March 29, 2016 @ 06:56 AM

Review: Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG - This isn't the CLA that you know, it's a beast

This isn’t a story of whether one should buy a Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG.

Nappa leather is a general term for particularly soft, chrome tanned, smooth leather made from a variety of animal hides. Natural Nappa leather is also known as Aniline leather. It is open-pored and imbued with aniline colorants. Nappa is typically full-grain leather which means the surface has received little or no alteration to reach its finished state.
Perforated and cloaking the nine-and-three positions of the chunky and gloriously shaped CLA 45 AMG’s steering wheel, this tactile handclasp becomes the initial point of contact and excitement between this Jupiter Red rage-rocket and I, that and the classy key fob, which given all of Mercedes’ technological capability, still offers a firm salute to the age old traditions of mechanically twisting the key in anticipation of whatever should happen next. 
It’ sunny outside, an excellent use of RM396,888 besides signing on the dotted line for the Merc seems to be to get into the booming Strawberry and agricultural trade in Cameron Highlands – better still both because the business experience comes replete with a storm up the complex and massively challenging Route 185.
From where I’m seated, and what a place it is too – swathes of ARTICO man-made leather mould into the firm bolstering of the bucket seats, the alloy inserts in the headrests make the chairs seemingly fit for purpose on a fighter jet, there’s little movement once my torso is plonked within the unit. The seating position is ace – little flicks of the door mounted toggles to base myself low within the cabin, with arms bent and vision straight ahead catching the apexes of the twin bulges that run the length of the bonnet.
The warm ambient light radiating through the many buttons and knobs create a cocoon that’s both conclusive and immersive. Carbon fibre inserts nestle neatly between the leather contours of the door panels while more glossy regions form the vertical fasciae of the dashboard between the stylised protrusions of the air-conditioning vents. 
Many say the Merc’s 7.0-inch COMAND screen seems like an afterthought, I might agree – but the thing is right where it needs to be, and as far bugbears go, this is not one of mine. I do however have a bone to pick with the button that controls the air-condition recirculation bit – the silhouette of it looks awfully like the B-Class!
An unjust representations then, of what you see just as you step outside. As far as facial expressions go – it’s the boastful three-pointed star that becomes the initial focal point, seemingly suspended mid-air by the metallic strips that run the length of the grille flanked by aggressive head lamps. The bumper canards that rim the front air-dams compliment the front splitter with sheer grace. Round the sides – it’s a tale of proportions, as I stand next to the menacing multi-spoke 19-inch wheels, casting my eyes rearward – and I don’t mean to sound too complimentary here, but it’s like someone gently draped a large piece of silk cloth over the design aspirations and mental force field of someone like Ralph Lauren. It’s a medley of layers, concave surfaces and muscular lines – from almost every conceivable angle; it’s a thing of beauty. The rear diffusers bearing the perfect sign-off on a design that perhaps will age like fine wine.
And then you start the engine. AMG’s one-man, one-engine build philosophy comes alive with the M133’s pop and crackle - instantly raising hairs on the back of my neck. The ‘133’ nomenclature probably a reference to the  benchmark  133kW or 181bhp per litre of swept displacement, multiplied by two to create the world’s most powerful series-produced 2.0-litre direct injected and turbocharged engine with a max output rating of 360bhp when spinning at 6000rpm and, more importantly, a rambunctious 450Nm of torque from 2250rpm. 
A cast all-aluminium crank-case forms the basis of the venerable power plant, despite ignition pressures rising to some 140bar, a cast iron block wasn’t necessary due to the optimised load paths of the crankcase. The crankshaft, connecting rods and piston are forged akin to racing cars. The cylinder bores coated in AMG’s Nanoslide tech to further reduce thermodynamic losses, lifted directly from AMG’s SLS program – all culminating in the M133’s monstrous 1.8bars of boost pressure.
On the other end of the flywheel is AMG’s transverse flange-mounted seven-speed gearbox featuring innovations like a double-declutching for perfectly matched gearshifts and Race Start function for full-bore acceleration. SLS AMG gearbox software modules have once again been adopted for use in the CLA 45 AMG. A multi-disc electro-hydraulic clutch makes variable torque loads at each axle possible, ranging from 100 percent to the front to 50:50 when required, through the 4Matic system. Combined, the lot is claimed to slingshot the CLA 45 AMG from standstill to 100kph in just 4.6seconds onto an electro-voodoo limitation of 250kph.
The initial start-up crack-and-pop mellows into a burble. On the inside, the stumpy gear knob is embossed with AMG’s coat of arms’ Affalterbach logo. Spread around it are just four universally understandable letters and the drive mode selector button reading the ‘C’, ‘S’ and ‘M’. Despite the plethora of tech under command – the interface between you and the CLA 45 AMG is simple.
‘C’ is for comfort, and one must concur that with 450Nm of torque pushing  to break free, the gearshifts should be jolt-ridden to say the least, only they aren’t. The initial get-go is smoother in my opinion then the CLA 200, shuffles through the cogs happen just above 2250rpm and the suspension is primed for hop-scotching over the bumps. One does feel the bigger road pimples but it’s rather serene for a car of this calibre. 
Bump up to ‘S’ or Sports mode and the sudden transformation of attitude suddenly reminds you why this car warrants those three extra little letters that read AMG on the rear decklid. The burbling turns into a bellow, cranky and deliberate, the car stiffens up, bumps are more pronounced by now, and the tachometer now climbs above the previous comfort-shift threshold. It feels almost as if it’s taking a deep breath, both organic and voluminous. 
And then you plant your foot down…
2500rpm, 2800rpm… 3100rpm… fury! The red spectre bursts forward in anger and bravura; one barely has time to look past the dials before the tachometer clips the 5750rpm… ‘phrraappp’, four loud sonic barks bursts through the twin tailpipes, the next gear lands on the 4500rpm mark, blink twice… ‘phrrraapp’, onto the next . In the time it took you to read the last sentence – you would have been doing 150kph. The sound is mega – the type you could close your eyes and imagine, time and time again. The experience is bucket-list stuff! Pops on the after burn sound like dragon-farts in a fluffy kind of way, but the aural drama is a drug. I assure you.
The manual or ‘M’ transfers full control of the gearbox to the paddles, but it will shift up if you slack off and don’t clip the next gear in time. But remember all this happens before you ever turn a corner - which is where the remaining AMG technical efforts are realised.
Historically, I didn’t fancy the more pedestrian CLA 200 I sampled some time back – the ride was unnecessarily jarring, the gearbox recalcitrant and overall, it felt slightly numb. The comfort mode in the CLA 45 plugs this gap beautifully.  On the bumpier stuff going up Route 185, leaving it in grocery-shopping mode and being trigger happy with the paddles, the response remains urgent, but the suspension is afforded adequate travel over the bumpier surfaces, still being malleable enough to flex around you – inspiring immense confidence. 
The three-link front suspension is re-engineered with stiffer steering knuckles and more rigid bearings in the lower link plane. This is claimed to increase the car’s cornering agility while maintaining precise suspensions geometry and road-surface feedback. At the rears, the subframe is rigidly connected to the body, supporting a four-link rear axle, replete again with rigid bearings for increased driving stability. The whole lot is modulated at all corners by AMG-tuned spring and damper combos. 
Once in Sports mode, the accompanying rigidity is instantly administered, again, Route 185 doesn’t disappoint and throws the Merc and me long-radius (perhaps 300m) right sweeper which doubles-back into a tight left-hander. To the best of my memory, I kept my foot down, accelerating well into three-figure speeds, and the car just hunkered down and kept going – the grip levels are mind-bending, body-roll non-existent, the car just seems to be corded around a pivot point and anchored to the landscape.
The monstrous ventilated, perforated and slotted discs front and rear are comfortably able to slice off chunks of speed at a prod. It takes some getting used to as the initial bite force is stirring but sustained throughout the pedal’s travel. 
But perhaps most special of all is the steering – where it is perhaps a known fact that AMG is no stranger to fast, muscle-bred monstrosities the steering of the CLA 45 AMG and indeed throughout the New Generation Compact Car (NGCC refers to the A, CLA and GLA) range is a vast improvement over the traditions of old. The weighting is sumptuous, both on the daily grind and when spirited driving is on hand. The aforementioned Nappa clad steering wheel singing sweet whispers of the front axle’s activity as it rotates and rubs within my palms and fingers. I would admit the Beemers still have that minute quantum of auxiliary clarity, but the AMG setup is nigh on brilliant – it’s a straightforward point, feel and squirt process.
It’s easy to get lost in the numbers, tech specs and spirited narratives of the CLA 45 AMG. The key, however, is not to be exceedingly excited or daunted by it. Once you understand it, the CLA 45 AMG is simple, it’s ready to make any drive regardless how mundane it may be, the most memorable experience ever – and that sense of romance is patent. 

Words: Arvind Kumar
Photography: Arvind Kumar

Price RM396,888
Engine 1991cc 16v 4-cyl direct-injected and turbocharged VVT, 360bhp @ 6000rpm, and 450Nm @ 2250 rpm-5000rpm
Transmission Seven-speed Auto, All- wheel drive
Suspension McPherson Struts front, Multi-link rear
Performance 0-100kph 4.6s, 250kph max speed 6.9l/100km, 161g/km CO2
Weight 1585kg
Rating 4.5/5 stars 

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