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It seems incongruous to make the CLA-Class part of the exclusive AMG line. How much of a shift is it for AMG? When you first heard about this coming down the pipeline, was it hard to wrap your mind around?
In the concept development phase, when we saw the drawings of the A-Class, it was like, ‘wow, this car has sporty genes.’ This opens up a whole new frontier, and a whole new set of opportunities, for AMG. So it was almost one of those things, we have got to do this car.
at least with a statement like that people that own non-amg CLA's won't feel like they own a car that's not sporty, seems like even a basemodel CLA250 can be tons of fun, not sure about Europe's basemodel CLA180 though.
 

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The 2014 CLA45 AMG Is Key To Gen Y, Says Mercedes AMG CEO Ola Kalenius

The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG goes on sale this fall. (Credit: Mercedes-Benz)

The 2014 CLA45 AMG marks a new era for Mercedes-Benz’s performance division.

It doesn’t have rear-wheel drive like most AMG models do. It’s based on the lowly A-Class, an efficiency-minded subcompact sold in Europe, and it only has a small four-cylinder engine under its hood, rather than a snarling V8 or V12. But perhaps most importantly, its base price is nearly $15,000 less than that of the C63 AMG, currently the most affordable AMG model.

Given its size, styling and price, it’s clear that the CLA45 AMG is aimed at young buyers who normally wouldn’t consider a Mercedes. The question is, how can it still be an AMG, yet be so different from previous models?


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Between laps in a bright white CLA45 AMG sedan on the challenging circuit at Bilster Berg Drive Resort in Germany, Ola Kalenius, CEO of Mercedes AMG, helped put things in context. He also offered insight into the challenges of developing this vehicle and the technology that helps make it unique. What follows is an edited transcript of the interview.

It seems incongruous to make the CLA-Class part of the exclusive AMG line. How much of a shift is it for AMG? When you first heard about this coming down the pipeline, was it hard to wrap your mind around?
In the concept development phase, when we saw the drawings of the A-Class, it was like, ‘wow, this car has sporty genes.’ This opens up a whole new frontier, and a whole new set of opportunities, for AMG. So it was almost one of those things, we have got to do this car.

How is the CLA45 AMG a new frontier?
It’s a new entry point into the AMG brand. So today if I look at where we are, the entry point is the C63 AMG, with a sticker in the U.S. a little bit north of $60,000. The CLA45 AMG, which will be our entry point in the U.S. market, will be launched at $47,450, so we will be able to attract a group of buyers that previously maybe they were dreaming about an AMG, but it was a little bit out of reach. And here you get an entry point, almost like a stepping stone, a first stepping stone, into the AMG brand.

So, the idea is to attract a younger target?
Only just last week I was at a very big meeting with our U.S. dealers presenting the CLA45 AMG to them, and the theme of that meeting was, this is going to be our gateway to Gen Y—so a younger group of buyers of which many will be new to the brand. We’re very excited about it.

But it’s an entry-level car, so how did AMG go about elevating it to a hot rod?
It is absolutely crucial that for this segment, this entry segment of performance cars, that we make it into an authentic, real AMG. And this is why we have given the engineers almost free hands and no restrictions to go crazy—not quite, not quite—but to go crazy in terms of pushing the physical limits of what you can get out of an engine: 181 horspower per liter, it’s never been done on a series production engine before, which is a tremendous testament to the creativity and ingenuity of our engineering community.

But combine that with a seven-speed performance transmission, dual-clutch shifting (so you have the shifting time pretty much of an SLS, but in an entry-level performance car), variable all-wheel drive, thoroughly reengineered chassis, new suspension geometry front and rear, new elastokinematics. We even developed a brand new performance seat to go with this car, and it hugs you in the corners. All of these elements make it a true and authentic AMG.

So this was the challenge to the engineers: If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right.

This little engine puts out a massive amount of power for its size: 355 horsepower from 2.0 liters of displacement for the U.S. model. What did you have to do to the engine to handle all that power?
It’s a completely new casting. It’s a sand-cast block like you would do on a motorsports engine. Complete new cylinder head, even different materials, so different alloys to withstand the cylinder pressure. …

Because of the specific output with 180 horsepower per liter, here we had to go beyond anything that we had ever done before. So for these guys, it was like breaking new ground. You’re Lewis and Clark and you’re discovering the country and you don’t know what’s coming at you.

[Note: The European version of the CLA45 AMG produces a total of 360 horsepower, hence Kalenius’ reference to 180 horsepower per liter.]

It’s really remarkable to get that much power from such a small engine.
You know, we actually revised the target during the journey. We had a high target and in the middle of the development we kind of said, ‘No, let’s push a little bit further and see how far we can go.’

How did that go over in the engineering lab?
They said, ‘We have a little surprise for you.’ I threw them a challenge midway through the marathon, and they came back on the last kilometer and ran that record time.

How did you get the CLA45 AMG to feel so much like a rear-wheel drive car in terms of not understeering?
A couple of key issues: Variable all-wheel drive, so you have a system that instantly, depending on the driving situation, transfers torque from front to rear and then back; a completely redesigned front suspension; and new elastokinematics all around, front and rear suspension.


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What do you mean by ‘elastokinematics’?
All of the rubber parts to take the compliance of the chassis. The stiffness and behavior of those rubber parts is a lot of the cornering feeling that you feel. Obviously a Formula One car is more or less infinitely stiff, but it wouldn’t be fun to drive to work in a car like that. So you have to have dampening between the body and the axles. But the intelligence is in the ability to provide a car like a thoroughbred race horse—it can do a very quick lap around this track, but at the same time you want to have a car that you can drive every day to work and it’s not annoying, that it has a good ride as well. A lot of work goes into finding the sweet spot between those two.

And having, of course, a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission with shifting times as quick as a super-sports car, that is a huge benefit. It’s all these things working together, the engine, the transmission, the variable all-wheel drive, the redesigned chassis. …

It’s like a decathlon. You have to do all of these things to be able to win the medal.

Are there things you learned in developing the CLA45 AMG that will benefit other AMG products? Can you give an example?
Well, the new alloy on the cylinder head. It’s the first time we did that, and I’m already hearing that the guys working on Mercedes’ next generation six-cylinder engine will use the same alloy. So you constantly have this exchange of ideas and know-how.

Any other thoughts on challenges with the CLA45 AMG?
Well, I come back to Gen Y. Styling—it looks great. We could talk technology all afternoon, but you need to have the styling, the performance-oriented styling, to go with it, especially for Gen Y. So I think this thing of the eye-catching, wow, must-have type of feeling when you see the car, that combined with the technical substance and an attractive entry price, it’s those three things together that make us confident that this new frontier truly becomes a gateway to a new set of customers.

The 2014 CLA45 AMG Is Key To Gen Y, Says Mercedes AMG CEO Ola Kalenius - Forbes
Good read It's crazy how the CLA 45 AMG is just $15,000 cheaper than a C63 AMG. I'd say the CLA 250 has more of a chance with the younger crowd to start off with.

180 horsepower per liter is incredible for a stock 2.0L but with the help of the turbo and "AMG" anything seems to be possible.
 

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Good read It's crazy how the CLA 45 AMG is just $15,000 cheaper than a C63 AMG. I'd say the CLA 250 has more of a chance with the younger crowd to start off with.

180 horsepower per liter is incredible for a stock 2.0L but with the help of the turbo and "AMG" anything seems to be possible.
I can't see many younger people driving in CLA45 AMG's since they do carry an extremely high price tag, CLA250's are definitely much more attainable.

As more CLA45 AMG owners make their way on here i'd like to know the cost of ownership on one of these.
 

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Cool, thanks.

I think Ola means "young-er at heart". Ha ha.
 
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