AMG Hill Climb: Driving the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 to Lavasa
Images : Gaurav S Thombre
Wait for the dam. It’s the best piece of advice to anyone who’s yet to lay his/her eyes on the Lavasa hill climb just outside Pune. The road starts with the Lap of Mutha, a serpentine stretch of goodness on the hill before the Temghar dam. Fast sweeping corners, no hairpins, a wide-enough road and not much traffic early in the day, the Lap of Mutha sets you up for the next hill. You can’t commit yourself through every corner – as you shouldn’t on any public road – but you’ll get in to a rhythm alright. Then there are the villages en route to Lavasa. Since this stretch is so popular among enthusiasts who run up with the fuel taps flooding their cylinders, the villagers have built speed breakers the size of sky scrapers. That rhythm you’ve built through Mutha goes sideways and out over these breakers, and I’m talking about the side crawl over humps here, not a powerslide. It gets frustrating and that’s when you will curse me for suggesting the worst hill climb in the world. That’s until you take a final left over a bridge with the towering Temghar dam occupying the view out of your right window.
You cross the bridge in to a sweeping right-hander and are welcomed in to the first of eight hairpins that many refer to as the Carousel (a Nurburgring reference for its long, heavily sweeping banked left-hander). The surface becomes better, the air is cooler, even the landscape gets greener. I engage Sport mode in the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 as we cross the bridge, hold second gear into this Carousel and let it rip as we begin to exit the corner. The compact sedan, aided by all-wheel drive, lays all its power down so efficiently that shortly ahead I’m calling for third, two shots are fired at the redline and my colleagues spot a flock of birds fly for their lives. A few corners into the drive, the tail pipes register for the clay pigeon shooting competition.
The Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 goes whoosh, braaaaaaaaap-phat-phat; whoosh, braaaaaaaaap-phat-phat through every gear, and since the lower gears aren’t too long, you get to hear the full range in these hills more often than not. The turbocharger is as big as the four-cylinder bank, generates 26.1psi of boost, and in the quiet of the early morning run to the top of the hill, you can hear it whistle like a rowdy romeo. The turbo whistle is followed by the boomy 2-litre four-pot building up to the flapping exhaust crescendo. The right foot is kicking the firewall from now on.
The updated Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 makes 375 thoroughbred horses, which is 187.5bhp per litre (your regular hatchbacks make between 60 to 100bhp per litre). It may be the smallest sedan in the AMG range but it has got the spirit of AMG engrained in it. Crazy fast, engaging and more fun than you’d ever expect of it. The hand-built engine aside, there’s more AMG love in here. The engineers at Affalterbach ensured the gearbox was up to the task for that hyper-energetic engine, so dual clutch duties are done with crisp shifts at high revs, aided by the tug of paddles behind the wheel if you decide to change gears yourself. The steering wheel is well weighted and doesn’t require effort for direction changes. The suspension is stiff, stiffer than commoners would like but it comes alive when you belt the car on these roads. The car hugs the tarmac like a sportscar should, sits low on its haunches and in corners controls its body movements so well that the speeds you will generate will positively assist in regurgitating your breakfast. It’s a good thing that all the food joints are towards the top of the hill then.
To get to the top, you have to pass the next seven hairpins with a mix of a few straights in between. You will be shuffling from hard acceleration to heavy braking, which is brutal on the tyres and the brakes, but the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 seems built for this. The tyres don’t squeal and the brakes don’t fade. Joining the dots between the straights and the hairpins are the tight, fast sweeping corners and plenty of switchbacks. The right foot requires some deft modulation here and the weight of the throttle pedal helps. You can stay on the gas without mashing it hard enough to kick in the ESP and slow you down. It’s easier in this car than many other fast cars I’ve driven up this hill. My favourite is the final hairpin. It’s wide and steep and marks the entry to the top of the hill. A nice flat sequence of corners follow, to the entry point to Lavasa city. That’s when you turn around and come back to this hairpin. It’s the view you see in this picture that is most rewarding. When it’s overcast, clouds float over the hills that frame your view, and in the summer months when it is clear you can see the lake that carries Pune city’s drinking water, held by the Temghar dam below.
This is the road we want to stay away from when the right set of wheels don’t present themselves to us. Every car and motorcycle that has come to our headquarters in Pune for road testing has climbed up the winding road to this hill city, and every single member of the team knows the twists here better than their wife or girlfriend’s mood swings. The crests, the bumps, steeply banked corners, the switchbacks, blind turns, changing road surface, everything. It is registered in our subconscious. The Lavasa hill climb near Pune is our favourite road because it has raised our game. It is so close to home yet bears no resemblance to city life. It’s a different world out there, a switch that activates the motoring enthusiast in us till the bends last.