Even the cheapest Mercedes-Benz is subject to the AMG treatment. The Affalterbach outfit has created the CLA45 AMG, a supremely powerful sports car debuting at the New York auto show. It goes on sale in November 2013.
The CLA45 AMG is really just a four-door version of the A45 AMG hatchback already revealed in Europe. The two cars share nearly everything -- engine, transmission, chassis -- but the A-Class hatchback is sold in Europe while the U.S. market only receives the CLA-Class four door coupe.
Under the CLA45's hood is a hand-built 2.0-liter turbocharged engine. The four-cylinder uses an all-aluminum crankcase, forged crankshaft and pistons, and special friction-reducing cylinder liners called Nanoslide. Thanks to 26.1 psi of boost from the turbocharger, the engine produces 355 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. That's an incredible 178 hp per liter, enough for Mercedes to claim this engine as the most powerful four-cylinder in a production car.
Power travels next to the AMG Speedshift DCT seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, which somewhat ironically has both launch-control and engine stop-start features. From there, a performance-tuned version of Mercedes' 4Matic all-wheel-drive system directs power to the 18-inch wheels. Normally the CLA45 AMG operates as a front-wheel-drive car to optimize fuel economy, but when the front wheels slip, as much as 50 percent of the engine's power can be diverted to the rear axle.
Mercedes expects the CLA45 AMG will sprint from rest to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, and it is electronically limited to 155 mph. A butterfly valve in the exhaust automatically adjusts to vary the car's sound level: quiet when cruising, full volume during aggressive driving.
To balance the engine, the CLA45 also receives improved handling, by way of stiff springs and dampers, larger anti-roll bars, revised steering knuckles, and stronger wheel bearings. Upgraded cross-drilled brake discs measure 13.8 inches in diameter in front, 13.0 inches rear. The 18-inch wheels are lightweight AMG designs and shod in wide, low-profile tires.
Brash Looks, Reasonable Price
The Mercedes CLA45 AMG builds on the sultry, swoopy CLA-Class four-door that bowed at the Detroit auto show with a long list of new visual parts. Up front are AMG's twin-blade grille, a new bumper with larger air intakes, and a black-accented lower lip. Black side skirts lead toward the large black rear diffuser, which is home to a quartet of parallelogram exhaust tips. LED taillights are standard, and the rear bumper has prominent cutouts meant to simulate air vents.
Like other Mercedes AMG cars, the interior of the CLA45 benefits from sporty bucket seats swathed in black leather with red stitching, red seat belts, a contoured sports steering wheel, aluminum pedals, and AMG's unique leather-and-aluminum shifter. Options include carbon-fiber interior trim; carbon-fiber versions of the front splitter, side skirts, and rear bumper trim; 19-inch wheels; blacked-out exterior chrome; red-painted brake calipers; and a panoramic sunroof.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG costs $48,375 after a $925 destination charge, making it the cheapest AMG car by a large margin (the next most affordable is the $60,725 C63 AMG sedan). Considering that Mercedes' own testing says the CLA45 AMG is just 0.2 second slower to 60 mph than the C63 AMG, the former looks like a comparative performance bargain. CLA45 order books open this spring, and the first examples will reach customers in November.