First Drive

FIRST DRIVE - 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG

This little road rocket will surely attract some new buyers to the brand

NYIAS - 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA AMG
AT A GLANCE
PRICE
$49,800 base.
POWERTRAIN
2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, 355 horsepower, 332 lb-ft of torque; seven-speed automa

WASHINGTON, DC – Determined to gain an even larger share of the luxury car market, Mercedes is introducing a new front-wheel-drive sedan, the CLA-Class. Based on the same NGCC platform found beneath the current entry-level Merc, the B 250, the CLA is a sedan with a swoopy coupe-like shape like that of the CLS.

In base CLA 250 form, the new model slots in between the B 250 and the C 250 sedan price-wise.

While it would appear the 2014 CLA will poach sales from the C-Series, which is currently holding down second place in the small luxury segment in Canada, that model is due for replacement in the coming year. Look for it to move up a smidge in size and price making room for its new sibling.

We reported on our First Drive in the CLA Class last spring but to recap, the CLA 250 comes with a 208-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels.

photo-start]2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA AMG - engine.JPGFor those with enthusiast tendencies, a hot version, the CLA 45 AMG, with a hand-built turbo-four sending a whopping 355 horsepower to all four wheels, will be along in a couple of months. The 4Matic system used there won't be available on the CLA250 for a year or so.

We had a chance to drive the CLA 45 AMG, as well as to refresh our impressions of the CLA 250 recently in Washington.

A first for the U.S.

The B-Class, whose platform the CLA shares, has not yet been offered in the U.S., making the CLA the entry-level Mercedes there and the prospect of a four-cylinder front-drive Mercedes a novelty.

Canadians have grown accustomed to that combination thanks to the B 250, which has been a sales success for the brand here. With our general desire for smaller, less expensive vehicles than buyers south of the border, Mercedes also foresees great things for the CLA which rolls off the same assembly line in Kecskemet, Hungary as the B-Class.

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG.jpg[This compact sedan with the looks of a coupe is a very stylish vehicle. The CLA’s wheelbase is 60-mm shorter than the current C-class sedan yet it is actually 38-mm longer overall and sits closer to the ground.

Combine those proportions with a snubbed nose, sloping roofline and slot-like side windows and you have the appearance of a coupe intended to attract new and younger buyers to the brand.

Mercedes-Benz feels the CLA's customers will place a premium on style and forgive the tight entry into the rear seats and restricted vision once in there, as well as the restricted rear vision for the driver. There is, however, a surprising amount of room once ensconced in the rear seats.

The CLA has a contoured hood with dual power domes and upper trim levels boast distinctive bi-Xenon headlights. All come with LED running lights, frameless side windows and a matching pair of rectangular exhaust outlets.

Stylish interior

The interior has a lot of metallic accents and trim, with its machined-aluminum look instrument panel festooned by a quintet of ringed circular vents breaking up the door-to-door stretch.

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA - steering wheel and instrument panel.JPGThe faux textured leather atop the instrument panel and doors is soft to the touch and, in another nod to younger buyers, the CLA is available with an interior in colours other than black – specifically dark brown, tan and grey.

A pair of traditional analog instruments flank a configurable digital display

The screen for the optional navigation system and rear view camera (not standard on a $34,000 car – shame!) juts out of the IP top and looks like an afterthought. But Mercedes stylists say it was intentionally meant to look like a tablet, so commonly used by the intended buyer set, propped up there.

There is no question about its functionality and that position puts it closer to the line of sight and makes it less susceptible to glare.

The seats are German firm which puts those who prefer soft cushions off. But for me the firmness pays off over extended sessions.

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA AMG - Recaro seats and belts.JPGThe side bolsters may be a problem for those wide of girth, but they compress nicely keeping you firmly in place.

As mentioned above, the rear seats are much more spacious than the exterior design would have you expect with plenty of legroom for a near six footer sitting behind someone of similar dimensions. Headroom can be a bit limited though thanks to that sloping roof, especially if the car has a sunroof.

The trunk is respectable in capacity, certainly for this vehicle size range, but there is not a lot of height. The rear seats do fold flat for additional space.

CLA 45AMG

The CLA 250 is powered by a turbocharged four and is more than capable of keeping up with the pack. Power delivery is linear but there is a notable amount of turbo lag on occasion.

The seven-speed automatic is a great companion with seamless but rapid shifts. It comes with driver-selectable comfort, sport and manual modes. An "eco": setting activates the automatic start/stop system adding to the 250’s parsimonious use of fuel.

Mercedes says premium fuel is required but the occasional use of regular or mid-grade will do no harm other than reduce performance slightly.

But the big gun in the lineup is the CLA 45 AMG, which provides a major step-up in performance, accompanied by a less distinct change in appearance.

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA AMG - engine detail.JPGIt gets unique front and rear fascias, wheels and interior trim and standard features. But the real treat is beneath the hood where rests the most powerful four-cylinder engine ever put in a production vehicle, each one hand built and signed by the individual who did so.

Displacing the same 2.0 litres as the base engine it produces an astounding 355 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque!

Performance plus

Floor the CLA 250 from rest and you’ll get some squeal from the front tires. Do so in this beast and the same thing happens.

Why not more? Because the CLA 45 AMG comes with a 4Matic all-wheel-drive system able to distribute all that power to four contact patches, thus allowing it to vault from rest to 100 km/h in just 4.6 seconds.

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG - NYIAS.JPGThis latest version of the 4Matic system adds only 70 kg to the vehicle's mass, making it much lighter than older and most competitive systems. It can distribute up to 100% of available torque to the rear wheels if grip is available, within milliseconds.

The steering and braking of this little road rocket are similarly amped up and the suspension tightened down to what might be considered stiff to those looking for a supple ride.

The exhaust note, complete with a little "bark" between shifts, will similarly be music to the ears of enthusiasts but something else to those wanting a relaxed highway demeanor.

This combination of abundant power, a tied-down suspension, powerful brakes, communicative steering and distinctive good looks will surely attract some new folks to Mercedes-Benz stores.

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