2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG First Drive

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG First Drive

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Sedan

(2.0L 4-cyl. Turbo AWD 7-speed Automated Manual)

A True AMG, Even With Only Four Cylinders

In years past, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG would have been described as a sedan packing a hand grenade under the hood. Running unheard-of levels of boost in a turbocharged four-cylinder is a recipe for a wait-wait-kapow power delivery if one ever existed. Right?

Expectations, you have met your match. As AMG's entry-level offering in the U.S. market, the CLA45 AMG marks a new era for the in-house performance arm of Mercedes-Benz.

It's aimed at a broader and younger audience. Buyers who are less likely to have preconceived notions of four-cylinder power, and more likely to appreciate performance no matter how it gets delivered.

The project to transform the A-Class-based CLA250 sedan into something befitting the AMG badge wasn't always to be so ambitious. When work on the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG began roughly four years ago, the original target for the direct-injected engine (eventually known as M133) was a "mere" 300 horsepower.

A short time later, senior brass moved the goalposts. They wanted 335 hp. The engineering team then undertook a feasibility study. Afterwards, the engineers reported that they wouldn't hit the 335 hp goal... because they were confident they could surpass it by an additional 20 hp. We imagine there was much rejoicing in Affalterbach that day.

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG

Though the M133's fundamental architecture is shared with the base CLA250's engine, very few parts were carried over. It turns out that squeezing that much juice out of an engine that displaces a mere two liters entailed increasing peak cylinder pressures by more than 50 percent. As such, the block is now a stiffer sandcasting rather than a die casting, devised with a closed deck for better cylinder wall support and a rethought two-path coolant flow scheme.

The engine's entire bottom end — crankshaft, rods and pistons — is now forged, while the head casting has been revised with a new water jacket and fitted with lumpier cams and sodium-filled, nickel-based superalloy exhaust valves. Compression ratio dips to 8.6:1 to suit the 26.1 psi wallop delivered by an overhauled turbo system, now boasting a Schweinebraten-sized twin-scroll BorgWarner B03 turbocharger that feeds a short-path liquid-to-air intercooler.

A Benchmark Engine
The expected all-or-nothing, light-switchlike power delivery is nowhere to be found. This engine is astonishingly bright, tractable and transitions into boost with impressive linearity from as low as 2,000 rpm. It chews through revs with an effortlessness that masks its potency, thanks to a broad, tall swell of torque that forms a 332 pound-feet plateau between 2,250 and 5,000 rpm.

Mercedes claims it will run from zero to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds; we'd guess this estimate might even be conservative. Yet from behind the wheel, you'd never guess its engine boasts the highest specific output of any series-production engine. It's never anything but completely civilized, and it's stunning.

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG

Considering the CLA45 is from a company so intimately associated with power-drenched V8 and V12 engines (one executive joked that they "used to use four-cylinder engines for the windshield wipers") the car's soundtrack will take some getting used to. It's unapologetically a four-cylinder sound. All the vocals come from the exhaust — there is no induction sound — and at full whack, the buzz from the tailpipe is prominent, if not exactly musical.

The barnstorming mill is offered solely with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and all-wheel drive. Its three operating modes, Comfort, Sport and Manual do a good job of covering the bases, though this isn't the quickest-shifting DCT in the land. And despite its seven speeds, there are large ratio drops when shifting into 3rd and 4th gear. At least each full-throttle gearchange is punctuated by a delicious, deliberate fwa-crack! from the exhaust.

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG

Capable, if Flavorless Chassis
Most of the time, the 3,494-pound 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 is driven by its front wheels. Only when the chassis and powertrain sensors deem it appropriate does the Haldex clutch pack located in the rear differential send power to the rear. Up to half of the engine's torque can be sent rearward in this manner. In practice the system works seamlessly.

Bilster Berg Drive Resort is a spanking-new private road course in central Germany, the 19 turns of which were defined by keen assessment of the natural terrain. Hot-lapping the CLA45 here confirmed impressions formed earlier while booting it down the local back roads: AMG's baby is a competent, if slightly one-dimensional, handler.

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG

This is a capable chassis that's easy to drive fast. Within a scant few turns you're probing the progressive breakaway characteristics of its 235/35 Dunlop Sport Maxx RT summer tires, as the CLA45's handling is sure-footed and inspires confidence. The CLA45 isn't, however, an apex-assassinating rally replica, like some kind of German Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX. Its handling is consistently nose-led, and the rear end resists attempts to upset its purchase of the tarmac.

At the same time, the taut, well-snubbed chassis exhibits no bad manners and plays nicely with its overachieving engine. Every element in the CLA's suspension was firmed up in its transformation to AMG status, yet it still manages to round the sharp edges off rough roads. Its electric steering is well-weighted and is capped off by a synthetic suede-wrapped steering wheel lifted from the E63. Torque steer? There is none. And despite our attempts to point the nose toward each apex by trailing the left pedal, the big brakes shrugged off each barrage of three consecutive hot laps with only a hint of fade by the end.

Looking for the Devil Inside
As befitting its price, the rest of the cabin is well-trimmed and stylish, with supportive, comfortable if firmly padded optional seats. The car's compact dimensions are evident primarily in the backseat only, as the trunk is deep and front passengers have plenty of space. EPA fuel economy has not been released. We project 28 mpg combined.

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG

It's just another reminder that the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG throws away the rulebook of four-cylinder performance. Its nearly $48 grand base price is substantial, however, and the traditional gleam-in-eye AMG character has been toned down in favor of all-round appeal. Its level of success will be a litmus test of younger buyers' perceptions.

For sure, we won't look at four-cylinder engines the same way ever again.

Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.



  • kyolml kyolml Posts:

    3 inch exhaust? close deck, forged rod? it seems gets all the popular aftermarket turbo treatment at factory level with warranties and refinement. Sounds delicious, and i guess aftermarket power enhancement will be having a hard time in this application.

  • fortstring fortstring Posts:

    Holy frack. 355hp & 328lb/ft out of a four cylinder (let alone a 2.0L one)? First Benz to interest me, ever. Whoa. Hope it will be affordable though.

  • fortstring fortstring Posts:

    332 lb/ft. I stand corrected. o_o

  • joefrompa joefrompa Posts:

    I got to give it to Benz. Evo and othes have been churning out 2.0 liter turbo's puttng out ~270-310 crank hp for a awhile now. But they tended not to be smooth or described in terms like "plateau of torque". Let's see what this engine can do over the next few years.

  • karbuff karbuff Posts:

    Sounds like a 190E 2.3-16 for the 21st century. Double the HP and double the price. You get what you pay for though.

  • darthbimmer darthbimmer Posts:

    A compact with gobs of power harnessed to a balanced chassis? Sounds like my BMW 135. But with a 2.0T engine slightly edging out what BMW's 3.0T delivers, with better fuel economy, too! This car's going on my test-drive list.

  • jmaroun jmaroun Posts:

    This car makes a 328xi look like a Mustang. Absolutely Beautiful aesthetics inside and out. Practical, and in the same ball park, price wise to a 328xi. A no brainier for anyone in this market segment.

  • cjasis cjasis Posts:

    I'd like to hear from the tester how bad (or good) visibility is. One of my biggest complaints with the big brother CLS is that you can't see jack diddly from inside the car and it has HUGE blindspost. Seems trivial but those are deal killers for me.

  • dudie7 dudie7 Posts:

    "Its level of success will be a litmus test of younger buyers' perceptions." Are they kidding? How many young buyers have $45000 to spend on a car?

  • dudie7 dudie7 Posts:

    Check that...$48000 base price!

  • jederino jederino Posts:

    Pricey, but it seems special and attractive in the intro luxury set. I wonder if an A4 isn't still sportier than this.

  • 500rwhp 500rwhp Posts:

    I have to hand it to M-B. That's an impressive engine.

  • gtrguy2012_ gtrguy2012_ Posts:

    Too bad it's butt ugly. Jesus, why can't we get the much better looking hatchback? The performance numbers are insane though. M3 numbers almost.

  • stovt001_ stovt001_ Posts:

    The only disappointing thing is the front-biased AWD system. At least Audi sends more power rear-ward, where it belongs, in their sportier applications. That sounds like a pretty lame complaint considering how mind-blowing that engine output looks, but if I was spending that much money, I wouldn't quite care for it being for all practical purposes FWD.

  • travai travai Posts:

    Umm, if you set that glorious engine aside . . . . . . you're still left with a car whose styling is a bizarre mix of cartoonish and elegant. The nose and the overall stance is nice. But from the rear 3/4 view, it looks like an athlete wearing a Victorian bonnet. Or an out-of-shape man wearing a pair of Jordans. The 5-door is, as someone else mentioned, much better looking -- because, I think, the design is more honest about its function as a small car.

  • sichin2000_ sichin2000_ Posts:

    Maybe they should have gotten Dirty Harry to do another car commercial.. "the CLA45 - the most powerful 4 cylinder in the world.. from here it will blow your doors right off.. feeling lucky punk?"

  • kkear3 kkear3 Posts:

    I was just over on the review of the new S Class and I stated the new S Class didn't look "special" enough to be at the top of the range. I also don't care for the new E Class front end either. On this car, the new Mercedes "eye liner" headlights look perfect. The more I see pictures of the CLA, the more I like the car, with the emphasis on pictures because Mercedes' often look different in photographs than in person.

  • tfilip tfilip Posts:

    what's not to like? looks good but I'll reserve further comments until after I drive it.

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