250 4Matic also has a turbo four-cylinder 2.0-litre, four-wheel drive and seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Bit too close for comfort?
Mercedes wants you to think of the CLA45 as a CLS63 for the upwardly mobile AMG first-timer. But with two near-identical CLAs before you're in the showroom, one at £369 per month and one at £519 per month, and a line-up of 2013-registered C63s outside on the approved used lot for similar money which way are you going to turn? Shoot, you could even have a main dealer 'real' CLS63 with under 20K on the clock for less than the sticker price of this car.
Unfortunately for the CLA45 it faces a more intense scrutiny than the A45. The hatch-based version is like no AMG that has existed before and thereby freed from any expectation. Because the CLA looks - and is sold as - something of a Fisher Price 'my first AMG' it's got to stand that comparison.
AMG's tactic with the A45 is to go so far beyond hot hatch expectations as to headbutt you into submission. It's way more violent and extreme than anything you'd expect, bulldozing any doubts you might have had about a brand associated with 500hp V8s suddenly having a go at a hot hatch. OK, it's not perfect. But you've got to admire the all or nothing approach.
And in the A45 the punishing low-speed ride, farty exhaust with its ba-ba-bang percussion through the gears and hilariously over-boosted power delivery kind of make sense. It looks like a hot hatch, albeit a very expensive one. But it convinces on that promise with the driving experience too.
Boom and bust
So it's marginally more grown-up in tone, aurally and aesthetically. Whether those rear seat passengers will first comment on the reduced exhaust boom or the fact their heads are pressing firmly against the roof will depend on stature. Suffice to say, if you want to carry grown-ups around you'd be better off with the A- or GLA45. Or that barely used C63. Oops, there we go again...
others might choose to distract from prosaic underpinnings with lots of damper modes, user configurable steering maps and other gizmo-based smokescreens.
That one suspension setting is pretty brutal though, especially for passengers and at urban speeds. There is a sweet spot where composure derived from firm springing and damping can actually make speed bumps and the like more palatable than waft and wallow but, hand on heart, the CLA is probably a little beyond it. Above 50mph or so it's less of an issue but if your driving is more 'burbs than B-roads you'll probably be better off with the GLA version.
On the latter the CLA45 is brilliant fun though. It may be based on the Devil's mix of a transverse, FWD derived drivetrain and Haldex based four-wheel drive but AMG has - as boss Tobias Moers promised it would - worked hard to negate any inherent disadvantages. Control harmonisation is pure class and the gutsy power delivery perfectly suited to grabbed overtakes when breaks in the traffic present themselves. Only the gearbox frustrates, especially on downshifts in the Manual mode. Sometimes it refuses outright, sometimes it drops down two or three gears when you only wanted one. Merc UK's PR man told us upgrades to throttle map and gearbox management introduced on the GLA45 will filter through to A- and CLA45s though, and will be updated come the first service.
On greasy roads and winter tyres the more relaxed Sport ESP mode reveals little interest in doing anything exciting in the traditional AMG sense of the word but nor is there any nose-heavy sense of FWD based underpinnings. You can get on the power early, ride the explosion of boost and use all that power to maximum effect safe in the knowledge that the more you give it the more the line will tighten and the faster you'll go. On greasy winter roundabouts that C63 or CLS63 wouldn't see which way it went.
But if that was the case ours would probably still have a V8.
MERCEDES-BENZ CLA45 AMG
Engine: 1,991cc 4-cyl turbo
Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch auto, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 360@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 332@2,250-5,000rpm
0-62mph: 4.6 seconds
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
MPG: 39.8 (NEDC combined)
Price: £42,465 (before options, £52,365 as tested)