The hottest version of the newest Mercedes made its world debut in New York when the wraps came off the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG. A classic bit of AMG-inspired road magic, this compact 4-door with coupe-like character not only looks the part but packs the world's most powerful 4-cylinder series-production engine under its hood and a new strain of AMG-tweaked 4Matic all-wheel drive to ensure that power gets put to best use.

Visually, the new CLA45 AMG gets a typical AMG revamp to distinguish it from a base CLA250. More aggressive front/rear fascia treatments are set off with bi-xenon headlamps and LED taillamps, while 235/40 performance tires on 18-inch light alloy wheels fill each fenderwell. The cabin boasts a parallel tweaking, with a dedicated AMG instrument cluster, sport seats wrapped in Artico man-made leather and Dimanica microfiber material, red seat belts, and other enthusiast-oriented touches.

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The centerpiece of the new CLA45 AMG is its 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, a techno tour-de-force shared with its European A45 AMG sibling. The first-ever 4-banger from AMG, it's fitted with a twin-scroll turbocharger that kicks out 26.1 psi of peak boost, sufficient force-feeding to let this little gem develop a very V8-like 335 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque. A huge water-to-air intercooler keeps it from overheating while an AMG variable exhaust system allows it to roar at full song but maintain a mellower note under basic cruise conditions. Those with greener leanings also will be pleased to known that it also comes with an ECO Start/Stop function and alternator management circuitry to help enhance overall economy.

Backing this high-intensity motivator is an AMG Speedshift DCT 7-Speed sports automatic transmission. A dual-clutch unit created to work with a transverse engine orientation, it also offers trick touches found in other Speedshift gearboxes, like steering wheel-mounted paddle shift levers, multiple program modes, auto rev-matching on downshifts and a Race Start function. This pairing allows the 4-cylinder CLA45 AMG to streak from 0-60 mph in just 4.5 seconds.

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To effectively channel the CLA45 AMG's prodigious motive force under all driving conditions, AMG came up with a proper 1-2 punch that matches its own comprehensive chassis revamping with a new strain of 4Matic all-wheel drive.

In addition to being 25 percent lighter than M-B's original 4Matic system, the new system permits full, precise and near-instantaneous variable distribution of drive torque from front to rear and back. In this AMG application, it also interfaces with the CLA45's multi-mode ESP stability control and also features a new ESP Curve Dynamic Assist function that further enhances cornering stability.

Like other AMG offerings, the CLA45 features a unique spring/shock/stabilizer bar fitment that lowers ride height and raises the level of agility and responsiveness, as well as higher-effort steering and a high-performance braking system.

Sharing most of its key standard and optional comfort/convenience/safety features with the 2014 CLA250 that goes on sale in September, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG will arrive here two months later. Pricing will start at $48,375, which is $17,550 above its less-intense front-drive kin.


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