The Mercedes CLA45 AMG is effectively a sleeker version of the A45 AMG. It gets the same 355bhp 2.0-litre turbo engine, on-demand four-wheel drive and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. It also sits on the same underpinnings, which are heavily revised over the standard CLA and A-Class.
At £41,845, it costs around £4000 more than the more practical (and already expensive) A45 AMG. Is it worth the extra?
What's the 2013 Mercedes CLA45 AMG like to drive?
It's certainly fast and fun enough to justify the AMG moniker; this is a car that's faster than a Porsche 911 Carrera, after all.
It's easy to make the most of the performance on offer, too, thanks to the engine's flexible mid-range and an auto gearbox that picks the right ratios and blurs shifts effectively most of the time. True, it can occasionally hold a gear for too long, or not respond with the immediacy you might expect following a click of the wheel-mounted paddles. Still, it's a cracking powertrain that is also remarkably efficient given its power output.
The four-wheel-drive system is also a success. In normal conditions the CLA45 is front-wheel drive, but when required it shuffles the power around, with up to 50% going to the rear wheels. Cornering ability is faintly ludicrous, with a crisp initial turn-in and solid, unfaltering composure even through very tight, alternating direction changes. Push too hard into a corner and the front end will wash wide, but back off and everything comes back into line with minimal drama.
Although the difference is subtle, the CLA doesn't feel quite as agile as the A45, with its longer overhangs and variations in weight distribution likely to be responsible.
Still, the steering offers the right blend of immediacy and solid weighting to make it enjoyable and intuitive in any sort of driving, despite minimal feedback.
As you'd expect, the brakes are more heavy-duty than the standard car's, so stopping power is good, while pedal feel allows for easy modulation in normal driving. It's a shame that the car wriggles around a little under very heavy braking, though.
Like the A45, the CLA45 feels firm over intrusions such as speed bumps or expansion joints, but it copes well with camber changes and dips and crests. For such a focused car, its ride is just about pliant enough over minor surface imperfections, although it's by no means a silky, relaxing daily driver. In fact things become decidedly crashy on rougher roads.
It's also not a quiet car, which is both good and bad. Floor the throttle pedal from a standstill and the engine will crackle and pop as it changes up through the gears. Take things more easy and engine noise does settle to an acceptable background hum on a light throttle, but it's not as refined as some other performance hatches and saloons.
What's the 2013 Mercedes CLA45 AMG like inside?
Predictably, the interior is identical to that of its A-Class sibling. Well-bolstered part-leather sports seats complement the contrast-stitched leather dashboard and carbonfibre-effect trim. You also get DAB radio, USB-input, Bluetooth, and the Comand infotainment colour screen. It's just disappointing that sat-nav costs extra.
Don't be misled by the CLA's saloon classification – this isn't a large car. Instead, it's one that aims to offer a different, more style-led take on the standard family hatch-sized offerings. You'll find more room and general practicality in the A45 AMG, not to mention in the bigger cars that are available at this price, including the BMW 3 Series saloon.
Still, the AMG style upgrades give the CLA a classy finish; you're never in any doubt about its premium badge and placement.
Should I buy one?
The CLA45 AMG is very much an emotive purchase, and if you're really taken with its looks then you won't be disappointed with the performance and handling. It also has no direct rivals to share the limelight.
However, you are paying solely for that coupe-saloon image. The A45 AMG is a bit more engaging and offers the same supercar-slaying performance in a more usable body for around £4000 less, while the BMW 335i M Sport promises more forgiving on-road manners, similarly absorbing handling and not much less real-world pace.
In isolation the CLA45 AMG is a compelling thing, but at this price, and even for many thousands less, the available competition makes it hard to justify.
By Vicky Parrott
What Car? says...
Mercedes-AMG CLA 45
Engine size 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol
Price from £41,845
Torque 332lb ft
0-62mph 4.6 seconds
Top speed 155mph (limited)
Fuel economy 40.9mpg
CO2 emissions 161g/km