Mercedes-AMG is relatively new to the AWD subcompact sports car game, but in the few years it has been competing in the US, it has come leaps and bounds, and the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 is all the proof you need. This second-generation luxury subcompact packs a massive 382 horsepower punch from its turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and bolts out of the starting blocks thanks to a 4Matic AWD system and a sharp eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The exterior and interior of the CLA 45 both exude style, and the standard features list is impressive too. Combine this with a trick AWD system, launch control, and even a drift mode, and it's a formidable performance machine that can make even novice drivers look like superheroes. It might be a significant step up from its predecessor, but does it have what it takes to see off a brand new Audi RS3 and a massively overpowered Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing in a segment where BMW doesn't even show up to the party? The simple answer is that this battle is closer than it's ever been.
Not much changes for the 2022 model year. The new car differs from the 2021 AMG CLA 45 Sedan in terms of styling and small tech additions. Mercedes-AMG has introduced the AMG Night Package Plus, which has all the extras of the AMG Night Package with added black grille louvers and black exterior badges. Rose gold joins the exterior paint palette, the optional Premium Package now includes SiriusXM satellite radio, and a USB-C cable is included as standard.
No AMG car will ever be cheap, and even though the price of the 2022 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 sits near the bottom of the pile in the bigger picture, it still costs a pretty penny. Mercedes-AMG asks for an MSRP of $55,900 of your finest US dollars for the privilege of owning one of these cars, and that price excludes tax, registration, and a destination fee of $1,050. However, that is just the starting price, and adding a few optional extras will see that cost quickly surpassing the $60k mark. Fully loaded, the CLA 45 can cost around $84,000.
See trim levels and configurations:
|AMG CLA 45 4MATIC||
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
Gone are the days when driving an AWD performance car meant excellent grip in a straight line but terrible understeer everywhere else. The previous generation CLA and A-Class AMG cars will always be remembered for their fantastic acceleration, but also for their terrible understeer and general lack of entertainment behind the steering wheel. Mercedes-AMG has corrected its wrongs with the new generation, and what a massive difference it is.
The CLA 45, unlike its baby brother, the CLA 35, comes with some fancy torque-splitting tech that allows the CLA 45 to behave like a RWD car. This means loads of oversteer action on-demand, and not just in Drift Mode. Even in Sport mode, the CLA 45 will kick the tail out under heavy throttle loads, while the front wheels maintain enough drive to keep things pointed in the right direction. When driving like a normal human being, the CLA 45 is refined if not a bit stiff; for this reason we recommend the optional adaptive damping which takes the edge off. But this car's target market will understand that a bit of stiffness comes with the territory.
Drive the baby AMG hard through the corners, and the grip levels become apparent; they're utterly tremendous. The CLA 45 will cling on for dear life and won't wash away in a misery of understeer once it gets too much. The CLA 45 is fun to drive any way you choose to do it. The only caveat is that we feel a little bit too much of its incredulous capability is the result of computers and electronic trickery. This flatters novice drivers and makes good drivers feel superhuman, but it'll also give many drivers way too much confidence, and with the nannies switched off, the CLA 45 will bite you.
While the likes of the Subaru WRX STI are now dead, signaling a downturn for the AWD sport sedan, Mercedes-AMG has proven that these can still be exciting in the modern era. The improvement from the first to the second generation of the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 is monumental, representing a quantum shift in the way we view Mercedes-AMG products. We never thought we'd see the day when a FWD-based AMG product could both drift and carve corners with equal amounts precision and driver enjoyment, and yet AMG has pulled a rabbit out of the hat here. Now, the CLA 45 rides in a composed fashion with a balance to the chassis that was previously missing. The tires are no longer a shield used to overcome poor suspension tuning, but rather work in a cohesive fashion with the rest of the mechanicals. The gearbox is a vast improvement, the steering even feels better. While BMW doesn't offer a truly hot version of the 2 Series Gran Coupe - even if it did, the M235i GC has disappointed us already - Audi's new RS3 is in for some stiff competition from AMG.
As for the downsides, rear visibility is compromised and even a subcompact Mercedes AMG CLA 45 is no longer a small car, meaning there's a lot of car to maneuver. These are minor gripes in the grand scheme, though, and while purists may still find a little more joy in a BMW M2 Coupe, the AMG CLA 45 is a performance car for the everyday driver who doesn't need motorsport experience to extract the best it has to offer.
There's only one model on offer, so here's how we'd build ours. Starting on the outside, we'd go for the Iridium Silver paint color and add the AMG Aerodynamics and AMG Night package. We'd stick with the standard MB-Tex seats and aluminum trim on the inside. To further increase the car's performance capabilities, we'd also throw in the AMG Ride Control system, increase the top speed to 167 mph as part of the $4,300 AMG Dynamic Plus Package, and add the Driver Assistance Package. Total cost? A hair under $70k.
These cars are obviously siblings, with the biggest difference being under the skin. The CLA 250 is an attractive thing, just like its bigger brother, but it can't match the CLA 45 for aggression. On the inside, both share a similar interior design, but once again, the CLA 45 outshines the CLA 250 in terms of overall style and its sportier bucket seats. Both cars do however share the same interior and trunk space. The CLA 250's 2.0-liter turbo engine produces 221 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque and sends its power to the front or all four wheels in 250 4Matic configuration. Performance levels between these cars are vastly different, but the CLA 250 has one advantage; it's much lighter on fuel. The 2022 CLA starts at $38,200, which is a far cry from the $55k-plus you'll pay for the CLA 45. Choose the 45 if you're a wild animal, or go with the CLA 250 Coupe if you're an entry-level stockbroker.
The Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 is the baby of the AMG family and slots in below the CLA 45. The 35 is powered by similar turbocharged 2.0-liter engine to the CLA 45's but makes a less potent 302 hp and 295 lb-ft, a difference of 80 hp and 56 lb-ft. The CLA 35 will get to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds; nearly a second slower than the CLA 45. Power is sent to all four wheels via a seven-speed automatic transmission that doesn't feel as sharp as the eight-speed unit found in the CLA 45, and the lack of any sort of torque vectoring in the rear means that the CLA 35 misses out on any real drifting ability, while the 45 can feel almost fully rear-driven under certain conditions. The 35 is a fast car but feels almost sluggish when compared to its bigger brother and can't replicate the CLA 45's tail-happy antics. Is the CLA 45 worth $8,000 more than the CLA 35? Well, if you prefer eking out every ounce of performance, definitely. But if you prefer luxury over outright performance, save yourself some cash.
After a one-year hiatus in which the CLA 45 was left to its own devices, the Audi RS3 is back for 2022! Built on an updated version of the MQB platform, it's evolution rather than revolution. Like the AMG, the RS3 now has a trick AWD system with a Drift Mode, and like the AMG, it has a dual-clutch automatic gearbox, albeit with seven gears instead of eight. However, the Audi's party trick is a 401-hp/360 lb-ft 2.5-liter five-cylinder turbo engine that wails and howls and sings while the CLA 45's four-pot sounds like an angry washing machine by comparison and only has 382 hp and 354 lb-ft. In the Audi, 60 mph takes 3.6 seconds, four-tenths quicker than the AMG. Both are well-specced and a lot of the ownership experience will come down to brand preference, but the Audi is lacking in practicality with a smaller trunk, making up for it with traditional sedan proportions and more rear headroom. These two have never been as closely matched, or as dynamically talented, as they are now, but with Mercedes refusing to bring a full-fat CLA 45 S to America, the Audi has the upper hand in the performance stakes, which is enough to sway our judgment ever so slightly in its favor, despite it costing $3,000 more in base form.
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