Marc UrbanoCar and Driver
Lap Time: 2:58.2
Class: LL3 | Base: $68,835 | As Tested: $79,915
Power and Weight: 382 hp • 3772 lb • 9.9 lb/hp
Tires: Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R, 255/35ZR-19 (96Y) MO1
Turning a lap in under three minutes on the Grand Course with less than 400 horsepower is an exclusive club, one populated solely with Porsche sports cars and a pair of open-cockpit track toys until the new Supra 3.0 and this top-rung AMG from the junior CLA line joined this year. How is the CLA such a road-course overachiever? Exquisite handling, for one thing, but mostly it comes down to tires and grip.
Grip comes courtesy of Pirelli’s most aggressive street rubber: the P Zero Trofeo R. These tires are especially notable because their astronomical price—Mercedes charges $2900 for the set—is sure to make them one of the rarest options to spot in the wild. We can’t help but think AMG created this port-installed option—code D44 on the window sticker—specifically for Lightning Lap. We’re flattered.
They proved their worth, or at least most of it, by clinging to the pavement with 1.08 g’s in Turn 1, by nearly matching the Cayman GT4’s pace through the esses, and by just edging out this year’s M8 Competition in the infield. This CLA45 laps VIR a heroic 7.7 seconds quicker than the previous-gen model that rode on Dunlop Sport Maxx RTs, a max-performance summer tire, and it does so with an almost identical power-to-weight ratio.
Grip counts for a lot, but the CLA’s handling is amazingly neutral for a transverse-front-engine architecture. In fact, this Merc is downright tail-happy until the tires warm up. Unlike the STI, the CLA resists understeer. Benz’s all-wheel drive is revelatory in the way it holds the line through corners, allowing you to get on the power early.
With a lap that’s 7.4 seconds quicker than the Audi RS3’s and 1.5 seconds better than the BMW M2 Competition’s, the CLA45 blows away its natural competitors. Perhaps more remarkable is that it’s quicker than eight different V-8-powered AMGs of various body styles, including all but two models—the 2011 SLS AMG and the 2012 C63 AMG Black Series—from the spectacular naturally aspirated 6.2-liter M156 era. And it beat those V-8 AMGs despite having a worse power-to-weight ratio and a lower peak speed on the front straight than nearly all of them. With that in mind, those tires don’t seem so extravagant after all.
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