The Mercedes-Benz CLA is the brand’s new entry point for the North American market, one of the first of which to offer front-wheel drive architecture. Stepping up to the AMG brings 4Matic all-wheel drive and a white hot 355 horsepower 2.0 liter turbocharged four. Shifting that power to all four wheels is a 7-speed direct shift transmission.

Mercedes-Benz claims it’s the most powerful production four-cylinder engine in the world, able to accelerate the CLA45 AMG from 0-60 in 4.5 seconds. The high-performance compact sedan has all the goods to really promise an exhilarating driving experience indeed.

There is so much about this car in terms of features, design, equipment and other detail we don’t have time for here today, but here is a quick list of the main performance highlights of our highly optioned tester.

A full boat of AMG trim lines the exterior starting with the front splitter, side sill panel inserts and to the rear fascia. Our highly optioned interior had a healthy dose of genuine carbon fiber as well as acres of stitched leather on the dash and door panels.

The cabin also had an AMG Performance steering wheel as well as slick looking and very comfortable upgraded Recaro seats.

The color combination of Northern Lights Violet Metallic with silver painted trim was distinctive to say the least. You can opt for a Night Styling or Carbon Fiber exterior trim package which looses the high contrast silver trims.

I had the chance to drive it both in the Rocky Mountains and on the short course at High Plains Raceway just outside Denver, CO. Both venues gave a good impression of the car’s driving character.

On the rough patchy roads in the Rockies the first impression of the suspension is that the ride can be at times a bit brittle. This is caused in part by the extreme low-profile tires and performance suspension with little travel.

Steering response on winding roads however was brilliant and sharp with excellent communication for electric power steering. There is little to no body roll when pressed hard in curves.

On the track where full power could be unleashed without reservation, the engine proved explosive in it’s delivery of power. The seven-speed direct shift gearbox seems to be perfectly matched, offering up and downshifts almost telepathically.

While grip was exceptional powering out of curves, the steering did get a little squirmy under full power. It’s not exactly torque steer but you can feel all those ponies through the wheel even on straights.

The brakes were more than well matched bringing the CLA45 AMG down from high speeds and did well to remain in good working order even when hot. It’s a car you can indeed take to the track on the weekends while not at the golf club.