Why buy a Golf R or Focus RS when you could have an AMG?
Think of Mercedes-AMG, and images of big V8 and V12 engines mounted in colossal, leather-soaked luxury cars come to mind. But the performance car specialist also makes small models like the CLA and GLA, both of which were given the AMG treatment in 2014 and 2015 respectively, supported by 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engines.
That may not look very impressive on paper, but that little four-cylinder produces a whopping 355 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque, making it one of the most powerful production four-cylinder engines ever made. Then in 2017, Mercedes decided to add even more power, bringing the total up to 375 hp.
Yes, we know in the UK Mitsubishi sold the Lancer Evo with a 400-hp four-cylinder engine, but it was incredibly unreliable and required an insane maintenance schedule. Volvo also builds a twin-charged four-cylinder engine with over 400 hp but it gains extra oomph from a hybrid battery system. For all intents and purposes, the CLA 45 and GLA 45 are the most powerful four-cylinder cars money can buy.
Keep in mind, these are factory-built cars with real warranties and they can still be found certified-preowned or with a CarMax warranty. And at a certain point in your life, the Civic Type R with its giant wing and Ford Focus RS with its brash, youthful design will look a bit silly when you get out of it and the first thing people see is your white hair and beer belly. These Mercedes cars will give you the same driving experience as all of the hot hatchbacks and exude a more mature, sophisticated aura.
Buying a new CLA 45 or GLA 45 isn't cheap. The CLA 45 starts at $53,100 and the GLA 45 at $53,350. This is before you even start to add options. Go crazy with the options sheet and these two cars can easily reach over $70,000. On the used market, both can be had for nearly a third of that.
Looking back at 2014 and 2015 CLA 45 and GLA 45 models, prices have now bottomed out in the mid-$20,000 range. This is around the same price you'd pay for a low-optioned Volkswagen GTI. Of course, we aren't crazy. Recommending a cheap, used German car can come with loads of headaches. Although we'd be tempted by the sub-$30,000 prices, we'd highly recommend staying in the $30,000-$40,000 price range for a good CPO example if you can afford it. This is still around the same price you'd pay for a Ford Focus RS or Volkswagen Golf R and you do get a lot more prestige for the money.
Since we're talking about the earlier AMG 45 models, let's stick to the performance of the 345 hp versions. Both cars send power to a front-wheel-drive-based all-wheel-drive system through a seven-speed dual clutch transmission. With launch control and a whopping 26.1 psi of boost, the CLA 45 can rocket up to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds and complete the quarter-mile in 12.8 seconds with a trap speed of 110 mph. Even though the GLA 45 is a bit taller, it offers the same performance metrics as the CLA 45. Choosing between the two basically boils down to whether you'd rather have a four-door-coupe or an SUV.
Even though Mercedes markets the GLA as an SUV, the GLA 45 has been lowered so it looks more like a hatchback than a true SUV. The US market never received the A 45 hatchback or CLA 45 shooting brake, so the GLA 45 was our closest alternative. Interestingly, the GLA doesn't offer too much extra trunk space - just 14.9 cubic feet compared to 13.1 in the CLA. However, if you fold the seats down in the GLA, it offers a respectable 43.6 cubic feet of storage.
The GLA's added ride height may not be enough to make it appear like a true SUV but it is plenty to make short work of rough roads. One of the disadvantages of driving a sporty sedan is having to slow down when the road gets rough for fear of scrapping. In the GLA 45, even cities with terrible roads like Los Angeles will be no problem.
Inside, neither car is Mercedes' best in terms of quality, though both will be an upgrade over most hot hatchbacks. The Mercedes COMAND infotainment system hasn't really changed much in the CLA and GLA, so you really aren't missing much compared to a new model. Sure, it won't have standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto like a new GTI but this is one of the sacrifices you'll have to make to drive an inexpensive AMG car.
If you can live without creature comforts, we suggest finding a car with the $2,250 AMG-Recaro seats and the $1,500 Black "Red Cut" leather package, which includes red stitching and seatbelts. With these seats, you'll truly have the most insane SUV in the neighborhood - unless of course, your neighbor has a Trackhawk.
For less than $30,000, a used CLA 45 or GLA 45 is an extremely tempting proposition. We'd recommend spending a bit more to secure one with a warranty because those AMG bills aren't light. There will eventually be a new A45 sedan on the market, which may pull CLA 45 and GLA 45 prices down even further. So if you have been shopping for a new hot hatchback or even a Subaru WRX STI but think they look a bit childish, just go buy a used AMG 45.