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Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG 2016 review

EXPERT RATING
9
Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the 2016 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the 2016 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

Mercedes has been at great pains over the last few years to connect the dots between its all-conquering Formula One team, the AMG tuning division and its road cars. Not only do some of the advertisements feature F1 drivers Rosberg and Hamilton (it's questionable how many Australians know, or care, who they are), but the team itself is known as Mercedes-AMG.

With or without the F1 association, AMG already had a cult following, particularly in Australia, which is one of its largest markets, and the brand is now being deployed at a rapid rate across the Mercedes range. That means BMW M/Audi S-like styling packages as well as actual AMG-built fast machinery with twin-turbo V8s and V12s.

The CLA 45 doesn't have a V8, but it does have a turbo four cylinder pumping out an improbable amount of power. A recent upgrade has seen the tightly wound engine produce even more, rivalling that of BMW's sensational turbo six in the M2. It seems the gloves are off in this German brawl.

Price and Features

The CLA 45 is part of a group of 45-badged cars from the A, GLA and CLA classes. The CLA class is made up of the sedan (which Merc calls a coupe for obvious style reasons) and a Shooting Brake mini-wagon, but all share identical drivetrains and basic spec. Prices, though, vary wildly.

The CLA 45 Coupe lands on your driveway for $92,215 plus on-roads. Its base price is about $3000 more than the stripped-out BMW M2 Pure and about $7000 less than the full-fat version of the M2. Audi's RS3 is cheaper than both of them, coming in well under $80k.

The CLA 200 I had a couple of weeks ago wasn't popular style-wise, but the AMG's bigger wheels, deeper front and rear bumpers and better detailing changed a few minds.

For that substantial outlay Benz gives you a 12-speaker stereo, 19-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, whopping sunroof, reversing camera, sat nav, keyless entry and start, adaptive dampers, front and rear parking sensors, active cruise control, auto LED headlights with cornering beams, auto wipers, leather trim (some real, some not), auto parking, variable ratio steering and electric racing-style front seats with memory.

Our car included two optional packages, both priced at $1990 - the Aerodynamics package, which adds a few bits and pieces on the front and rear aprons as well as a more aggressive front splitter, and the Dynamic Plus package, which adds a front axle diff lock and tyre-pressure monitoring. The matte black alloys add $490, bringing the total before on-roads to $96,685.

Safety

Nine airbags (including driver's knee), blind-spot sensors, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, forward-collision warning and mitigation, driver-attention detection.

ANCAP awarded the CLA five stars in December 2013, the highest rating available.

Practicality

The basic CLA has very tight rear accommodation but the slightly slimmer seats of the AMG mean rear passengers get a little more room. Inserting yourself into the back seat is a bit more involved than most cars as the C pillar gets in your way and the falling roofline can give you a head injury if you're not concentrating.

The front seats are tremendous. They look amazing and once you're used to them, are both comfortable and hugely supportive.

Front and rear passengers get cupholders for a total of four, while there are slim door pockets front and rear. That said, they're not especially useful, especially in the back. Front seat passengers get plenty of room, however, especially for their legs, and even the sunroof doesn't steal too much hat space. The cupholders are small, though I would contend they're the right size for a sensible cup of coffee rather than a bucket.

The boot is a mildly astonishing 470 litres, just 10 litres smaller than the big brother C Class's.

Design

The CLA 200 I had a couple of weeks ago wasn't popular style-wise, but the AMG's bigger wheels, deeper front and rear bumpers and better detailing changed a few minds. The crescent-shaped profile is improved by the larger diameter rims and the red flashes of the calipers from behind the wheels further add to the visual drama.

Inside is standard CLA with a bit of extra bling and that's... not great. For a large premium over the CLA 200, it's not a lot different in here and the carbon-look slab on the high-scuttled dashboard has some unfortunately lairy graphics splashed across it. 

Too many of the metal-look pieces aren't metal, and the row of silver buttons look cheap. However, if it were all black, I'd complain it was dark and dingy, so at least Mercedes have given it a go.

In contrast to the idiotic column shifter on the lower models, the CLA 45 gets a sensible gear selector that eats one of the tiny storage bins, but I can live with that.

The front seats, however, are tremendous. They look amazing and once you're used to them, are both comfortable and hugely supportive. These are the sorts of things that justify the price hike over the standard car and lift an otherwise humdrum, plasticky (albeit superbly built) interior.

The instruments are well laid-out and compact, with the steering wheel exactly the right size to frame the dials. Only problem is, the 300km/h speedo packs 100km/h into the space underneath the 9 o'clock position so you're basically forced to use the central digital screen to monitor your speed for any degree of accuracy. It's irritating because it's not difficult to have more space for speeds you're likely to travel at and crunch in the speeds you'll never see (outside of Germany).

In contrast to the idiotic column shifter on the lower models, the CLA 45 gets a sensible gear selector that eats one of the tiny storage bins, but I can live with that. You still have to put up with the dumb, everything-on-one-stalk approach for wipers and indicators, though.

  • 2016 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45. Image credit: Peter Anderson. 2016 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45. Image credit: Peter Anderson.
  • 2016 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45. Image credit: Peter Anderson. 2016 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45. Image credit: Peter Anderson.
  • 2016 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45. Image credit: Peter Anderson. 2016 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45. Image credit: Peter Anderson.
  • 2016 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45. Image credit: Peter Anderson. 2016 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45. Image credit: Peter Anderson.
  • 2016 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45. Image credit: Peter Anderson. 2016 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45. Image credit: Peter Anderson.
  • 2016 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45. Image credit: Peter Anderson. 2016 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45. Image credit: Peter Anderson.
  • 2016 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45. Image credit: Peter Anderson. 2016 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45. Image credit: Peter Anderson.
  • 2016 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45. Image credit: Peter Anderson. 2016 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45. Image credit: Peter Anderson.
  • 2016 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45. Image credit: Peter Anderson. 2016 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45. Image credit: Peter Anderson.
  • 2016 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45. Image credit: Peter Anderson. 2016 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45. Image credit: Peter Anderson.

Engine and transmission

As part of the mid-year upgrade, the CLA 45 got a power increase added to the mix, with the 2.0-litre twin-scroll turbo four cylinder now pumping out a mind-boggling 280kW and 475Nm. That's a lot for a little engine, which, according to AMG, is hand-built. There's even a signature on the cover from your personal engineer to back that claim.

Switching to Race mode around town could end badly, too, but again, it's more than survivable. Speaking of that mode, it's brilliant.

All of that finds its way to the tarmac via a seven-speed twin-clutch transmission and all four wheels. The all-wheel-drive system is reasonably clever and in Comfort mode will disconnect the rears to save fuel, plus there's stop-start to further reduce consumption.

Fuel consumption

Mercedes claims a startlingly good 7.6L/100km on the combined cycle, which seems like a distant possibility for me given my penchant for leaving it in Race mode and making the exhaust pop. I got 12.4L/100km with a mix of city, suburban and backroad driving. Still not bad, considering.

Driving

The AMG versions of Mercedes have a reputation for being so stiffly sprung as to be uncomfortable. I recently drove the CLA 200 and was pleasantly surprised by its compliant, if firm ride. I approached the CLA 45 with some trepidation.

At first, the shell-style front seats seem really hard and the suspension very firm. Mercedes' Active Ride control (adaptive dampers) delivers a surprisingly easy ride once you're moving, though. Bumps, potholes and expansion joints aren't a lot of fun, but there are harder, less-capable cars out there that don't attract the kind of criticism the clutch the AMG 45 range cops.

Switching to Race mode around town could end badly, too, but again, it's more than survivable. Speaking of that mode, it's brilliant. Sometimes these settings make a car a bit undriveable outside of a race track, with too-heavy steering, a hair-trigger throttle and dampers that appear to have had concrete poured into them.

The car rewards precision and you learn to get the throttle on just that smidge earlier to get the turbo to spin up and properly launch you.

While the ride isn't going to win any orthopaedic surgeon's awards, it's still bearable and means you can attack a track day or winding road without fearing you'll be spat off over a bump. The CLA 45 is tremendously fast, with an all-wheel-drive system that finds more grip than seems possible on pretty much any type of sealed surface.

The steering stays light and predictable and feels a little bit like a Ferrari's, which is a good thing - you still know what's going on but it's not a huge effort to turn the wheel. The engine is also predictable - moving off from rest there's a slight hesitation as the twin-scroll turbo builds up to suddenly throw you off a building.

And you can do this time and time again. The engine itself doesn't have a great deal of character; it just revs, shifts up with a burp at the redline and does it again. Then you jam on the cross-drilled brakes (which are very impressive), wash off a tonne of speed and repeat. There's always lots of speed to wash off, too, with a 4.2 second 0-100km/h sprint on offer.

Its ability on a windy-road drive is terrific. The car rewards precision and you learn to get the throttle on just that smidge earlier to get the turbo to spin up and properly launch you.

Ownership

Mercedes-Benzes are covered by a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and there's three years roadside assist to go with it. There's also three years of capped-price servicing, but you'll have to talk to your dealer about that.

Verdict

The AMG 45 line is pretty much a techno tour de force - small car, small engine, huge power and performance. It doesn't come cheap, though, and for the money, I'd want a little more in the way of interior niceties - some of the bits are just plain cheap-feeling, if not cheap-looking.

It is, however, the king of the kids, so it's doing something right. It's great fun and devastatingly easy to drive very quickly. It's just not especially involving when doing so. Setting that aside (because not everyone is a purist), it's a hugely impressive car that would happily find a home on my driveway.

Would you prefer a CLA 45 to an M2 or an RS3? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

EXPERT RATING
9
Peter Anderson
Contributing journalist

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