The Asphalt Ripper

The Asphalt Ripper

Mercedes-Benz’s all-new miniature sedan turns up the heat before summer sets in —blessed with the world’s most potent turbo-2 by AMG and all-wheel drive, it WAs born to make hearts race



By George Kuruvilla

Published: Fri 10 Apr 2015, 7:29 PM

Last updated: Fri 26 Jun 2015, 12:28 AM

We call it ‘AMG’, the Germans refer to it as ‘aah-hem-ghee’. Either way, it’s a three-letter abbreviation that represents motorsport pedigree in a road car. They are also associated with large and luxurious vehicles, with heavy displacement engines, and a rear-wheel drive setup that will smoke up a fog to last a winter. By virtue, they are mean machines.

Today, we digress a little from those traits, and place AMG next to Merc’s newest, smallest and cutest sedan, which may seem like a joke to some, but the powertrain it’s equipped with is poised to have the last laugh. By having the smallest engine they have ever built and massive 4-paw traction — this is quite unlike any other AMG before it.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG is in town and we are having a go at it after a go in it.


Design & Aesthetics

The CLA has the most swoopy shape of any Mercedes sedan, front to back. The manufacturer is calling it a 4-door coupe… There we go again with pseudo names, but we know it’s a 4-door sedan, and a compact one at that: 4,691mm long, 2,032mm wide (including the mirrors) and 1,416mm tall.

In AMG format, this CLA is set to go against the BMW M235i and the Audi S3, but of course, the price and performance equation will bring on many more challengers. Also, its 1,585kg weight means — thanks to smaller dimensions and some engineering bits — it benefits in the acceleration and fuel economy departments as well.

The frontal design is the same as the A 45 AMG hatchback. Don’t waste time spotting the difference; they are just splitting hairs. However, the way to distinguish it from the less-spritely models is by the AMG “twin blade” radiator grille and the cross strut in the AMG front apron, both painted in matte titanium grey.

Headlamps have Xenon quality output and a simplistic strand of LED daytime-running lights. It’s not particularly beautiful, but it is distinctive and aggressive. Profile design is dominated by the raked roofline that merges with the truncated boot seamlessly, and hand-sketched creases across the door panels — like BMW flame-inspired lines. This speedster, in top trim, rolls on black-silver painted 19” AMG wheels with a multi-spoke design similar to the BMW Alpina. Not sure if commonalities between the German heavyweights are a coincidence!

There are several peculiarities that are picked up easily in the rear. For instance, we love that the rear window has been integrated with the body panels, and the signature AMG chrome-tipped quad pipes, which, even on a car with a 2L engine, somehow makes sense. It’s the rear light fixtures that disappoint. Yes, they boast LED strip lighting, but it’s evidence of a lack of imagination — something of an amateur design.

The Edition 1 variant, the one we drove, brings along a lot of intense visual flavour to the otherwise tame-looking get-up with the go-faster stripes, red brake callipers, etc. This is the one to get!

On the inside, it’s quite alright in the front with only two passengers; in the rear, however, not much room can be spared for a third — you’d be contorting like a gymnast by the end of a long ride. Some may say that the 2-door BMW M 235i has more space in the rear!

The race car-inspired Recaro seats are stylish and contemporary, and we love the red trims incorporated into them — not to mention, the satin finish trim that goes behind the neck. The seats are a lovely work of art in themselves. Alas, they’re not really meant for broad shouldered people (speaking from experience). Also, the upholstery is made of Artico, which is synthetic leather. You’d expect more from AMG.

If you don’t option it with carbon fibre or other fine materials, the default plastic board and bits can come across as marginally cheap and flimsy, especially by AMG standards. But we adore the carbon-fibre bits on the instrument gauges — seldom do you see a 4-cylinder engine with a 320 km/h speedometer. The tachometer runs deep into 8k territory.

The 3-spoke steering wheel, a chunky one, has been the mainstay of many a performance model by AMG — and it looks fabulous here too, providing ample steering command, and plenty of buttons for entertainment.

The other standout features include the iPad-like infotainment screen that floats above the centre stack. It gets metal bezels and that exotic-looking material goes on the three central and side air vents, too. The vents themselves are a progression of the SLS-&inspired design. The CLA 45 AMG also gets AMG’s very peculiar gear selector that would baffle anybody for its form and function, besides shifting gears…


Powertrain & Performance

Each engine has been hand-built, according to the traditional AMG philosophy of “one man, one engine”. In fact, the ‘man’ has left his signature &on the engine cover for you to see. This is all fancy and wonderful from a tradition and brand value point of view, but what makes the statement in an AMG is the powertrain.

This CLA 45 AMG, like its hatchback counterpart, has the most powerful 2L engine in the world! Of course, having a turbocharger bolted on does help. We are talking 355 horses and 450Nm torque achieved at 1.8 bar of boost, which is some record on its own.

In comparison, the ultra-high performance Porsche 911 Turbo has only 1.2 bar. They call it the AMG 4MATIC, which means it’s got permanent all-wheel drive and automated-manual transmission. It’s not the MCT automatic, but a 7-speed DCT (dual-clutch transmission). Fortunately or unfortunately, there isn’t a manual being offered. So if you are looking for a conveyance in which you can row your own gears, look elsewhere. The DCT, in general driving conditions, had no issues, but during quick travel, it doesn’t shift with the swiftness you’d expect.

There is no starter switch in this one; it’s back to basics here. Insert the Mercedes-Benz keyfob and turn the ignition and the engine comes alive with the turn swing of the gauges and a rumble out of the exhaust.

There is so much torque from the get-go, and with four driven contact patches giving it a traction advantage, you will scoot off the line with all wheels squirming, like you’re starting a rally stage. Even souped up Camaros and Honda Civics will be led to cringe at the drag strips. 100km/h comes quickly — 4.6 seconds! And it will hit the 250km/h speed limiter in not much more.

Quite unbelievably, the spec-sheet cites a 6.9L/100km fuel economy on a mixed cycle. You may be able to achieve something close to those figures on the highway, but in the city — with so much thrust encouraging you to tear through the tarmac from corner to corner — maybe not. You can imagine the amount of traction offered even around corners, with the all-wheel drive system which is front biased, but with the potential of sending 50 per cent of the power to the rear axle when required. There is enough calibre in its chassis to encourage anyone to tame any corner. The Curve Dynamic Assist feature, which is similar to the Torque Vectoring System, reduces under steer, something most front-biased all-wheel drive systems are prone to.

You have three drive modes to fiddle with when bored: ‘C’ for comfort, an aggressive ‘S’ mode for improved thro-ttle response and steering weight, and an ‘M’ mode for flicking on the metallic shifter paddles yourself.

It’s not all pats on the back for the CLA 45: the ride quality can come across as slightly harsh, especially if this is &going to be your daily drive. But those who understand AMG and the purpose of power will be quickly distracted from the comfort factor.

Now, on to the best part of the driving experience — the crackling exhaust notes that erupt between shifts, and the deep undertone of power that fills in the gaps. Deeply involving!

 

Features & Functionality

It offers 470L of space — 100 more than the hatchback version. But do note that there is an ugly and annoying space saver spare wheel zipped up and strapped down on the base of the boot. Dual zone climate control, or what Merc calls THERMOTRONIC, offers plenty of chill and draft out of the satin vents.

There is a largish automatic pano-ramic sunroof for a better look at the sky, but it slides all the way across the roof and hits the sharkfin antenna — a design flaw maybe?

Being a Benz, they reign in as much safety possible in the form of features. This is no S Class, yet it has adaptive cruise control to keep a fair and predetermined distance from traffic ahead, Pre safe technology to apply as much as 40 per cent braking if required, blind spot warning to alert you of neighbouring traffic and prevent you from teetering off your lane, plenty of air bags and a reversing camera. This is good reassurance, but at the end of the day, we advise you to rely on human intuition and skill at all time.

Entertainment-wise, you have the 7” floating screen for your navigation and audio controls and a rotary knob controller. The system includes a hard drive, Bluetooth connectivity, USB &and aux-in to go along with the 450W Harman Kardon that comes equipped with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound technology.


VERDICT

The 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG may be the brand’s entry level AMG, but it is a beast in itself. It is meant for the chronic adolescent who may want an AMG badge for cheaper, and doesn’t want to let go of the spirit of driving &and the image of bachelorhood by not getting a real coupe. 


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