This summer we had the pleasure of welcoming the 2017 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 to our garage. Over the course of ten days we had the opportunity to put it thoroughly through its paces, from the quiet Dutch countryside to the likes of the swift German autobahn and challenging mountain roads in the French Riviera. We took the CLA 45 – which received a facelift earlier this year – on a road trip from the Netherlands to Monaco and back, an adventure that we certainly look back at with a smile.
The Mercedes CLA in general is one of those somewhat awkwardly positioned cars in the model range, very similar to for instance the Mercedes-Benz CLS series. It’s marketed as a ‘sports sedan’ and you could see it as the sedan version of the entry model A-Class, the most affordable sedan in the Mercedes-Benz line up that forms a bridge between the A-Class and C-Class series.
Consequently the CLA is based on the same platform as the A-Class and B-Class, two models that are quite popular in Europe but that don’t take part in Mercedes-Benz’ offering in the United States. This makes the CLA the most affordable Benz across the pond. It first went on sale back in April 2013 following a successful debut at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Not much later Mercedes-Benz continued to build on the CLA and introduced the shooting brake at the 2014 LA Auto Show. An AMG version of the sedan already made its first appearance in late 2013. Back when it was still called the Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG instead of Mercedes-AMG CLA 45, much of the foundation that makes up today’s CLA 45 was already in place. It’s the same very powerful 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbocharged four-cylinder engine featured in the A45, GLA 45 and CLA 45 AMG models that is still in place. Today’s version is however a bit more refined. For the facelift Mercedes-AMG tinkered with the world’s most powerful four-cylinder a little bit just like they did with the GLA 45 power plant.
Output was increased by 21 hp from 360 hp (265 kW) to 381 hp (279 kW). Simultaneously the car’s peak torque saw an increase of 25 Nm to 475 Nm in the 2017 model. These are by all means no huge changes but they sure play a significant role in maintaining the engine’s status as most powerful four-cylinder in the world. The entry-level AMG ups its game on the road as well, its 0-100 km/h sprint time is reduced from 4.4 seconds to just 4.1. Unless you have the AMG’s driver package installed, you won’t notice a difference in top speed. It’s electronically governed at 250 km/h and the bar can be raised to 280 km/h if you take part in a training day at AMG’s driver academy.
4MATIC all-wheel drive is now standard on the CLA AMG just like with all the other entry-level AMG’s. The base CLA comes with front-wheel drive, which is something that you simply don’t want on an AMG model. The 4MATIC system makes sure that’s drivable 365 days of the year and improves the car’s on-road performance when it comes to traction, handling and sprinting from standstill.
I am quite familiar with Mercedes’ turbocharged four-cylinder now, as the CLA 45 is the second car to have sat in my garage this year after the GLA 45 in early spring. Both were specced with the AMG’s driver package and I’ve had the pleasure of taking both cars to the German autobahn for a high speed test. This is where it gets interesting, as you’d expect the CLA sedan to be much more aerodynamic than the crossover GLA. With the latter we managed to hit 284 km/h this spring, while the CLA didn’t get passed the exact 280 km/h mark. This summer I was left in disbelief when a Mercedes employee told me that it’s possible to hit almost 300 km/h with the GLA, although that would be its absolute limit because the tires wouldn’t otherwise be able to handle it.
It’s safe to say that these Benzes are not just toys that you shouldn’t consider when exploring the AMG showroom. This entry-level four-cylinder engine has impressed me in a manner that makes some engines with double the amount of cylinders seem dull. Don’t underestimate its sound either, every upshift is accompanied by a loud bang and it has a lovely after-burble to it when letting go of the pedal in the high rpm’s.
Having left Germany behind us we entered the Swiss Alps and took the scenic route over the bland Gotthard tunnel that we’ve passed through so many times. Clear blue skies indicated perfect driving conditions that we exploited to the fullest. We had a blast pushing the CLA 45 through its paces making it to the top of the Gotthard pass where we paused for a few photos. The scenic backdrop is surely one of our favorites, it’s always a pleasure to be back.
Against the blue sky and milder sun that was on its way down late afternoon the dark blue paint came out really nice, a good moment to reflect on the car’s design. Because what was actually changed after three years of Mercedes-Benz CLA? Well, very little I tell you. This was a facelift in the most traditional sense. In fact, there are no aesthetic changes to speak of except for the car’s head- and taillights, and a few extra optional trim packages that reflect itself through the glued-on aerodynamic features on the car’s front apron.
The car’s LED daytime running lights have been replaced by a smoother and more consistent line, very similar to that of the C-Class and facelifted A-Class. Just as with the C-Class, the light switches on in a fancy way when unlocking the car. It starts out blue for just a second before gradually changing into the bright white LED light. At the rear the CLA saw its – what I like to call ‘butterfly’ shaped – LED taillights replaced by a more standard design with stardust LED technology. I actually prefer the old design over the new one, but I understand that Mercedes had to change at least something in order for them to label it as a ‘facelift’.
As mentioned previously, our particular test model came with a premium trim package that brings more aggressively designed bumpers to the CLA increasing its road presence. It also featured contrasting gloss black elements such as the mirror housings, diamond radiator grille, rear diffuser, spoiler lip and tailpipes. Finishing element are of course the matt-black 19-inch wheels that complement the dark blue paint.
The interior is just as bold as the outside styling elements. New interior packages have become available with the facelift and boast greater possibilities of individuality. Our model came with the AMG Exclusive, Night, and Dynamic Plus packages installed. Together with the Aerodynamic package that brings the extra flics on the front and rear bumpers, all optional extras accounted for almost €30,000 on our test vehicle, just to show what’s possible with the new CLA 45.
Inside we had the sport seats, Comand online system, ambient lighting, carbon fiber inserts, red contrast stitching, red contrast elements on the dashboard venders and AMG logos all around. The CLA is quite a comfortable place to be, even for longer distances.
Declining the mighty Gotthard Pass, we soon found ourselves across the border in Italy, nearing our first stop of the road trip in Como. The CLA did well on its first long-distance day and it was a blast to cruise down the Autobahn and picturesque Swiss roads. We soon called it a night as the next morning we would be on our way early further down South to the French Riviera.
The next day one of our highlights was driving the always amazing A10 that sways in a playful way along the Ligurian coastline in Italy. Besides the awe-inspiring views, we always seem to find ourselves in good company when downshifting in some of the motorway’s long tunnels. An AMG GTS, several Maserati’s and other Italian sports cars made our way to France that much more enjoyable.
The 400 kilometer drive on the second day went by like it was nothing, and before we arrived at our final destination that day in Saint-Tropez, we made a quick stop in Cannes. Visiting Cannes for lunch we took a look at some of the world’s most lavish yachts and supercars, luxury toys that the French coastal city is always buzzing with during the high season.
Having enjoyed our daily dose of supercar exposure in Cannes, we got back into the CLA for the last leg to Saint-Tropez. This is usually not that enjoyable, given that the two major access roads to the touristic riviera town are always clogged up with traffic. The fact that our CLA was equipped with the Harman Kardon surround sound system made it a little bit more bearable. Upon arrival at the five-star hotel Villa Belrose a prime spot right next to the hotel’s entrance was reserved for the CLA. After a relaxing stay we would explore the area more the next day on our way back to Monaco.
We took an unusual route and introduced the CLA to a short stretch of Route Napoleon, where we would stop for a few photos. In the melting heat the CLA did well and brought us above the 1,000 meters mark in no-time. Having enjoyed the CLA for the last time in a truly mountainous setting, it was time to descend in the direction of Monaco, where a busy program was awaiting us. A first loop around the rich city of Monte Carlo brought us passed most of the city’s landmarks and prime time spotting places, including the F1 tunnel. You’d expect that the CLA wouldn’t stand out so much among the presence of an array of supercars and hypercars that are worth millions of dollars, but apparently it was impressive enough looking to be officially ‘spotted’.
During our last day we met up with Carina Lima, casual owner of a Koenigsegg One:1. If you’re interested, you can read the article and see the photos here. After a fun-filled last day of our road trip, it was already time to get back to the cold North. The busy week literally ‘flew by’, a note on which we ended our road trip the last day after having been stuck in Swiss traffic for ages. The last leg of Autobahn was swiftly devoured by the CLA in a matter of hours later at night, which lead us to visit more gas stations than usually is the case.
Looking back at our road trip we couldn’t have wished for a better companion than the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45. It’s quick, it has modern and aggressive looks that appeal to young and old, and is a more spacious alternative to the A45 AMG. With all our camera equipment we sure made good use of the car’s boot space. The 2017 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 4MATIC starts from €56,673 in Germany. Because of the tax system in the Netherlands the Dutch are required to pay quite a premium. The CLA 45 costs €68,000 in stock condition there, while our model cost just over €96,000 as tested.