Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake is a good looking station wagon which complements the A-Class five-door hatch and four-door sedan.

Interestingly, the CLA is similar in size to the recently superseded Mercedes C-Class. The all-new C-Class has increased in size leaving space for the A-Class. It may even be large enough to make space for a smaller model. Mercedes is creatively keen on providing something for everyone in the prestige market.

Our test car the past week was the $89,510 CLA 45 Mercedes-AMG hotshot. It has an incredible 265 kilowatts of power and 450Nm of torque from a high-tech 2.0-litre turbo-petrol.

Keen on flooding the compact prestige market, Mercedes-Benz Australia is importing a big variety of models. These begin with the $52,400 CLA 200 with a 1.6-litre turbo-petrol engine with 115kW of power and 250Nm of torque. The $52,900 turbo-diesel CLA 200 CDI is powered by a 2.1-litre engine with 100kW, and 300 Nm from 1200 to 4000 revs. Like the AMG 45, the $66,400 CLA 250 Sport has 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. Not so much for brutal performance as in 'our' A 45 AMG, but to give added grip on wet roads or in snowy environments.

Design

In our eyes the Shooting Brake is the best looking of all the new Mercedes A-Class. Gone are the days when Mercs were sedate vehicles for older buyers. Sleek and showy is the new Mercedes-Benz signature. Stretching a coupe to provide a practical rear end isn't difficult, but the stylists at Benz have done it to perfection.

Bold frontal styling with big cutouts in the lower area and set back 'diamond' grille works nicely without being overly aggressive. The big exhaust outlets in the rear diffuser give the tail end a powerful look to those it has just overtaken.

The AMG 45 powerplant runs all the way from 2250rpm to 5000, so grunt is on tap virtually all the time

Inside is where the CLA 45 AMG really struts its stuff. Sporting seats with red stitching support well and there are other red details in the cabin, such as around the air vents and on the pedals to give it that sporty look.

Features

An 8-inch colour screen sits on top of the dashboard and gives access to various communication features through the Mercedes COMAND system. It is controlled through a mouse-type knob in the centre console area.

Garmin Map Pilot satellite navigation is standard across the range as is an Audio 20 sound system with AM, FM and DAB+; single-disc CD player; Bluetooth phone plus audio streaming; and USB and Aux sockets.

Engine

The stand-alone A 45 AMG 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine was developed by Mercedes-AMG specifically for these high-performance models. It's the most powerful series-production four-cylinder car engine in the world. Its sophisticated cooling system has been engineered to provide optimal performance and durability even under extreme pressure.

It drives through a double-clutch, seven-speed, Speedshift sports gearbox and an all-wheel-drive system. The latter has three modes in the ESP (Electronic Stability Program) that do their best to keep the car under control in all circumstances.

Safety

The CLA-Class range has a full suite of passive safety items that assist in crash avoidance. These include attention, lane keeping and blind spot assist systems. There's also adaptive braking with braking assist. Automatic headlights are a handy feature.

Should the car still crash nine airbags are activated as the computers dictate when it's necessary. The engine is shut off, the hazard flashers are turned on and the car calls for emergency medical assistance by way of the Mercedes COMAND contact system.

Driving

The torque spread in the AMG 45 powerplant runs all the way from 2250rpm to 5000, so grunt is on tap virtually all the time. Sprinting from rest to 100km/h in just 4.7 seconds in a voluminous station wagon with an engine capacity of just 2.0 litres would have seemed like an impossible dream a decade back.

The AMG is sure to bring smiles to the faces of those who enjoy getting the best from any car

The hotrod motor is at its best in the Sport or Manual settings when it spits and crackles like a purebred racing car. Great fun, but keep an eye out in case anyone in authority might hear you coming – or going…

The AMG's engine performance is exceptional and once minor turbo lag has passed the response is magnificent. Overtaking is swift and safe and hills barely exist.

There's speed-sensitive sports steering, AMG sports suspension, and an AMG high-performance braking system. Road grip is huge and steering response is excellent.

While the 45 AMG is not quite as comfortable in its ride as the standard CLA due to its unashamedly sporting suspension, it is still acceptable and is sure to bring smiles to the faces of those who enjoy getting the best from any car.

Coarse-chip Australian backroads did create added road noise, but the German suspension people finally seem to have come to grips with these surfaces and it's less intrusive in the CLA than we had anticipated.

An advantage of the extra length of the CLA's roof compared to the sedan is additional headroom in the seat. Shooting Brake's extra few centimetres do make touring back there pretty pleasant.

Luggage space is greater in the wagon than the others in the CLA-Class range. With the rear seats in their normal position there's a volume of 495 litres. If the seatbacks are set into an upright position (which reduces comfort somewhat) the load area goes up to a very hand 595 litres. Naturally, the seatbacks can be folded to add carrying capacity – up to a maximum of 1354 litres. A fold down 'ski flap' lets you transport long thin objects.