The Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 is the highest-performance version of the CLA four-door coupe model. It’s powered by a potent 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine sending 382 horsepower to all four wheels.
Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 Test Drive Review: Pint-Sized Powerhouse
Is there any more perfect rival to the Audi RS3 than the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45? The Mercedes-Benz CLA is one of two entry-level sedan models offered in the USA, though Mercedes would prefer you call it a four-door coupe. Though this term is a bit overused at this point, the CLA’s rakish roofline is reminiscent of a two-door coupe. Think of the CLA as a baby version of the CLS-Class with smaller proportions and a much lower price point. The Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 variant, then, is a junior CLS 53 AMG. Like the original CLA 45, this new one is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine sending power to all four wheels through a dual-clutch transmission, this time with eight gears.
While Europe gets an S derivative with in excess of 400 horsepower, the standard US variant generates 382 horsepower, making it the most powerful non-hybrid 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine on sale. Even still, the CLA 45 is faster than before with a 0-60 mph time of four seconds dead thanks to a new quick-shifting dual-clutch with launch control. The 2021 CLA 45 loosely competes with the Audi RS3 and BMW M2, though its four-door coupe distinction makes it somewhat of a one-of-one in its segment.
2021 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 Changes: What’s the difference vs 2020 AMG CLA 45?
Introduced as an all-new model for the 2020 model year, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 hasn’t been altered in any major way. However, the safety specification now gets bolstered with the addition of standard blind-spot assist. Mercedes still hasn’t decided to offer the more powerful CLA 45 S variant here in the United States, reserving that model for Europe.
AMG CLA 45 Exterior
Like many other AMG products, the CLA 45’s appearance leaves you in no doubt that this is a high-performance machine. The coupe-like roofline of the CLA’s design blends brilliantly with the AMG body styling to create a truly desirable 4-door sport sedan. On this range-topping CLA 45, standard specs include 19-inch AMG twin five-spoke alloy wheels, LED lighting, a panorama roof, and the characteristic vertical-bar Panamericana grille. At the back, there is a spoiler and four authentic rounded tailpipe exits, not one of those horrendous faux outlets. There are many options available to add more aggression to the exterior, such as a blacked-out AMG Night Package and alternative wheel designs.
Lower and longer than the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe, the CLA 45’s key dimensions comprise a length of 184.8 inches, a 107.4-inch wheelbase, a body width of 73.1 inches, and a height of 55.4 inches. It weighs 3,660 pounds, but as you’ll soon find out, this doesn’t prevent it from being an astonishing performer.
The new CLA 45 has an 11-strong color palette, starting with the standard hues of Polar White, Night Black, and the vibrant Sun Yellow. You will have to cough up an additional $720 for access to one of the metallics. These are Digital White, Cosmos Black, Iridium Silver, Mountain Grey, Mojave Silver, Denim Blue, and Patagonia Red. Finally, the stealthy designo Mountain Grey Magno is an attractive choice, but it comes at a cost of $2,500. Our tester came wearing an elegant but slightly boring shade of Polar White. We think Sun Yellow and Patagonia Red better suit the explosive character of this car.
AMG CLA 45 Performance
It’s incredible what Mercedes-AMG has been able to coax out of a four-cylinder engine. The 2.0-liter turbocharged power plant in the CLA 45 produces a massive 382 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque. Combined with all-wheel-drive traction from the 4Matic system, this slinky sedan will launch itself from 0 to 60 mph in a mere 4.0 seconds. With the optional AMG Dynamic Plus Package, the top speed is 167 mph. The closest competitor from BMW – at least in terms of body style – is the M235i Gran Coupe, which takes 4.7 seconds for the benchmark sprint. This isn’t quite a fair comparison though, as the M235i more closely aligns with the lesser CLA 35. Though it is not a four-door coupe, the outgoing 2020 Audi RS3 sedan proves to be a better performance match, with its larger five-cylinder engine enabling it to reach 60 in 3.9 seconds. If you don’t need four doors, the BMW M2 is similarly quick and offers the option of a manual gearbox with rear-wheel-drive dynamics. The 2021 AMG CLA 45 sedan remains a wickedly fast and capable performer, though, and together with its excellent handling, it is a hoot to drive.
Engine and Transmission
As before, the CLA 45 employs a handcrafted 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine now developing 382 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque. To extract so much power out of such a small displacement, AMG rotated the M139 engine around by 180 degrees. The turbocharger and exhaust manifold now sit at the back, while the intake is positioned at the front for quicker response. It’s also worth mentioning that the CLA 45 gets a larger twin-scroll turbo from the C63, which delivers 2.1 bar (best-in-class according to Mercedes) of boost pressure. This brutal engine is paired with a quick-shifting eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, while power is channeled to all four corners via the AMG Performance 4Matic AWD system.
So long as the turbo is spooled, the CLA 45 accelerates like a rat scurrying towards a piece of cheese. AMG has tried to eliminate turbo lag here, but it’s ever-present at low revs. Just keep the engine at its sweet spot, and it will return the favor with supercar-level performance. Speaking of keeping the engine in its sweet spot, the CLA 45 features paddle shifters that are genuinely fun to use, and deliver a sweet pop on full-throttle upshifts. There is certainly some fake speaker noise pumped into the cabin, but it enhances the experience without acting as a distraction. It doesn’t hurt that the actual exhaust crackles and pops on the overrun, much like an old-school Japanese tuner car.
Handling and Driving Impressions
It’s easy to hop into the “baby” AMG model and expect a slightly disappointing driving experience. After all, the CLA 45 is based on a front-wheel-drive platform and only packs a pint-sized 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Well, surprise surprise, AMG manages to deliver greatness even in its entry-level product. The CLA 45 reminds us of every positive cliche that made the Subaru WRX STI a household name in America. That turbocharged M139 is one of the all-time great four-pot engines, and it’s linked to a razor-sharp dual-clutch transmission.
Though it is not based on a rear-drive platform, the CLA’s 4Matic system is capable of inducing oversteer using its AMG Torque Control System. Two electronically controlled multi-disc clutches split the power left-to-right, allowing the CLA 45 to feel like a rear-biased car. Our test model lacked the AMG Dynamic PLUS Package, which includes a Drift and Race mode, but in Sport + mode the car can still kick out the rear end enough to put a huge grin on the driver’s face. Though the variable steering provides less feedback than some sports cars, it delivers immediate responsiveness that pairs perfectly with the CLA’s diminutive size. This car is truly a pocket rocket that reminds us why a small car can often be more fun than a larger one that boasts more power. This car scoots around corners with tremendous levels of grip, keeping its composure up to eye-popping speeds. On a windy back road, the CLA 45 could easily keep up with today’s fastest supercars, and that is no exaggeration.
We love how AMG makes it easy to customize the drive modes using the steering wheel-mounted AMG Drive Unit. Our favorite combination was Sport + on everything with the suspension on comfort. The CLA 45 is firm no matter which suspension mode it’s in, but comfort is more tolerable while Sport + feels pretty harsh.
AMG CLA 45 Gas Mileage
According to the EPA, the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 will return gas mileage estimates of 20/29/23 mpg across the city/highway/combined cycles. Even under a heavy foot, our test car seemed right in line with those figures. The cheaper and less powerful CLA 35 will eke out an extra two mpg in the city, while BMW’s similarly powerful M2 is heavier on gas with a combined rating of 20 mpg. With its 13.5-gallon gas tank, the CLA 45 should be able to manage a combined cruising range of around 310 miles.
AMG CLA 45 Interior
The exuberant exterior design of the AMG CLA 45 is matched by a stunning interior. For some, it can be a sensory overload, but many younger buyers will be enamored by details like the turbine-style air vents, AMG steering wheel, satin aluminum paddle shifters, and dual 10.25-inch screens. Most of the materials are of high-quality, and even the standard MB-Tex upholstery does a decent impression of genuine leather. There’s less space than you’ll find in a C-Class, but then again, this is a smaller vehicle. As standard, the CLA 45 gets power-adjustable front seats with memory settings, dual-zone automatic climate control, hands-free access, and a 64-color LED ambient lighting system.
Seating and Interior Space
The CLA 45 is strictly a five-seater but like the two-door coupes it seeks to emulate, the back seat accommodations are best left for children and small adults. 33.9 inches of rear legroom feels pretty tight and is less than what’s offered in the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe. Worse still, the CLA’s sloping roofline cuts the rear headroom to 35.7 inches, meaning that anyone above 5’8″ will struggle to fit back there.
Up front, head and legroom are far more plentiful, though buyers who value comfort may want to think twice before optioning the AMG Performance Seat Package. We think the sport buckets suit the character of the car while still offering creature comforts like heating and ventilation, though they can start to feel stiff on long trips.
Interior Colors and Materials
By default, the CLA 45 comes equipped with MB-Tex upholstery in either Neva Grey/Black or in Black with Dinamica and red stitching. Genuine leather is a $1,450 option and colors here include Black, Bahia Brown, Classic Red/Black, and Titanium Grey/Black. The three trim inlays that won’t add anything to your bill include aluminum with linear grain, aluminum with longitudinal grain, and aluminum AMG design with sporty striping on the dashboard. Both Natural Grain Black Linden wood and Natural Grain Brown Walnut wood go for $325 each.
Not all seat and trim options can be combined, though. For instance, Titanium Grey/Black leather isn’t compatible with the Natural Grain Brown Walnut wood inlays. Seatbelts can be had in red or black, while several AMG Performance steering wheels are on offer in finishes like Nappa leather, Nappa leather/Dinamica, or Dinamica on its own. All of the common touchpoints feel premium, though if you poke around too much in the CLA’s cabin, there are cheap plastics to be found. Overall, though, the quality is a big step up from the previous generation.
AMG CLA 45 Trunk and Cargo Space
With the rear seats in their upright position, the CLA 45 offers 11.6 cubic feet of cargo space. That’s a bit more than the 10 cubes in the outgoing Audi RS3, and while not exemplary, is enough space for the Merc to accommodate a few carry-ons or a set of golf clubs. It must be noted that the previous CLA had a bigger trunk, although the opening was narrower. This one opens wide to make loading an easy affair. The rear seats can fold in a 40/20/40-split which means you can expand packing space while still accommodating one or two occupants at the back.
Inside, the CLA 45 boasts reasonable practicality, although nothing to bother a crossover. There is a small center console storage area and rather slim door pockets. Cupholders are fitted both front and rear, with those in the back being built into the fold-down center armrest.
AMG CLA 45 Infotainment and Features
The top-dog CLA 45 is loaded with features, but there is always Merc’s lengthy options list if you need even more. As standard, both front seats feature eight-way power-adjustability which includes four-way power lumbar support and three-position memory settings. Both front seats are heated as well. Along with this, the CLA boasts power-folding side mirrors, hands-free access, dual-zone automatic climate control, 64-color LED interior ambient lighting, keyless start/go, cruise control, remote start, and auto-dimming interior/driver’s-side mirrors. On the safety front, the CLA gets a rearview camera, new-for-2021 blind-spot assistance, attention assist, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and crosswind assist. The list of available options is long and includes a surround-view camera system, evasive steering assist, active lane-keeping assist, ventilated front seats, a head-up display, and a Wi-Fi hotspot.
As standard, the CLA 45 includes dual 10.25-inch screens mounted on the dash. The screen on the left displays the gauges and can be customized with four different design themes and endless layout combinations. The Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) infotainment system lives on the right and is controlled using a central touchpad, touchscreen, wheel-mounted controller, or by voice command. There’s a huge learning curve but once it becomes familiar, we think MBUX is highly intuitive to use.
A Multimedia Package adds built-in navigation with augmented reality while Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard along with Bluetooth. We suggest opting for the excellent 12-speaker Burmester Premium sound system since it only tacks on $850 but bumps up the audio quality substantially.
AMG CLA 45 Problems and Reliability
In review of last year’s model, J.D. Power awarded a reliability rating of 69 out of 100 for the CLA 45, indicating that there is room for improvement in this aspect. At the time of writing, no recalls had been issued for the Mercedes-Benz AMG CLA 45.
While Mercedes doesn’t offer complimentary scheduled maintenance like BMW, the standard four-year/50,000-mile limited/powertrain warranty is on par with its primary competitors.
AMG CLA 45 Safety
Unfortunately, local safety authorities are yet to review the AMG CLA 45, so an official safety record is unavailable. However, we do expect it to perform well in the event of an accident.
Key Safety Features
While most of the expected safety features are standard, Mercedes charges extra for the majority of its advanced driver-assist systems. The CLA 45 comes with eight airbags offering 10-way occupant protection. These include knee airbags for both front occupants and curtain airbags for all outboard seating positions. Mercedes has added standard blind-spot assistance for 2021, joining features like attention assist, crosswind assist, regular cruise control, active braking assist, tire pressure monitoring, and a rearview camera. Options that can be equipped include adaptive cruise control, a surround-view camera system, evasive steering assist, active lane change assist, and active brake assist with a cross-traffic alert. An active parking assistant is also available.
Verdict: Is the 2021 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 a good car?
The 2021 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 is the type of car we dream about for weeks after driving it. This is a genuinely compact vehicle with heaps of power that feels nimble without sacrificing completely on luxury. At $55,350, it feels well-equipped to take on the Audi RS3 and BMW M2 but the $73,665 as-tested price of our tester left a bit of sticker shock. In a vacuum, the CLA 45 is a pocket rocket that can keep up with supercars but when you compare it to its key rivals, it becomes a tougher sell.
The BMW M2 Competition offers a completely different experience with two doors, rear-wheel drive, and a manual transmission option, though it does sacrifice a bit on style, practicality, comfort, and luxury compared to the CLA. As for the RS3, Audi is about to replace it with an all-new model that should warrant consideration in this segment. The CLA 45 boasts better handling prowess than the outgoing RS3, but Audi’s turbocharged five-cylinder engine still feels more charismatic. Although its competition is also pretty stellar, we think the 2021 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 is an awesome ride for buyers who want a compact car with tons of power, great style, and top-notch technology.
What’s the Price of the 2021 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45?
The 2021 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 carries a small price increase over last year’s model, with an MSRP of $55,350. That figure excludes tax, licensing, registration, and a delivery charge of $1,050. It comes in at a slightly lower price than the BMW M2 Competition which begins at $58,900. With all the options ticked, the Mercedes-Benz AMG CLA 45’s price will balloon to over $80,000.
2021 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 Models
The Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 is offered in just one trim and sits atop the CLA-Class lineup. It’s powered by a 2.0-liter turbo-four engine generating 382 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque. An eight-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox and the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system are standard. An optional Drift Mode and an AMG Drive Unit which can help the driver quickly toggle between performance settings are on offer.
As standard, the CLA 45 comes with 19-inch alloy wheels, power-folding wing mirrors, a panorama roof, LED exterior lighting, and quad exhaust outlets. The overtly sporty cabin is highlighted by twin 10.25-inch screens, with the center one being a touchscreen that allows access to infotainment features. Standard equipment includes power-adjustable front seats with memory, heated front seats, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, LED interior ambient lighting, and hands-free access. The safety suite comprises eight airbags, blind-spot assist, crosswind assist, and attention alert.
A wide array of options can equip the sporty sedan with adaptive cruise control, parking assistance, ventilated front seats, and a 12-speaker Burmester surround sound system.
There is no shortage of packages available to either customize the appearance of the CLA 45 or bolster its feature count to almost E-Class levels. For $750, the AMG Night Package adds Gloss Black detailing for an even more menacing look. There is also the $1,550 AMG Aerodynamics Package that adds a more aggressive front splitter and an even bigger rear spoiler.
Moving inside, the most expensive upgrade is the $3,470 AMG Performance Seat Package Advanced with multi-contour front seats, although this package requires adding either Black or Bahia Brown leather ($1,450) and ventilated front seats ($450). On the tech front, the Multimedia Package costs $1,295 and boasts speed limit assist and navigation with augmented video. Once this is specced, the $1,700 Driver Assistance Package becomes available and this includes active steering assist, adaptive cruise control, active lane-change assist, and more.
Notable standalone upgrades are an AMG head-up display ($1,100), wireless device charging ($200), and a Burmester surround sound system ($850). Finally, the $4,300 AMG Dynamic Plus Package introduces a higher top speed, race/drift driving modes, and the ability to record and store performance data from the race track. However, this option requires equipping the Multimedia Package as well.
What Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 Model Should I Buy?
At $55,350, the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 seems like a pretty awesome package. Unfortunately, there are many options that you need to consider in order to enjoy this car to its fullest potential. The AMG Dynamic PLUS Package is the most important option for a hefty $4,300. It adds the performance steering wheel, AMG drive unit, track pace app, three-stage ride control, composite brakes, increased top speed, and the Race/Drift modes. Opting for this package requires the $1,295 multimedia package as well. From there we’d add the $1,700 Driver Assistance Package, $1,090 Parking Assistance Package, and a few other a la carte features like heated/ventilated seats for $450, wireless charging for $200, a built-in dash-cam for $200, and Burmester audio for $850. As described, the CLA 45 rings in at $68,205 before destination fees.
2021 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 vs BMW M2
The BMW M2 Competition is considered perhaps the best true M car that the company currently makes. The combination of classic rear-wheel-drive dynamics, a potent six-cylinder engine, an available manual gearbox, and brilliant handling has ensured its success. Both cars look suitably dramatic, but the AMG has a much more exciting cabin. In the BMW’s favor are a more appealing engine note and an available manual gearbox, making it a more involving car to drive. There is very little in it in terms of acceleration. Both cars handle brilliantly, but again, the M2 just about has the dynamic edge, although its firm ride can prove tiresome over extended journeys. The M2 has a bigger trunk whereas the CLA 45 makes it much easier for rear-seat passengers to gain access. With its better economy and more practical four-door design, the CLA 45 is an excellent choice. But as a weekend toy, we’d remove the ‘A’ and the ‘G’ and go for the M car.
2021 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 vs Audi S3 Sedan
The A3 sedan has always been a class act and the S3 brings even more firepower to the table. However, the new A3 and S3 will skip the 2021 model year entirely before a new version arrives as a 2022 model. Does that mean you should wait for it or head straight to your local Mercedes dealership? Well, the 2022 S3 will boast a 305-hp turbo-four engine and can reach 62 mph in 4.8 seconds. Its 0-60 time won’t match the CLA’s, but then again, there is always the RS3 if you’re not prepared to live with the performance deficit. As before, we expect the Audi to be a slightly more refined package and the Merc to be the more exciting option, but we’ll have to get behind the wheel of the upcoming Audi to confirm this. With its sharp new suit, rock-solid quality, and quattro all-wheel-drive grip, the new S3 may just end up being the better-balanced sedan between these two.