Review and photos by Michael Bettencourt

Hanover, Germany – Avoiding the performance pipsqueak label was job one for the Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG development team, and man have they ever succeeded. Yes, this smallest and most affordable of AMGs uses half the cylinders of its V8 siblings, is natively front-wheel drive, and uses an engine that’s less than a third of the size in displacement of the next least expensive AMG model, the C 63 AMG.

At the Bilster Berg racetrack in northern Germany, none of that mattered.

First Drive: 2014 Mercedes Benz CLA 45 AMG mercedes benz luxury cars first drives
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG. Click image to enlarge

With a performance-tuned 4Matic all-wheel-drive system, the 355 horsepower the CLA 45 squeezes out of just two litres of displacement is literally a new production car record. Mercedes-Benz calls it 181 hp/litre, since the engine is officially 1,991 cubic centimetres – the exact same cc count as the garden-variety 207-hp front-wheel-drive CLA 250. Its 332 lb-ft of torque is nothing to sneeze at either, even if there is a whiff of launch delay if you’re not in Sport mode.

Add up the CLA 45’s all-wheel drive, launch control system, slight 1,585-kg curb weight and big turbo boost, and Mercedes-Benz quotes a 0–100 km/h time of just 4.6 seconds, a mere 0.1 seconds behind the current 451 hp C 63 AMG sedan with its honking big 6.2-litre V8. Perhaps that’s why Mercedes-Benz is pumping up the C 63 AMG to 507 hp for 2014, in what appears to be swan song for this husky brute of an engine.

This will push down the time for the C 63 AMG sedan to 4.2 seconds, widening the gap slightly. But if Benz’s CLA 45 numbers hold up in actual testing, the CLA will still be less than half a second behind its pricier sibling, with the advantage of all-wheel-drive traction for significantly less money, and much better fuel economy, if you don’t thrash it as we did at Bilster Berg. It was the first corporate event at the brand spanking new track, and fitting that Mercedes-Benz christened the circuit with this international launch for the CLA 45 AMG.

First Drive: 2014 Mercedes Benz CLA 45 AMG mercedes benz luxury cars first drives
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG. Click image to enlarge

Also making an appearance was the tragically not-for-North America *sigh* A 45 AMG hatchback.

What the starting price or fuel consumption will be by the time this car launches in November are still unknown, but we can make a few good estimates here. The CLA 45’s U.S. starting price was announced at US$47,450, as well as a European overall fuel economy average of 6.9 L/100km. Our figures will differ, but likely not by huge amounts – the regular CLA that launches a couple months before the AMG will cost $4,000 more in Canada, so a low- to mid-50s price tag seems most likely.

The current “entry-level” AMG product, the C 63 sedan, starts at CDN$65,300, though transaction prices for that C 63 AMG tend to be closer to $80,000, according to Ola Kaellenius, CEO of Mercedes-AMG. Thus both the CLA 45 and the Euro-centric A 45 AMG are new, much more affordable entry points to AMG ownership, with the goal of roping younger and up and coming buyers into the AMG family, before doing a Jeffersons-like “movin’ on up” climb of the AMG ladder.

So how does this all work on actual public roads? Here it has much more of a conflicted personality: conflicted between providing sporting performance and fuel-efficiency.

First Drive: 2014 Mercedes Benz CLA 45 AMG mercedes benz luxury cars first drives First Drive: 2014 Mercedes Benz CLA 45 AMG mercedes benz luxury cars first drives
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG. Click image to enlarge

Similar to most Mercedes-Benz AMG models, the CLA 45 doesn’t sacrifice all comfort for the sake of performance, but there’s a definite note of increased aggression. This is obvious as soon as the driver drops into the well-bolstered optional Performance seats, which are not quite as bear-hugging as, say, a Fast and Furious–inspired Ford Focus ST, but close. The ride is not harsh compared to most sports cars, but firmer than most luxury-oriented sedans. The lowered AMG sports suspension doesn’t offer any electronic adjustability to switch between comfort and sport modes.

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