Boy racer meets luxe

Herald Sun - Motoring - - SHORT CUT -

VALUE

You could al­most af­ford his-and-hers CLA-200s for the price of the AMG ver­sion we drove, which starts at $92,215. The base model ($52,500) has eight-inch cen­tre screen, dig­i­tal ra­dio, im­i­ta­tion leather seats, sat­nav and a de­cent safety pack­age. The AMG’s fo­cus on per­for­mance ac­counts for most of the pre­mium. Power leaps from a tame 115kW to 280kW, there are big­ger wheels, big­ger brakes, per­for­mance ex­haust and sports sus­pen­sion with adap­tive dampers. The cabin trim gets a com­plete over­haul with real leather sports seats, AMG em­blems, red high­lights and al­loy ped­als.

COM­FORT

For a car with such a fo­cus on per­for­mance, the CLA 45 is sur­pris­ingly civil for the cut and thrust of city driv­ing. Com­fort mode soaks up all but the rud­est of bumps and the cabin is quiet and cos­set­ing. Sporty Ben­zes used to rat­tle the den­tures but adap­tive sus­pen­sion cre­ates a car with two char­ac­ters. Am­bi­ent light­ing gives the cabin a classy look at night and the heav­ily bol­stered sports seats are sur­pris­ingly com­fort­able. The news isn’t as good for those in the rear, as the ta­pered sil­hou­ette cuts into head­room. Knee room is ac­cept­able for most peo­ple.

SAFETY

All CLAs get nine airbags, semi­au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing, blind spot warn­ing, re­vers­ing cam­era and tyre pres­sure mon­i­tor — a good pack­age but not as com­pre­hen­sive as some Ben­zes. The CLA 45 adds ac­tive cruise con­trol, lane de­par­ture warn­ing, an alarm and a three­stage sta­bil­ity con­trol that has more lee­way than the less sporty mod­els.

DRIV­ING

For most en­thu­si­asts the V8-pow­ered C63 S is the pin­na­cle Mercedes sedan. I’d pocket the $70,000 dif­fer­ence and set­tle for the CLA 45. Mercedes claims a 0-100km/h time of 4.2 sec­onds, only three-tenths shy of the C63 S. Lighter on its feet, the CLA 45 takes cor­ners more like a hot hatch than a sedan, with plenty of grip thanks to the all-wheel drive. The ma­gi­cians who tune Mercedes ex­hausts have made it sound nearly as good as well. In sports mode it snaps and snarls and clears its throat un­der brakes. It’s bor­der­line anti-so­cial to have it in sports mode around town.

AL­TER­NA­TIVES HSV Club­sport R8, from $83,490

A lot more real es­tate for the money, com­bined with a thump­ing V8 sound­track, but thirsty and bulky and can’t match the cabin am­bi­ence.

Audi RS3, from $78,616

Anony­mously styled hatch with a cabin that doesn’t match the Merc’s mod­ern fin­ishes. Its fire­cracker en­gine de­liv­ers the same — and ar­guably more — per­for­mance for less money.

BMW M2, from $98,615

A win­ner in the looks depart­ment but the coupe lay­out is not as prac­ti­cal. Can’t match the Benz in a straight line but comes into its own through the bends. Cabin is a bit ho-hum for the price.

VER­DICT

It’s a huge jump in price from the equally stylish CLA 200 but a world away in per­for­mance and style. The cabin is just the right blend of boy racer and luxury, while the en­gine punches above its weight and sounds fan­tas­tic.

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