2017 Audi A3 First Drive Review
- Feb 18, 2017
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Mercedes-Benz in recent years have transformed themselves from an executive luxury car manufacturer for the well-to-do, mature audience to one that is appealing to a more dynamic, younger audience. And no other car embodies the modern Mercedes-Benz spirit the way the CLA coupé does. Based on the same platform as the A-Class, the CLA is essentially a coupé version of the former. The standard CLA-Class is expected sometime next year, but for a change, Mercedes-Benz India has decided to launch the more powerful, CLA45 AMG in India first.
There is no denying the fact that the CLA45 AMG is a pretty looking car. With its sharknose like front styling, sleek overall proportions and short tail, the CLA45 is possibly one of the best-looking sedans we have seen in a long time. The typically AMG styling cues appear everywhere on the CLA45, showcasing the pedigree that the car has been bred from. The large air intakes up front, like the ones found on the bigger E63 AMG, combined with a brushed aluminum finish front splitter gives the car an extremely aggressive look. The thick dual slat grille with the large three-pointed star in the centre, accentuates the CLA45’s in-your-face attitude.
Around the back, the CLS-class inspired silhouette is what makes the CLA45 such a pretty car. The sportier three step bumper with a very distinct waistline that fuses into the two air vents on wither side combined with a brushed aluminum finished diffuser adds even more character. The four trapezoidal exhaust pipes that make the AMG calling card are finished in high quality chrome and look well placed on the car. The large and typically AMG designed five-spoke alloy wheels combined with a large panoramic roof add to the CLA45’s unique look.
On the interior front, the CLA45 AMG feels like an old song that has been digitally remastered and made better. The CLA45 shares most of its interior bits with the über popular A-Class with bits and pieces of AMG goodness. You also get the AMG steering wheel, which has been wrapped in suede to accentuate the sporty potential that the CLA45 AMG exudes in spades. And you get a set of red seatbelts, which we think are extremely cool. The car we drove was finished with a matte silver/brushed aluminum finished dashboard. Personally though, we would have opted for the high gloss carbon fiber option that looks right at place in the CLA45 AMG.
The seats in particular though are extremely well crafted and are made by specialists Recaro exclusively for the CLA45 AMG. Not only do the side bolsters and thigh supports hug you like an over zealous girlfriend, the quality of the leather combined with the red piping makes them look even better. There is also a provision for a set of 4-point harnesses built in, just in case one decides to prepare their CLA45 for a track. The only issue with the front seats is the fact that they are a little tricky to get into especially if you set your seats lower into the car.
The CLA45 is a 4-door coupe, which means it should ideally be able to seat at least four people in relative comfort. The sloping roofline though cuts down on the interior space, especially rear headroom for the sale of those gorgeous exterior looks. Although the rear bench is comfortable in terms of under thigh and back support, there just isn’t enough headroom for anyone over five and a half feet. The window line combined with the large front seats also makes the rear slightly claustrophobic.
Loyalists will snigger and moan about how the CLA45 AMG is not a conventional AMG and they are probably correct. For most petrolheads, the mere mention of the words AMG equal a rear-wheel-drive, V8-powered car with enough noise and drama to awaken the dead. With the new CLA45 though, AMG seems to have sobered down and gotten more in tune with the times. The CLA45 is nowhere near as loud and dramatic as the likes of a C63 but that’s a good thing.
The Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG is a new generation of AMGs. With a 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder, turbocharged engine replacing the ever-popular AMG V8s, the CLA45 packs quite a punch. With 360PS of peak power being developed at a meaty 6000rpm, the CLA45 is no slouch. With the CLA45 AMG getting from 0-100kmph in a blistering 4.2 seconds, one has to truly appreciate the amount of work AMG has put into what is today the ‘most powerful 4-cylinder turbocharged production engine’ in the world.
In fact, at 178 horsepower per liter, the Mercedes-Benz CLA45 snatches the title of most power-dense production engine in the world from the iconic Porsche 911 Turbo’s 3.8-litre straight-six. AMG’s secret weapon for this ultra powerful engine is a Borg Warner twin-scroll turbocharger, which has been custom-made for the 2.0-litre AMG ‘M133’ engine. The turbo creates a blistering 26psi of boost, way more than what most performance turbocharged engines the world over are capable of.
Not only is there no turbo lag whatsoever, the CLA45 is possibly one of the best grand tourers we have experienced in a long time. The CLA45 comes with three driving modes: comfort, sport and manual. In comfort mode, the CLA45 is a manageable, everyday saloon car with a bit of extra Tabasco sauce in the melle. Play around with the buttons that put the CLA45 into sport mode though and the car transforms into a completely different beast. Not only does the car feel livelier, the exhaust note too changes for the better. An electronically controlled butterfly valve subtly alters the exhaust note in the sport and manual modes by adjusting the amount of air that flows out the passenger side of the dual exhaust system.
Not only does it help make a deeper and livelier exhaust note, the CLA45 barely sounds like a turbo-four engine. That said, the typical AMG exhaust note, like the one you find in the V8s is sorely missed. The Mercedes-Benz CLA45 does however give out a very fulfilling ‘bbbrrraaappp’ with every full-throttle shift at redline in both sport and manual modes.
Mercedes’ new seven-speed dual-clutch SpeedShift automatic does need a little more refining though. Not only are the upshifts and downshifts a little slower than expected, especially in comfort mode, there is a slight lack of crispness in it. Of course, tugging at the beautifully crafted aluminum paddles while in manual or sport mode does seem to solve most of its issues. Although ergonomically desgined, the shifter is located a little too low on the centre console making a little out of place as compared to some of the other AMG powered Mercedes-Benz cars.
AMG of course, has also reworked the suspension from the standard CLA-class. With stiffer springs and dampers, heavy duty bushings and a larger anti-roll bar, the CLA45 is stiff. In fact, in the city, the CLA45 is borderline uncomfortable with its jittery ride combined with a set of low profile tyres. Around corners on the open road though, the CLA45’s finesse shines bright, and unlike a more conventional AMG sedan, it does not make you wet your pants. But, it is not the stiff suspension and the large perforated brakes that have truly made the CLA45 AMG a good handing car.
The CLA45 AMG has a very special badge on the rear that differentiates it from most other AMG saloons. The 4Matic, or all wheel drive system on the GLA45 AMG is there for a reason. Originally, the CLA is a front wheel drive car. And as any petrolhead would tell you, stuffing over 350PS into a front wheel drive chassis is a recipe for disaster. The all-wheel-dive system, with a help of a bunch of clever electronics sends required levels of power to the rear wheels whenever necessary making the CLA45 phenomenal around the twisty bits.
In fact, even in a straight line, you can feel all-wheel-drive system keeping the car planted with oodles of traction as the turbocharged engine feeds it with an uncanny level of power. Combine the all-wheel-drive with the well weighed steering wheel that feels at home both in the city and on the open road and finding fault with the CLA45 does get a little difficult.
Mercedes has essentially done what Mitsubishi, Subaru and Volkswagen have been doing successfully for years. They have taken an affordable front-wheel-drive car, added a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, all-wheel-drive and sporty styling turning it into an extremely potent road car. Where the Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG excels over a Mitsubishi Evo (which has now been discontinued) or say a Subaru Impreza or a Volkswagen Golf GTi (neither of which you can buy in India) is that is takes affordable performance to a level of luxury that was conspicuously absent till now. If Mercedes-Benz India price the CLA45 right, undercutting competition like the Audi S4, they are most likely to crack open a market that hasn’t really gained steam in India so far.
The CLA45 then, being the prettiest Mercedes-Benz sedan on sale today, with a combination of an engine and drive train that rewards even the most mediocre drivers is a potent vehicle. Would we buy one? If we had the money, the answer to that would be a resounding YES!
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