PRIVILEGED is the life led by motoring scribes.
Over the past year, we've climbed behind the wheel of more than 300 cars in various trims, marques and body styles.
Some offerings become blurred as manufacturers strive for driveability, functionality and economy.
But there was a standout from an action-packed 2013. Here it is, the Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG.
This is a car which stirs the driver within. It evokes passion, pushes the envelope, and raises the bar.
With a retail price of less than $90,000 it might not sound like a bargain…yet kilogram for kilogram, it's difficult to beat.
The CLA 45 wears the AMG badge, the performance arm of Mercedes-Benz. Traditionally AMGs have been delivered with fire-breathing V8s under the bonnet (and the odd V12), but this little rocket has a turbocharged four-cylinder donk.
It produces monstrous power and torque for an engine of its size which adds up to a whole heap of fun.
Sitting stationary feels fast. AMG has done the decorating and it's a slick makeover.
Brushed aluminium across the dash with jet turbine looking engine air vents capture your attention, along with the colour screen which sits high on the dash.
Just the steering wheel alone makes you want to go quick.
The combination of leather and alcantera is like a joystick to the game within.
Throughout the cabin there are some nice surprises, like the embossed shifter and the AMG sills.
The CLA is longer than its A-Class hatch sibling and the improved rear space is more inviting for adults.
Two average-sized blokes can fit, but it remains tight. Small rear windows, a sloping roofline and the one-piece front pews can restrict the outlook.
On the road
Who would have thought pressing a start button could be so much fun?
It brings to life a sweet burble which indicates the fun to be had.
Explore the echelon of each cog and it's accompanied by a soundtrack deserving of the iTunes number one position.
The driver can choose between three modes, sport, comfort and manual. Go with the athletic option and it's the most responsive to your right ankle, and the brilliant exhaust noise comes with enough snap, crackle and pop to make Kellogg's jealous.
Lift off the gas after giving the CLA ample encouragement and it's akin to letting off fire crackers.
But it's not all noise…it can rip from standstill to 100kmh in less than five seconds.
And it can turn. The A-Class variants have brilliant front-wheel drive prowess, this AMG variant adds all-wheel drive ability into the recipe and it's a tasty result when you head into the bends.
Power is sent to the rear wheels when you lose traction. When that happens is hard to detect and it takes a fair bit of work to upset the CLA from its intended track.
Sitting in low-profile 19-inch rubber the ride can be firm, although you'd suspect that buyers of an AMG would be willing to sacrifice some comfort in favour of corning aptitude.
What do you get?
Going bog standard is rarely appealing…this is an exception. The only thing added to our test machine was $490 19-inch black gloss AMG wheels.
The CLA 45 gets and array of cool stuff without the need to tick any boxes, like the full AMG regalia such as sports steering wheel, Speedshift automatic transmission, exhaust system which loves to make itself heard, special instrument cluster and sports suspension.
Throw in the red seatbelts, pumping CD and MP3 compatible stereo with sat nav and 17.8cm screen, panoramic sunroof, radar cruise control, lane keeping assist functionality and nine airbags, it all makes for one well-rounded package.
It's pretty tough to find a direct rival in this guise. Also worth a look would be the two-door coupes BMW 135i M Sport ($74,745) and Audi TTS TFSI ($98,900).
While the official fuel consumption figure is seven litres for every 100km, we could only manage about 10. You could get it lower with good behaviour…we didn't like that option. Insurance won't be cheap, and even though the servicing is annual those maintenance trips can be expensive.
You can fit four adults, or get the kids in the back - although child seats can be a bit tricky with the fixed rear headrests. There is also a surprisingly large boot. Rear seats also fold, which is handy for those who like to carry bulky stuff.
It looks like a mini-me CLS.
Mercedes-Benz calls this a coupe, even though the traditionalists will maintain only two doors can attain that moniker.
It does have alluring sweeping lines, and it's hard to find an angle which doesn't look the goods.
The CLA may not quite have the raw abilities of the A45 hatch, but it offers greater functionality.
For anyone wanting to accommodate four, or possibly five passengers regularly, this is the best option.
Beautiful lines make it stand out from the crowd, and it's an attention grabber.
And even better, it looks more expensive than it is.
WHAT MATTERS MOST
What we liked: Good looks, great exhaust soundtrack, athletic interior styling.
What we'd like to see: Improved outlook for rear passengers, perhaps an option for a softer ride.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year unlimited kilometre warranty. Servicing is every 20,000km or 12 months.
Model: Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG.
Details: Four-door all-wheel drive performance coupe.
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder generating maximum power of 265kW @ 6000rm and peak torque of 450Nm @ 2250-5000rpm.
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic.
Consumption: 7.0 litres/100km (combined average).
Performance: 0-100kmh in 4.6 seconds, top speed 270kmh (electronically limited).
Bottom line: $86,900.