Just as the compact CLA250 sedan and GLA250 crossover serve as entry points into the Mercedes-Benz lineup, the hotted-up CLA45 4MATIC and GLA45 4MATIC are the junior members of an ever-growing empire of Mercedes-AMG performance vehicles. Although their exterior shapes are different, the two are closely related, essentially sharing the same powertrain and chassis and much of their interiors. When the CLA45 hit the market as a 2014 model, it bucked recent AMG norms by offering a turbocharged four-cylinder instead of one of the brand’s vaunted V-6 or V-8 units; the GLA45 followed suit when it arrived a few months later.
The CLA was updated for the 2017 model year, and the GLA has received a freshening for 2018. Neither has changed drastically, but particular attention has been paid to improving aerodynamics. New splitters, grilles, and LED headlamps adorn their façades, and both also get revised rear diffusers and spoilers. Inside, a new DINAMICA appearance package adds a revised steering wheel and a host of cosmetic items such as microsuede seat inserts, doorsill protectors, and colorful cabin accents.
To try out Mercedes-AMG’s premium pocket rockets, we headed to Budapest, Hungary, just an hour north of Kecskemét where the CLA-class is built (GLAs are assembled in Rastatt, Germany). Taking the long way from downtown Budapest to the nearby Hungaroring race course, our caravan of CLA45s and GLA45s charged down rural Hungary’s narrow, curvy back roads as bursts of AMG-powered exhaust noise punctured the tranquility of the countryside.
The 2.5-mile Hungaroring is home to the Hungarian Grand Prix, features 14 turns, and has served as an arena for a plethora of racing legends since it opened in 1986. In their element on the racetrack, the AMG-massaged compacts were able to stretch their legs and display their athleticism. Both handled lithely, with accurate, well-weighted steering and suspensions tuned for maximum mischief. Out on the well-kept roads around Budapest, ride quality was noticeably stiffer than that of their non-AMG counterparts but still civilized enough to make either vehicle suitable for daily commuting duty, provided the pavement quality is good.
Flashy, hot-rod styling for both fraternal twins is appropriate, as under their hoods lies what Mercedes proudly states is the most powerful 2.0-liter inline-four in series production. The hand-built mill uses a twin-scroll turbocharger to generate up to 11.6 psi of boost and makes 375 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque. The boost comes in late, but once the turbo spools up it’s potent and will knock occupants back into their seats like a shot of strong Hungarian pálinka. Mercedes-AMG claims zero-to-60-mph times of 4.1 seconds for the CLA45 and 4.3 for the GLA45 (in our testing, both the outgoing CLA45 and GLA45 hit 60 in 4.2).
With the Dynamic Select driving mode set to Sport or Sport+, the engine emits a gratifyingly aggressive blat during full-throttle upshifts. Grab the metal-finished shift paddle for a downshift and you’re treated to a similarly satisfying rudeness. We’d suggest leaving it in Sport or Sport+, as these racier settings make for quicker shifts with less hesitation than in the default Comfort setting.
What’s Inside Also Counts
From behind the wheel, racy cabin accoutrements such as a sport steering wheel, red-ringed HVAC vents, and a microsuede dash cover are clues that you’re driving something more special than a regular Benz. Aggressively bolstered sport seats provide more than enough squeeze to keep occupants located during high-speed cornering. That said, the cabins of the 45s are as cramped and impractical as those of the CLA250 and GLA250. Front-seat space is adequate in both cars, but taller folks would be wise to skip the optional panoramic sunroof; it steals precious headroom, and with it, back-seat passengers won’t find their accommodations nearly as, well, accommodating.
Perched atop the the shapely dashboard is the same 8.0-inch COMAND infotainment system that is also standard issue on the other CLA and GLA models, but navigation, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto are all extra-cost options. The system offers no touchscreen control; instead, a small rotary knob on the center console is pushed, pulled, or spun to manage functions. It generally works well, and we prefer physical controls, but with the addition of the aforementioned smartphone-integration menus, a touch-sensitive screen would make life easier.
The GLA45 offers slightly more rear-seat headroom and hatchback practicality, while the CLA45 is claimed to be quicker, handles a bit flatter, and sports a sexier shape. But either of these siblings will provide plenty of fun on your favorite back road. There is a third relative that blends the best of the CLA45 and GLA45 together but, regrettably, isn’t available in the States: the CLA45 Shooting Brake. Mercedes-AMG sells this ideal, albeit curious, blend of practicality, speed, and seductive bodywork in other parts of the world, but not in the United States, where wagons are shunned in favor of SUV-like amalgams. Still, the smallest AMG specimens that we do get are delightfully sinful and carry the bragging rights that come along with having the most powerful production turbocharged four-cyinder in the world hammering away under the hood.“” ""