Mercedes-Benz is the first to step up in what I’m going to call the Premium Compact Sedan (that isn’t really that compact) Segment. Yes, let’s go with that. The CLA will rule this brand new niche segment until the Audi A3 sedan and, I’m assuming here, BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe arrive later this year.
The three pointed star seems to have its naming system in order now, and the CLA can be thought of as the compact version of the CLS, in the same way that the GLA is a compact version of the monstrous GL.
On the recent launch of the model line up, I got to drive the CLA200 and the potent CLA 45 AMG. Let’s start with AMG, because it’s faster.
Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG based on A 45 AMGThe CLA 45 AMG is much the same as the A 45 AMG - which has garnered loads of praise and is a South African car of the year finalist for 2013. It runs the same extraordinarily powerful 2.0-litre inline-4 turbo motor, with a scarcely believable 265kW and 450Nm of torque. To put that in perspective, the latest Golf GTi is no slouch, and it has 162kW.
To harness all of that German madness, the CLA (and A 45) run a clever All-Wheel-Drive on demand system that starts at 100% front-wheel-drive, and when slip is detected, can send as much as 50% of the power to the rears. The software controlling this is very clever indeed, and extremely responsive. The result is that you have a car that is almost impossible to unstick.
Oversteer and understeer are virtually impossible, unless you are: a) very capable and b) going very quickly indeed. In fact, if you do manage understeer in this car, you’re probably already half way to a very large accident.
Driving the CLA 45 AMGThe way you can keep your foot flat through slower corners is seriously impressive, and in the high speed slalom we were invited to try on the Robertson airfield runway, the car felt planted at quite silly speeds, changing direction sharply and with no drama. This is an AMG that pretty much anyone can drive quickly.
The exhaust note is wonderfully bassy, growling and spluttering in a way that will make you smile, and with a 0-100 time of 4.5 seconds, the Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG is super car quick.
That said, the professional rally driver and long-time Mercedes-Benz Advanced Driving instructor who hosted our gymkhana said he preferred the driving dynamics of the CLA over the A class, and found the package to be one of the best AMGs ever. That’s high praise from someone who has driven just about every AMG in existence.
Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG Price in South AfricaComing in at R674 400, the Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 might be one of the most affordable cars the brand has ever produced, but remains an expensive piece of kit. I personally would jump at a second hand C 63 AMG for the same sort of price, but the CLA is a unique, stunning-looking car that might just steal buyers from its older AMG siblings.
*Two types of equipment line, Urban and AMG
*Manual transmission standard to petrol engines, 7 Speed dual clutch standard to diesel and AMG