For now, this turbocharged 2.0-litre is the most powerful in the world, and it remains the car’s overwhelming feature. It loves to be pushed hard and suffers very little lag if asked to accelerate without a downchange, so proves a superbly competent motor across most situations. The aural reward for venturing near the redline is sharp cracks from the exhaust on upshifts.
The seven-speed automatic gearbox itself is less snappy. Left in laid-back ‘Comfort’ mode, manual changes aren’t quite as sharp but swapping the driving mode to ‘Sport’ sorts this out, while helping to make the throttle that bit more responsive.
Fortunately, no amount of mode swapping affects the steering. It feels good across the board, with a natural weight on straight ahead and a consistent feed of weight off it. There’s little true feedback, as is the case with most electronic systems, but it’s undoubtedly one of the better systems available.
The ballistic engine and impressive steering are complemented by a capable all-wheel drive system. All the power goes to the front wheels most of the time but once they begin to struggle, half of it is diverted to the rears. Switching the 45’s ESP to ‘Sport’ quickens this process.
In truth, it isn’t the most playful chassis, mainly because the rear-bias never exceeds the front. Despite this, and the fact that AMG softens-off its estates compared with their saloon or coupé equivalents, the way this Shooting Brake corners is nothing short of brilliant. Grip is huge and re-introduction of the throttle, late-corner, is always handled with confidence.
Even the ride is impressive; certainly better than non-AMG CLA Shooting Brakes. The dampers do a good job of smoothing out rutted roads, while the body remains as composed vertically as it does laterally during hard cornering.
However, although improved, rear cabin space is still tight. Adults will find their knees against the front backrests and their heads brushing the ceiling, while particularly tall adults will just feel uncomfortable. The sloping rear window makes it a claustrophobic experience, too.
On paper, the Shooting Brake’s boot is as big as an Audi A4 Avant’s or BMW 3 Series Touring’s but, in reality, its narrow opening, large lip and shallow shape are nowhere near as practical. Another case of style before substance.
Things aren’t so bad in the front of the cabin. AMG touches really lift the quality over lesser models. The sports steering wheel and splashes of Alcantara are pleasing, even if sections of the centre console are made from the same scratchy plastic as the rest of the range. Space, and seat and wheel adjustment, will suit most sizes, too.
Our test car was fitted with Mercedes’ optional 8.0-inch screen ‘Comand’ system (£1870). It’s easy enough to navigate, thanks to its three-layer menu system and rotary controller between the front seats. BMW’s iDrive is easier to use, though, and looks more modern in terms of on-screen graphics.