Mercedes CLA a bun­dle of joy

Lat­est ad­di­tion to the Benz fam­ily will have com­peti­tors cry­ing in the cor­ner

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - FRONT PAGE - By Alexan­dra Straub

WASH­ING­TON — Wel­com­ing a new mem­ber to the fam­ily is a joy­ous thing. With an ad­di­tional sib­ling comes new ex­cite­ment, chal­lenges and ri­val­ries, but no mat­ter how you slice it, it’s some­thing to be cel­e­brated.

For the 2014 model year, Ger­man au­tomaker Mercedes-Benz in­tro­duces its bun­dle of joy in the form of the CLA. The all-new model is built on the same ar­chi­tec­ture as the new B-Class but has its own dis­tinc­tive style. Em­body­ing the coupe/sedan-look (think CLS), the four-door has the con­ve­nience of easy ingress and egress, but with that ex­tra bit of flair.

Just by look­ing at it, the CLA’s body has con­tours of mass se­duc­tion. Frame­less doors, a black di­a­mond grille with the cen­tral star at the tip of its long hood, a prom­i­nent front bumper, twin chrome rec­tan­gu­lar ex­haust tailpipes and LED tail lights are just a few of its swanky-look­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics.

Slip in­side the cabin and Ar­tico leather cov­ers the seats. A seven-inch free-stand­ing in­te­grated dis­play re­sides atop the cen­tre stack. Sur­rounded by cir­cu­lar “jet en­gine” air vents, an in­stru­ment clus­ter with 4.5-inch colour dis­play and a Di­rect Se­lect gear lever, it’s not a bad place to be sit­ting. And that’s just the base CLA 250 model.

Add three let­ters and two num­bers to the CLA — in the form of AMG 45 — and its ex­oskele­ton is en­hanced with “Turbo AMG” badges on fend­ers, 18inch AMG wheels and an AMG sports ex­haust sys­tem with two chrome-plated tailpipes.

Other four-cylin­der tur­bos, such as the Subaru WRX STI and the Mit­subishi Lancer Evo, can likely be found cry­ing in a cor­ner now that the CLA AMG is around. Touted as the world’s most pow­er­ful four-cylin­der en­gine in pro­duc­tion, the CLA AMG 45 will cer­tainly be knock­ing some socks off and break­ing hearts along the open road.

Its sul­try curves and well-en­dowed equip­ment can have you smil­ing faster than its zero-to-100-km/h time of 4.6 sec­onds. With 355 horse­power and 332 pound-feet of torque be­ing gen­er­ated from its hand-built 2.0-litre tur­bocharged four-cylin­der en­gine, it’s noth­ing short of im­pres­sive. Com­ple­mented by Mercedes’ seven-speed DCT (Dual Clutch Trans­mis­sion) with shift pad­dles, the 4Matic all-wheel-drive sedan is ready for its close-up.

The streets of Vir­ginia are heav­ily speed-reg­u­lated, but still of­fered a palate-whet­ting taste of what this sedan can do. It’s easy to feel at home nes­tled in the sport seats of the AMG 45. With the three-spoke nappa leather flat-bot­tom sport steer­ing wheel with red stitch­ing and shift pad­dles in my hands, and the drive mode in “M” for man­ual, it’s go time.

When chang­ing gears at a higher r.p.m., the AMG’s ag­gres­sive ex­haust note lets you know it means busi­ness. The pow-pow-pow sound and rhythm of up­shift­ing leaves those in­side gig­gling. Roll the power win­dows down if you want the full ef­fect of its mel­liflu­ous awe­some­ness.

But even the CLA 250 has its fair share of no­table fea­tures. It also has the seven-speed DCT but it is mar­ried to a 2.0L tur­bocharged four-cylin­der, which puts out a lesser 208 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Still, it’s not some­thing to scoff at.

AD­DI­TION­ALLY, its less-abra­sive sport sus­pen­sion worked bet­ter for me as a pas­sen­ger. Don’t get me wrong, the AMG 45 has a bite to it that should be rec­og­nized, but the 250 felt bet­ter for ev­ery­day driv­ing. That said, it still has the ca­pa­bil­ity to cor­ner with con­fi­dence thanks to the afore­men­tioned low­ered sport sus­pen­sion.

Us­ing electro­mechan­i­cal power steer­ing (EPS), mov­ing about is ef­fort­less and the CLA’s turn­ing ra­dius is im­pres­sive, es­pe­cially if you need to ro­tate quickly to get into a park­ing spot.

The CLA 250 does the job well. Its start­ing MSRP of $33,900 has an at­trac­tive­ness to it and could very well en­tice those look­ing for a pre­mium sedan with coupe-like at­tributes.

The front-wheel-drive sedan will con­tinue to im­press with its fuel-econ­omy stats. In the city, es­ti­mated con­sump­tion is rated at 7.8 L/100 km, and just 5.1 L/100 km on the high­way, for a com­bined 6.6 L/100 km. The eco start/ stop and en­hanced aero­dy­nam­ics play into its fuel econ­omy per­for­mance.

When driv­ing, the 250 feels lighter, which is im­me­di­ately no­ticed dur­ing ac­cel­er­a­tion. True, it doesn’t have as many ponies un­der the hood, but power isn’t ev­ery­thing. Still, there’s a cer­tain re­fined raw­ness to the AMG 45, and with a start­ing MSRP of $49,800, it had my heart beat­ing a lit­tle faster.

ALEXAN­DRA STRAUB / POST­MEDIA NEWS

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