Adding further to its continued commitment to the Malaysian market, Mercedes-Benz reaffirmed its stance on the growing luxury segment of the automotive market in the country. President and CEO of MBM Mr Roland Folger said, “As we mark a decade of progress, success and quality at our local production facility, we are also forward looking, and even more motivated by recent developments in Malaysia’s automotive sector. In line with our strategy, Mercedes-Benz Malaysia continues to invest not just in Pekan, but also in our business as a whole. It is certainly a reflection of the encouraging demand we continue to receive from the Malaysian market. Our priority is to our customers and we remain committed to delivering vehicles of the best quality and providing world-class service.”
The Pekan plant in Pahang prides itself as being one of only six such production plants worldwide that manufactures Mercedes-Benz passenger vehicles in completely knocked down (CKD) form. Three Mercedes-Benz variants (S-Class, E-Class and C-Class) are proudly produced at the state-of-the-art Pekan plant for the domestic market. Aside from passenger vehicles, the M-Benz plant in Pekan also produces Mercedes-Benz and Mitsubishi-FUSO commercial vehicles. The latest addition to the plant is the much talked about first of its kind luxury hybrid, the luxurious S400L Hybrid. Response for the S400L Hybrid can only be described as phenomenal, and in light of the year-long waiting period, MBM is working closely with its German counterparts to find ways to boost production to bring down the waiting period to a more realistic level. As of July 2014, a total of 264 units of the eco-friendly luxury machine have rolled out of the Pekan plant, with more being meticulously put together as of the time of writing this article.
During the factory visit, top level MBM executives including President and CEO Herr Folger himself hosted journos around the plant and were shown the painstaking level of attention to detail accorded to every Mercedes-Benz vehicle that leaves the plant, assuring its customers that a Mercedes-Benz made in Pekan, Pahang, meets the strictest quality control standards set by HQ and is no more, no less a Mercedes-Benz here and in all other markets where Mercedes-Benz is represented. Producing the S400L Hybrid in Pekan meant that the plant underwent a major upgrade to cater to the unique manufacturing processes required for a hybrid vehicle; additions of new sub-assemblies and high voltage (HV) facilities were needed to realize the project. MBM spent a total of RM18m to upgrade its facilities in Pekan to accommodate the production of the S400L Hybrid as well as relocating its body shop and frame assembly lines for commercial vehicles.
Vice President of Production Plant Angel Legarda stated that the plant has remained on-track, and continues to produce quality vehicles that meet the stringent standards set by Mercedes-Benz. He also highlighted the steady growth of the plant’s production rate, which has produced over 34,000 passenger cars and over 18,700 commercial vehicles since inception. Production growth closely follows the growth of the brand in Malaysia, with a total volume growth of 11 percent for passenger vehicles and 14 percent growth for commercial vehicles for the year ended 2013. For 1H 2014, MBM credits the S-Class and C-Class for a phenomenal 24 percent growth so far.
Deputy Minister of International Trade and Industry YB Dato’ Lee Chee Leong graced the event together with CEO of East Coast Economic Region Development Council (ECERDC) Dato’ Jebasingam Issace John, Senior Group Director of Automotive Distribution & Manufacturing, DRB-Hicom Bhd YBhg Dato’ Radzaif Mohamed and CEO of Hicom Automotive Manufacturers Malaysia Sdn Bhd En Shamsuddin Bin Mohamed Yusof.
On the way back to KL, I was elated to be given a chance to drive the brilliant Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG with 4Matic all-wheel-drive system and no less than 360 twin-scroll turbocharged ponies under the hood out of a 2.0-liter powerplant. The CLA 45 AMG carries a premium of RM47,000 over its hatchback cousin; the other evil twin, A45 AMG. Having tested the more sedate CLA 200 a couple months back, getting into the sub-5 seconds century sprinter unleashed the Mr Hyde persona within me. More on that later. From the outside, the CLA 45 AMG (naturally) gets the crucial AMG cosmetics to differentiate it from its entry level younger brother. The front bumper is fitted with a more aggressive lower lip and canards to pile on the downforce, finished in titanium grey. The lower air dams get additional titanium inserts to create an even fiercer appearance. The front grille has two chromed horizontal lines instead of one on the CLA 200 to remind us that the CLA 45 AMG is almost twice as fast as the CLA 200! Further differentiation can be found along the sides, with (yep you guessed it) more aggressive skirts and racing decals, underpinning the larger 19” alloys partially hiding the red racing brake calipers ala Brembo with Mercedes-Benz letterings.
The biggest difference inside between the CLA 45 AMG and CLA 200 is the E-Select drive selector. In the latter, drive is selected via a stalk on the steering wheel boss while on the former, a Prius-style mini controller takes centerstage on the middle console. I do prefer the mini controller as you are less likely to accidentally switch between D and N or God forbid, R! I do believe the elves within the DCT 7-speed gearbox are smart enough to decide if you were really switching to ‘R’ at 100km/h on purpose. I didn’t find out the hard way nor did I consult anyone about it, so if you were buying one, do ask the sales guy for a definitive answer. Elsewhere, the steering wheel gets the flat-bottomed treatment, adding on to its sports pedigree. The CLA 45 AMG also gets a climatronic ventilation system as opposed to a manual system on the CLA 200. Not a biggie, but I do feel that both CLAs should’ve gotten climatronic controls. I mean, manual controls on a Merc?
With all that power (360hp@6000rpm) and torque (450Nm@2250-5000rpm) unleashed, not even the 235/35 R19 wheels can put all that power to the ground, if not for the inclusion of 4Matic permanent all-wheel-drive. If the CLA 45 AMG made do with a two-wheel drive arrangement, the car would be sliding all over the place even if you threw every electronic acronym at it to keep it in a straight line. There are no two ways about it, any car above 300hp you either go with AWD or you will crash and burn. As a result, the CLA 45 AMG can feel like it’s on a tight leash at low speeds with more drag compared to 200 version. However, a simple application of lead foot will send the twin-scroll turbo spooling up instantaneously, negating any feelings of being dragged around on four wheels.
The Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG is a much desired performance compact
The sportier semi-buckets in the CLA 45 AMG do a fantastic job of keeping its front occupants securely planted in the upright position, which is rather crucial at those times when you feel like challenging the law on the asphalt. Upon buckling up, the motorized seat belt automatically takes up any slack before releasing its death grip for you to breathe easy again. It’s rather reassuring; I wished all cars came with this. All in all, the front seats and anaconda seat belt system reminded me of track day, where instead of motorized anacondas, track assistants are there to strap you into the cars snugly.
4.6 seconds is all it takes to catapult you to 100km/h, which is a good 0.4 seconds faster than the smoking VW Golf R. Fractions of a second may not mean much to a layman, but in a drag race or around a race track, the victor and the vanquished are often mere fractions of a second apart. That is not to say the Merc is the clear winner in all situations, and this para isn’t about playing down the achievements of the stonking Golf R, but rather to put things into perspective. There are definitely faster cars out there, and the sky is pretty much the limit, but in this article, I am very impressed at how much performance the engineers at AMG managed to eke out of a 2.0-liter powerplant. And before I forget, the CLA 45 AMG runs on premium gas, a.k.a. RON 97 in local slang. Not saying that Euro 2M RON 97 is premium which it clearly isn’t by today’s standards, but forget about subsidized fuel, your AMG will sputter and spew out error codes faster than you can say Oops! I did it again. Besides, you wouldn’t want to be the sole CLA 45 AMG owner in the country to have your car hauled embarrassingly into an MBM service center for using cheap, subsidized fuel now, would you?
This car is meant to be driven hard. Observing speed limits in the CLA 45 AMG is quite the punishment; 110km/h on freeways feels like 50, I kid you not. If you own one of these babies and you drive the way that it was meant to be enjoyed, well do be prepared to enrich the coffers of the coppers, unless they are using older equipment that only detects speeds up to 160km/h. Much like trying to key in 1,000,000,000 on an 8-digit calculator, if you know what I mean. Surprisingly, the 19” wheels on this baby feels less bumpy than the 18” ones on the CLA 200. Does the CLA 45 AMG come shod with RFTs (run flats)? My short stint with the car meant I merely gleaned over the details and failed to notice whether they had run flats like the CLA 200. Nonetheless, and with me running the risk of being labeled Captain Obvious, there is still a jarring difference between this car and the S400L Hybrid flying carpet in terms of ride quality. In this respect, the S-Class is by far the smoothest car that I’ve ever been in.
On the way back along the Karak highway from Kuantan, I was presented with many opportunities to stretch the CLA 45 AMG’s legs a bit, and by a bit I meant hitting 180km/h and beyond on long bends. A Range Rover Evoque Si4 tried to muscle its way ahead of the diminutive CLA-Class under my stewardship. Did I let him? Let’s just say that he gave up after a couple of futile attempts. It wasn’t a fair challenge in the first place, and I am one who hates tailgaters so I was a bit sorry that he had to lose face in front of his one true love. Perhaps he should try again next time in a Range Rover Sport to even out the odds.
Why would an affable, peace-loving and generally all-around good natured dude like Yours Truly end up eating an Evoque for breakfast you say? Don’t blame the driver, blame the evil Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG, for temptation is but a stab of the throttle away. And that raspy exhaust note, don’t get me started! It’s really hard to stay civilized behind the wheel of this perfection in motion. Forget about fuel consumption figures, you will be hard pressed to achieve what Mercedes-Benz says the CLA 45 AMG can do. It’s just too much fun. If you’re worried about consumption, drive a Prius. There, I said it.