires. At the back, the CLA 45 sports a deep valance underscored by four round AMG tailpipes and a black diffuser. A rear spoiler ties things up. Up top, you also get a standard panoramic roof.
The CLA 45 can be classified as a compact executive sedan, and seeing one in the flesh will affirm that statement: it's not a large car by any stretch of the imagination, but thanks to that AMG styling kit, it looks beefier than its non-AMG siblings. Its wide tires also help to fatten up the look of the car. The overall length of the CLA 45 is 184.8 inches, and with the mirrors included, it sits 78.7 inches wide. The total height is 55.4 inches, and it all sits on a 107.4-inch wheelbase. With a refined interior and an all-wheel-drive system in place, the weight stacks up: the CLA 45 comes in at a curb weight of 3,660 pounds.
Anyone who's going to be interested in buying one of these tiny rocket ships won't be pandering to the beige and taupe crowd. No, the CLA 45 deserves better than that. Mercedes-AMG gives new buyers the option of selecting between eleven different colors, and as is Mercedes-Benz tradition, there are multiple somber hues to choose from. We're fans of the Digital White metallic and Mountain Grey metallic (both $720 extra), both of which bring out the muscular shape of those flared wheel arches. If you want to go a bit darker, there's Night Black, Cosmos Black Metallic, and Denim Blue Metallic to choose from. For those who want something a bit more out there, Mercedes-AMG offers the CLA 45 in Sun Yellow, a color that is bound to turn some heads and at no additional cost. Other colors on offer include Polar White, Iridium Silver Metallic, Mojave Silver metallic, and designo Mountain Grey Magno, the latter being the most expensive at $2,500.
Performance is the name of the game, especially when you have the hallowed letters A, M, and G firmly attached to the trunk lid. The CLA 45 stands one step above the CLA 35, which makes use of the same turbocharged inline-four engine, but in this case, produces 382 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque instead of the 35's 302 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. The CLA 45 is equipped with an all-wheel-drive system that sends power wherever it wishes, and at launch, it takes on a rear bias to get the best out of those 19-inch front and rear high-performance tires. Acceleration is explosive, and the 0-60 mph sprint is decimated in four seconds flat. Fortunately, this generation is more than just the one-trick pony the old model was, and handling has been vastly improved as well for a solid all-round effort from the AMG stable.
The exterior of the all-new CLA is gorgeous, and the interior is well-trimmed. We can even go on about the excellent MBUX infotainment system, but all of those things pale in comparison to the engine under the hood. The turbocharged inline-four used in the CLA 45 is codenamed M139, and in Euro-spec, is the titleholder of the world's most potent production inline-four engine with 416 hp. The American car comes a close second, where it produces an astonishing 382 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to all four wheels via an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The transmission shifts gears through a set of metal paddle shifters and offers near-instant response, a great improvement over Mercedes-AMG's previous attempts. Power delivery is more linear than you would expect from a car with such a small capacity motor. The large turbocharger feeds in power evenly, and the overall driving experience benefits from it. But the noise levels aren't exactly thrilling, and the reliance on turbocharging leaves the CLA 45 sounding more like a hairdryer than a high-performance sedan.
While the old CLA 45 was a rapid point and shoot machine, it came under fire for shoddy handling dynamics and a poor ride. Even the mid-cycle refresh with the addition of adaptive dampers and a limited-slip differential did little to curb the problems. Built on a new platform, we're happy to report the 2021 CLA 45 is a different beast entirely.
The adaptive suspension can still make things suitably firm in Sport and Sport+ modes, but in Comfort mode, there's enough suppleness to live with on a daily basis. In the firmer modes, US roads are a little too rough, but for those who frequent race tracks, they'll provide welcome support. With the suspension sorted a little better, handling has benefitted too, relying less on the tires and more on overall balance. A new all-wheel-drive system has also helped, especially with the addition of Drift Mode, which can shuffle power to the outside rear wheel in much the same way the Ford Focus RS did. That means that despite it being a FWD-based system, it can take on a rear-biased nature, which means less understeer and more fun, as well as more precision by virtue of mechanical torque vectoring.
But there are still weak points, and the steering wheel relays little of what's actually happening back to the driver. The heft loads up based on speed and drive mode, but it feels very simulated. The brakes, however, don't feel artificial at all, and the standard four-pot front brakes do a fine job of dropping anchor. With less reliance on brake-based torque vectoring, the brakes also last longer, and a trip through a mountain pass won't be met with frustration three corners in anymore.
It's still not the most involving, but for a FWD chassis to feel this rear-biased and playful is truly wonderful and might be enough to give the CLA 45 an edge over the clinical Audi RS3.
This car sits on the wrong side of 3,500 pounds and is powered by a version of the world's most powerful turbocharged four-cylinder engine, so it's clear that Mercedes-AMG was not too bothered with fuel efficiency when it designed the CLA 45. Even so, the CLA 45 still makes use of a small capacity engine that, when driven like a sane person, will still return relatively good numbers. Keep your foot light and you'll see 20/29/23 mpg city/highway/combined. That figure is matched by the Audi RS3, while the BMW M2 can only muster a combined 20 mpg. With a 13.5-gallon fuel tank, the CLA 45 should see a maximum range of about 310 miles.
Every car manufacturer has its own approach to interiors: Audi and BMW like to keep things cool and calculated, but Mercedes-AMG goes the opposite direction with its spaces. In recent years, Mercedes-Benz has seen a renaissance of its interior design language and has subsequently become one of our favorite builders of stylish cabin spaces. The 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 is no different: once you step inside, you're greeted by a decidedly sporty environment, yet everything feels of the utmost quality and feels as special as cars with twice the asking price. Visibility out the front is good, but you'll have to rely on the reverse camera, as the sloping rear end limits visibility. Standard materials are up to scratch, and we love the bucket seats up front. Compared to the competition, the Merc feels more special.
The interior of the 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 is a rather special place to be in - at least for those in the front. The diminutive size of the car when compared to say, a Mercedes-Benz C-Class, is notable, but there's still enough room for four and a half average-sized adults. The headroom in the front is a respectable 38.5 inches, dropping to 35.7 inches in the rear. Legroom for front passengers is 41.8 inches, more than enough for six-footers. In the rear, that number decreases to a tighter 33.9 inches. Shoulder room is measured at 55.1 inches in the front, and 54 inches in the rear.
Being the sports car that it is, Mercedes-AMG has equipped the CLA 45 with a set of rather supportive front seats that help keep body parts in place around sharp bends. There's a good combination of support and comfort, but for those that are serious about flinging this car around the track, you'll have to stretch for the optional AMG Performance seats that look and feel like something you'd find in a dedicated track car. It's not as comfortable, but boy does it keep things in place.
Once again, Mercedes-AMG impresses with a generous amount of interior material options and a tasty selection of trim inserts. There are two free upholstery options to choose from, Neva Grey and Black MB-Tex, or our favorite, Black MB-Tex and Dinamica with red stitching. There are four leather options, each costing $1,450, and includes Bahia Brown leather as well as Classic Red and Black. All four leather options required the $450 heated and ventilated front seats. In terms of interior inserts, you get to choose from five different materials, aluminum with linear grain, aluminum with longitudinal grain, and AMG aluminum being free options. Natural Grain Black Linden wood will cost you $325, as will Natural Grain Brown Walnut wood.
If the standard steering wheel isn't doing it for you, you can specify an AMG Nappa leather performance steering wheel for $400, an AMG Nappa/DINAMICA Performance steering wheel for $500, and finally an AMG DINAMICA Performance steering wheel for $600. If the sporty red seatbelts aren't your thing, you can replace them with black ones at no extra cost.
The CLA 45 is the perfect performance car for the young executive on the move or anyone else with the money who doesn't care much for trunk space. We're not saying it's completely hopeless, but it is on the limited side. The trunk opening is square, which is good for loading larger items, but do note that there is a slight liftover that could impede progress. So how much space is there? You get a total of 11.6 cubic feet of space. That's enough to fit a few overnight bags or a set of golf clubs. By folding down the 40/20/40-split folding rear seats, you can fit some larger items. On the inside, the CLA 45 offers enough storage space in the front, where it gets a small center console storage bin, a glovebox, and some slim door pockets. The rear gets a center console with dual cupholders.
As a premium executive, the CLA 45 is expected to deliver on standard features, especially at its asking price. Notable features on the exterior include a panoramic roof and LED headlights. The interior is where things start to happen: there's a set of eight-way power-adjustable seats in the front with three-position memory settings. Keeping things cool is a two-zone automatic climate control system, and you also get a four-way manually adjustable steering column. The interior is lit up by a fancy 64-color LED ambient lighting system with illuminated vents, and you also get an illuminated entry system. Other convenience features include over-the-air software updates, cruise control, and remote start. Features such as heated front seats, leather upholstery, and a garage door opener are optional extras. In terms of driver assistance features, you get standard brake assist, attention assist, blind spot assist, crosswind assist as well as a rearview camera and rain-sensing window wipers.
So we know that the 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 is a stunning car to look at, and its engine is simply out of this world, but Mercedes-AMG didn't stop there. It spent some time refining its infotainment offering, and the end result is one of the best systems around. The 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen display emits clear imagery, and menus are controlled by a touchpad controller, steering wheel-mounted controls or simple voice control that quickly picks up most accents. The 10.25-inch display in front of the driver can be used as an instrument panel as well as an infotainment display, and a number of display styles can be selected, including traditional AMG analog dials. The two combine for a panoramic digital experience that no rival can match for sheer real estate. The Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) system is one of the most intuitive we've tested in a long time. The system seamlessly incorporates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as HD Radio and also features Bluetooth streaming and five USB-C ports. The optional Burmester surround sound system features 12 speakers and navigation is also available.
The 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 is a brand new model, so it hasn't had much time to break down, and no recalls have been issued thus far. Mercedes-AMG covers the model with a four-year/50,000-mile basic warranty with corrosion cover and drivetrain cover for the same amount of years or distance traveled. You also get a four-year/50,000-mile roadside assistance plan.
Unfortunately, the 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 is so new that it hasn't been tested by either the NHTSA or IIHS, so a final analysis of its levels of safety cannot be done. The good news is that the CLA was put through its paces at the Euro NCAP facility, and returned with a full five out of five stars.
As with any modern Mercedes-AMG car, the CLA benefits from a wide array of standard safety features and driver assistance features. Standard safety equipment includes eight airbags, including front and side protection, as well as knee airbags for the driver and front passenger. You also get LED headlights, electronic stability and traction control, and rain-sensing windshield wipers. When it comes to driver assistance tech, the CLA 45 comes with standard active brake assist, active driver attention assist, blind spot monitoring, and adaptive braking technology. If you're after more, Mercedes-AMG offers the optional Driver Assistance Package, which, for $2,250, adds active distance assist, active steering assist, evasive steering assist, and cross-traffic assistance, but it doesn't stop there. Further features include speed limit assist, lane keep assist, and route-based speed adaptation.
It was always going to be a challenge to introduce a brand new car, nevermind a performance model to the market, but we think Mercedes-AMG has pulled a rabbit out of a turbocharged hat here. Starting with the exterior, everything looks sharper and more focused than before. The 19-inch wheels and flared arches, as well as the rear diffuser and quad exhaust scream performance. The interior is exactly what we'd expect in an AMG car; it's beautifully trimmed and everything feels a step above its asking price. When it comes to performance, this little car is an absolute bombshell. It might be lacking the auditory drama of some rivals, but there's no denying the efficacy of the whole package. More than that, the new platform and new suspension setup are leagues above what the old car provided, and the added gimmicks like Drift Mode add a sense of theater the Audi RS3 can't give you.
The 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 packs a class-leading punch, and offers a stunning interior to boot. If you looked at the cabin itself, you'd think that this car would compete in the next price bracket, but it neatly slots in amongst its competitors price-wise. For a base model with no added features, you're looking at an MSRP of $54,800. That price excludes registration, tax, and a destination fee of $995. Compare that to the Audi RS3, which starts at $56,200, or the BMW M2 Coupe, which asks $58,900, and the CLA undercuts both. Fully optioned, the CLA 45 nears the $80,000 mark.
The Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 is a standalone model that slots in above the CLA 35. The engine is a turbocharged 2.0-liter unit producing 382 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to all four wheels via an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission.
As a range-topping model, it gets exterior features such as rain-sensing window wipers, 19-inch AMG alloy wheels, LED headlights, and a panoramic roof. The interior sports eight-way power-adjustable sport seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, remote start via the Mercedes ME Mobile app, a 64-color ambient LED interior lighting system, as well as a four-way manually adjustable steering column. Other features worth mentioning here are the keyless go system, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and cruise control. Active driver-assist features include active brake assist, driver attention assist, blind spot assistance, crosswind assist, as well as adaptive braking technology.
The Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 can pack on the costs when the options boxes are ticked, which makes things a tad difficult seeing as there are so many tasty options on offer here. The exterior, for example, can be fitted with 19-inch AMG forged cross-spoke wheels for $1,250, or you could paint it designo Mountain Grey Magno for $2,500. The Exterior Lighting Package adds active LED headlights and adaptive high beam assist for $900. The interior is offered with an optional AMG Performance Seat Package for $2,690, which includes heated AMG performance front seats, or you could go with the advanced version of the same package for $3,390. Individual options include heated and ventilated front seats for $450 or an AMG Nappa leather steering wheel for $400. In terms of infotainment, Mercedes-AMG offers a $1,150 Multimedia Package, which adds navigation and speed limit assist. Finally, we get to the fun stuff: for $4,300, the AMG Driving Plus Package adds features such as Race and Drift modes, an AMG drive unit, and AMG track pace.
Well, there's only one to choose from, so you're stuck with a rather expensive options list if you want a more individual experience. If we were doing the buying, we would get one in Mountain Grey metallic with the 19-inch AMG forged cross-spoke wheels to match. We'd also get the Exterior Lighting package. On the inside, we'd have to get those tasty AMG Performance bucket seats, and we would get the aluminum with longitudinal grain inserts. Continuing with the interior, we would add the wireless charging station and Burmester surround sound system. Lastly, we would most certainly invest in both the Driver Assistance Package and the AMG Dynamic Plus Package.
The 2020 Mercedes-AMG C43 is a small luxury sedan that offers tons of performance and is considered by some to be a budget AMG despite similar pricing to the CLA 45. Powering this small exec is a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 which offers a larger capacity, and two more cylinders than the CLA 45. Power output is rated at 385 hp, which is three more than you get with the CLA 45, and 384 lb-ft of torque, which is a whole 30 lb-ft more than the CLA 45. The C43 is a slightly larger car and offers more interior space than the CLA 45, but is still a capable handling car and, as with the CLA 45, sends its power to all four wheels. The ride is good, and it feels as nimble as the CLA 45 in the corners, but the ride can still be jarring, even in its softer settings. The C43 will sprint to sixty in 4.5 seconds, half a second slower than the lighter CLA 45. The interior of the C43 is just as sporty and comfortable but feels somewhat grown up in comparison, and we appreciate the standard Burmester audio system, but the dual-screen system in the CLA 45 is superior. The C43 is the grown-up choice here, so we'll go with the CLA 45 and stay young forever.
This is the duel of the AWD Germans. The Audi RS3 is the definition of dynamite in a small package: it grips and rips and roars its way down the road like few in this class can, and we love it for that. Its 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine produces a CLA 45-beating 394 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque, and it will conquer the zero to sixty sprint in only 3.9 seconds, which is a tenth quicker than the AMG car. We also adore its classy yet simple interior which stands in contrast to the more dramatic interior in the CLA, and it offers decent practicality, albeit with a smaller trunk than the Merc. Both are very similar machines, though, sublime at point-and-shoot blasts down the road, but with the addition of tools like Drift mode, the CLA is now a more entertaining weapon, even if it is down on power. But the wailing five-pot in the RS3 is entertainment in itself, which may just be enough to win over most buyers.