The most powerful production four-cylinder engine in the world. All-wheel drive. Sleek four-door coupe styling. Advanced electronics and entertainment equipment. A sporty, elegant interior.

For $48,375?! Really?

Well, sort of--chances are most folks will option the new 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG up to something nearer the $60,000 mark, but even then, the new AMG four-door coupe is a fantastic performance and luxury bargain.

Why? Because the 355-horsepower engine under the hood also turns out 332 pound-feet of torque, 0-60 mph runs conservatively stated at 4.5 seconds, and an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph. Because the all-wheel drive system, even though it's front-wheel drive in normal use, can send up to 50 percent of torque to the rear wheels--and it does it so smoothly, so transparently, you'll never think of it as a wrong-wheel driver. And, because the CLA45's mix of size, style, luxury, and equipment hits a sweet spot we haven't seen in the U.S. in a long time--if ever.

For less than the price of a decently-equipped BMW 3-Series, you can have more power, better looks, and an only marginally less-useful rear seat. The value is remarkable.

But so, too, is the CLA45's driving experience.

There's just a touch of turbo lag--it has to spool up 26.1 psi of boost, after all--but driven well, the lag is barely noticeable. The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is nearly as slick as Porsche's PDK, but here it's available in a 355-horsepower all-wheel-drive car; you'd have to pay Porsche at least $105,630 to get the same mix. The CLA45 AMG's chassis is also very well-sorted and tuned, with predictable, mild power-on understeer, a willingness to rotate into a corner, and surprisingly good steering for a somewhat nose-heavy all-wheel-driver.

Head-to-head on track against the legitimate sports cars on this year's Motor Authority Best Car To Buy list (the Porsche Cayman, Chevy Corvette Stingray, and Jaguar F-Type), the CLA45 AMG is a tick or two off the absolute pace--but it's every bit as fun to hurl around, and still quick in its own right. Head-to-head on the road against the larger luxury sedans on the list (Mercedes-Benz S Class, Porsche Panamera, Audi RS 7, Cadillac CTS), the CLA45 AMG isn't quite as well-equipped or finished inside--but it's somewhere between one-half and one-third the price of most of them, and it still offers all-day cruising comfort.

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG

We've had the fortune of spending more time in the CLA45 AMG than any other car on this list (and we've spent quite a lot of time in all of them), including about a dozen hours on the German autobahn, mostly in the rain, and close to 100 laps at the Streets of Willow in California. In both situations, the CLA45 AMG never ceased to give us smiles and satisfaction. Even when much more expensive, higher-horsepower hardware was available to drive, we kept coming back to the CLA45, whether it was to toss into a four-wheel drift at the track or to cover three hours of high-speed highway cruising.

This dual-purpose nature of the CLA45 AMG, together with its small-premium packaging, make it one of the most intriguing new cars to hit the U.S. market in a decade. It's not just an improvement on a proven formula--it's a whole new recipe.

But does the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG have what it takes to overwhelm its larger, more expensive alternatives and win the Best Car To Buy 2014 award? We'll announce the winner Tuesday, November 12.