I consider Mercedes-Benz a pioneer for introducing several unique one-off vehicles that tend to turn heads and inspire its driver with surprising performance. In that, we’ve seen many iterations of coupe-styled sedans and crossovers that have won over the hearts of those who dare to have something unique. The latest AMG CLA is one of a few unique offerings from the German automaker that has graced my presence again, only this time it’s in the form of the pocket-rocket CLA45, a subcompact sedan that’s quite high-strung and fun to toss around out on the road.
The new Mercedes-AMG CLA45 4Matic+ brings back the thrashing little sedan that not many people knew about until they saw one keeping pace with sports and exotics. How could a 4-cylinder-powered vehicle be so quick? Is it because of that AMG badge? Possibly!
Powering the new 2020 CLA45 is a worked-over turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that has an astonishing 382 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque, which is essentially the most powerful 4-cylinder engine you can find (it can be had with up to 416 horsepower in other markets outside the USA). The 4-cylinder turbo is a marvel in itself as it is happy to rev high without giving out of breath near redline. The use of both direct and port fuel injection aids to dump enough premium petrol into the cylinders for the relatively high output. There’s a bit of harshness from the engine as it revs up high, but power delivery is smooth, and it gets the CLA45 up to 60 mph in about 4 seconds flat through the use of a giggle-inducing launch control system. Mind you, the CLA45 is all-wheel-drive, and there’s no drama upon take-off as all four 19-inch tires under the uniquely-widened fenders grip the pavement. Also unique to the CLA45 and its engine-sharing siblings is a new 8-speed dual-clutch transmission that quickly fires off shifts seamlessly. There is a bit of unsettling jerkiness found with the transmission upon slow engagements into first gear when you find yourself creeping along in heavy traffic. Otherwise, the 8-speed dual-clutch has a clever computer to retain gears aimed at performance to get all it can from the momentous turbo-4-cylinder.
The CLA45 feels light on its feet at most times, and with the smaller form factor, it fits the bill for inducing driver confidence in the ability to toss it around without worry. Braking is strong thanks to 4-piston front calipers that have somewhat of a natural feel. Steering feel, however, is a bit more simulated and artificial. Overall, the CLA45 is the modern-day interpretation of what we used to call pocket rockets, only we’re playing with some serious power from a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that hits way above its weight.
The cabin of the new CLA45 is exactly what I found in the CLA35 I reviewed a few months back. The fit and finish is excellent, and the smaller form of the cabin fits well with the smaller MBUX infotainment screen but doesn’t take much away from usability as my CLA45 was loaded up with all of the desired features and creature comforts. The front deep-bolstered sport seats even included heating and ventilation with a seat kinetics system to make small adjustments to limit fatigue on long trips. The MBUX system integrated through the 10.25-inch touchscreen, steering wheel controls, touchpad, and an advanced voice system, plays along nicely even with its slight learning curve. The 10.25-inch configurable digital gauge cluster is also a welcoming addition in the CLA45 to fit the new theme of Mercedes vehicles in their tech integration. Apple CarPlay, even though it displays in a smaller form on the 10.25-inch screen, plays nicely with your iPhone.
There’s a lot to love about the CLA45, but the deciding factor is if you don’t mind a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine in a $70K-plus vehicle is in a compact size. The CLA45 is small, and there’s no getting around that fact. Though, I will say that Mercedes has done well to make clever use of every inch of the interior volume where myself being over 6-feet tall, fit just fine up front. Cargo room is also a bit short at only 11.6 cubic feet. As far as what is to love, is the lovely styling of the CLA45. It’s true to the AMG lineup of vehicles with its widened stance and finders. There’s also a lot of flare added through darkened trim and the AMG exhaust that burbles in the Sport+ drive mode. The CLA45 is far from a poser and wears its AMG badging with pride – but you’re going to have to pay a little bit extra for that at the tune of $73,665 for my loaded-up test vehicle. That’s a far cry from the CLA45’s base price of just $54,800, but you’re going to one to foot a little extra for the niceties in my CLA45 test vehicle that surround you with a plethora of active safety features, a few luxury amenities, and plenty of AMG-inspired goodies that look stunning reflecting in the 64-color LED ambient lighting that is among the best in the business.
The Mercedes-AMG CLA45 is the quintessential pocket rocket for today as long as you’re willing to pay.