Just as Mercedes-Benz seeks to employ its lower-cost, Hungarian-assembled, front-drive CLA 250 to help attract new customers to the brand thanks to its low price, so it hopes the CLA45 will bring new customers to its AMG performance brand.
The CLA45's starting price of around $48,000 is much more feasible for many customers who can't reach the $60,000 price of the C63 AMG. The question is whether it will be seen as a "real" Mercedes, considering that the CLA-Class is the first Mercedes-branded car sold in the U.S. with front-wheel-drive.
The CLA45 certainly makes a strong case for itself, and in doing so may also help legitimize the run-of-the-mill CLA 250. While the CLA shares Mercedes' global Compact Car architecture with the A-Class and B-Class subcompact hatchbacks, the CLA's flowing sedan lines and the AMG version's startling performance could convince buyers to overlook the car's roots.
After all, the car features what Mercedes says is the world's most powerful production four-cylinder engine: a 355-hp (265-kW), 332-lb·ft (450-N·m), 2.0-L twin-scroll turbo I4. It has an astonishing power density of 178 hp (133 kW) per liter, thanks to a turbo that provides up to 1.8 bar (26-psi) maximum boost pressure. The result is acceleration to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 4.5 s and a top speed of 155 mph (250 km/h).
That performance, along with the potential association with the new era of turbocharged engines in Formula One racing starting next year, should help Mercedes persuade shoppers that the CLA45 is the real thing.
The engine uses multiple injection and spark timings to help it manage the high combustion pressures resulting from the high turbo boost. Water-to-air intercooling also helps by reducing the air-charge temperature.
The sand-cast aluminum cylinder block uses Mercedes' Nanoslide cylinder-lining technology twin-wire arc process for spraying carbon and iron onto the bare aluminum bores to produce a hardened, low-friction, mirror-like surface.
The new engine announces its presence through a high-flow exhaust system containing a butterfly valve that lets it pipe down when cruising at highway speeds to preserve the tranquil cruising environment Mercedes buyers expect even from their high-performance cars.
The engines are AMG's first not to be assembled at the division's Affalterbach headquarters. Instead, they employ AMG's "one man, one motor" philosophy at the Mercedes engine plant in Kolleda, Germany.
The engine connects to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The only other model using such a transmission is the top-of-the-line SLS AMG, pointed out William Vetter, Assistant Product Manager for AMG vehicles.
With seven speeds, manual shifting available, and peak torque between 2250 and 5000 rpm, the CLA delivers engaging performance, he promised. The transmission has three driving modes to match the conditions: efficiency, sport, and manual, Vetter added. There is also a "momentary manual" mode, that lets the driver switch to manual just by clicking one of the steering column-mounted shift paddles.
One potential obstacle to the kind of performance experience drivers expect is the fact that the CLA's all-wheel-drive system sends a maximum of 50% of available power to the rear wheels. All-wheel-drive cars such as the Audi S4 and Subaru WRX send more power to the rear than to the front wheels to minimize understeer and let the driver rotate the rear of the car in turns, which could be difficult with equal power at both ends of the car.
The car's electronic Curve Dynamic Assist system aims to help with this question by clamping on the inside rear brake to help turn the car, so a test drive will confirm the success of its programming. Look for the CLA45 AMG in U.S. dealers in November.