The Mercedes-AMG CLA45 S Shooting Brake is not a ‘niche’ car. Technically, it’s a niche of a niche - a derivative of a car that’s already trying to fill an odd gap which doesn’t really exist. It could be referred to as NicheCeption, which is especially fitting since the Mercedes range is about as easy to understand as the plot of a Christopher Nolan film.
But unlike the standard CLA, which sits awkwardly alongside the similarly-sized A-Class saloon, the estate doesn’t have an equivalent in the range. Yes, when we’re talking in AMG terms it’s priced very similarly to the C43 estate, a car we know well after running one for the best part of the year, but it doesn’t have an answer for the CLA45’s clout.
Mechanically, it’s identical to the A45 S, aside from a slightly wider track at the front. That means 416bhp from a 2.0-litre, twin-scroll turbocharged engine, feeding all wheels via a trick, fully-variable system with two electronically-controlled differentials for the rear axle.
As this is a heavier car (1710kg vs 1635), it is a touch slower, hitting 0-62mph in 4.1 seconds as opposed to 3.7. It still feels enormously quick, though, making up for the lack of aural drama. It’s been deliberately engineered to feel more like a naturally-aspirated unit, with the 369lb ft peak torque figure coming in at 5000rpm and peak power not kicking in until 6750rpm, so you do have to rev the hell of the thing.
Fine by me, but the reality of the 7200rpm redline isn’t as exciting IRL as you’d expect it to be. As we’ve found with the A45 S and GLA45 S, the soft limiter at the top end means you’re better off aiming to shift a few hundred RPM before. And Mercedes can try all it likes to aim for N/A character, but even with roller bearings for the turbo, lag is inevitable when you’re squeezing over 400bhp out of a 2.0-litre engine. Sure enough, there’s a reasonable dollop of it.
Wherever the gear change is done, though, you’re in for a treat - the car’s programmed to let off a deliciously silly exhaust pop with every upshift. You will generally want to do these yourselves, not just for the satisfaction of the bangs from the quad tailpipes, but also because the eight-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox has a little trouble making its mind up on a faster drive.
So far, it’s all shaping up much like the A45. Start to throw it into the corners with some more vigour, though, and some slight differences start to appear. I think you’d need to get the two cars back to back to see if that wider front end makes much of a difference, but what’s going on at the rear is much more apparent.
That longer estate body means more weight up back, giving an extra degree of playfulness when you’re nearing the limit. It shifts around more on its own, without needing the all-wheel drive system to nudge more power to the rear axle. And when it does, the CLA 45’s power oversteer moments don’t feel as weird and ‘forced’ as they do in the A45.
Traction remains extremely impressive, while the dampers are just as firm. Too firm, really - on the road, you’ll always want them in the softest setting (paired with Sport Plus or Race mode), but even then, there’s not enough give. There’s so little body roll that the CLA45 could afford to be far slacker.
In fact, most of the A45s foibles are carried over. It has the same cabin which looks stylish and is packed full of fancy gadgets but coated in cheap-feeling, scratch-prone piano black plastic. Oh, and it’s also fantastically expensive.
The CLA SB comes in at £59,470 in ‘Plus’ trim. That gets you every conceivable toy you could ever need, at least, leaving few ways to inflate the price further. Our test car was £60,065 with its sole option (Mountain Grey metallic paint) taken into account.
The far less exciting C43 estate will be similarly expensive spec-for-spec, though, and with the cheapest C63 wagon option in the UK now being the £74,000 S, there is space for this thing in the line-up.
It’s an appealing spot in the range, too. It’s best thought of as a prettier A45 with ample space for your mountain bike or other hashtag lifestyle gear, and yet it’s still relatively compact. At 505 litres, it has more boot space with the rear seats up than the C43/C63. A more disappointing 960kg with them down, perhaps because of all-wheel drive system packaging reasons, but we’ll let that one slide.
All things considered, this is the best ‘45 AMG you can buy. Niches are usually silly, and niches of niches especially so. But clearly, some are worth pursuing.