Record hatchback pace and performance wrapped up in a Mercedes-AMG suit
Seven years ago, Mercedes rewrote the hot hatch rulebook with the first A 45 AMG. That caused Volkswagen’s ever-improving Golf R, the Audi RS3 and one or two others to try react to the Stuttgart Star that stole all the glory. AMG has struck back to put its claim to the fastest 2-litre and hatchback on earth crowns beyond doubt. But how does this mad baby AMG shape up? Pretty well, to tell the truth, now that we’ve tested it.
IT’S IMPOSING FOR SURE
The latest Mercedes-AMG A 45 S an imposing machine. That much is for sure. Now one of the family with its AMG-specific grille, it also has a jet-wing apron, broader wings and flared arches to accommodate an increased front track and those polished rim black 5-twin-spoke 19-inch 8.5 J light AMG alloys wearing 245/35 R 19 Michelin Sport Pilots. Add fatter AMG side skirts and that aggro rear wing above quad 90 mm AMG tailpipes.
While subtle enough, some may find those overly aggro aero bits a tad overwhelming. Never mind, some details could have been carbon finishes at the price. We also found some of that kit’s fit and finish to be a little disappointing for a Mercedes. Makes it feel like it’s more for show than the purposeful kit we know it is. That said, this car had almost 20,000 kilos on the clock and we doubt any of those were easy. Still, it definitely looks the part.
A 45 S however stands head and shoulders above from the moment you finger the starter button and that 310 kW 500 Nm 2.1-bar twin-scroll roller bearing turbocharged M139 2-litre 4 pot shakes to life. It immediately feels like a race car. There’s no velvet glove here. Just a naked iron fist. Taut and stiff, A 45 S has a strengthened chassis, cross braces and a lightweight shear plate under the engine. And judging by that feel, its engine mounts must be racecar solid too.
ONE MAN ONE ENGINE MAGIC
Built to AMG’s One Man, One Engine philosophy, the engine has been spun 180 degrees to turn its inlet to the front of its bay with the exhaust and turbo packed behind. To improve airflow to the engine and induce ram-effect at speed. Two-stage piezo injectors, an electronic wastegate, mirror-like F1-derived Nanoslide cylinder bores and separate cylinder head and crankcase cooling water pumps add to an exotic engine spec.
Not enough? Never fear! Add AMG’s new Speedshift DCT 8G dual-clutch transmission and 4-Matic all wheel drive, Race-Start launch control and a Drift Mode too.
The Race Start is a peach. Unlike some rivals, which need a doctorate in engineering to activate their launch systems and actually get them to work, all you need do in A 45 S is find Race mode. Then just stand on both the gas and the brakes, let it crackle for a second and slip your left foot off the clamps when it goes green. That releases AMG 45 S like the bullet out of a gun. It squashes your back into the racing seat and rockets to the horizon.
METRONOMIC RECORD PACE
Best of all is that it launches with metronomic consistency. We tried four runs on the same stretch and each came in within a hundredth of a second of the next. Which means that A 45 S is likely to keep on delivering its claimed record 3.9-second dash, or slightly better to 100, all day long. Or until you’ve used all the fuel. Which can be pretty soon if you keep on dealing out the sort of abuse this car loves.
But there’s far more to it than just the drag strip. Find a decent stretch of twisty tarmac, an empty pass or even better, take it to a track day to fully exploit its extreme dynamics. A 45 S demands to be manhandled into corners. The harder you steer, the better it responds. Even those Sport Pilots complains as A 45 S exploits the rubber to turn in like a dart and brilliantly follow through. It allows you to be greedy with the throttle, so pin the throttle real early.
You sense the systems working under you — selectively spilt central and totally variable AMG Torque Control rear differentials apportion power between the four corners of the car. Best of all, it delivers a surprising rear-wheel drive like feel and even becomes wonderfully tail happy with a some proper turning moment induced.
A 45 S IS JUST LIKE A RACE CAR
There’s hardly any lean and it feels just like a race car. In every respect. Packing frequency-selective adaptive dampers, high performance coil springs and three-mode AMG Ride Control, this AMG corners hard enough to make you brace your neck as it takes extreme hatchback motoring next level. And you can play Nürburgring 24 Hour too. Those Sport Pilots simply don’t drop off, either…
And did someone say Drift Mode? Aah! Drift Mode! If you ever tire of chasing tenths of a second every lap, Drift Mode replaces the go with a little show at the prod of a button. Select both Race and Drift to shift the AWD bias rearmost and once you have the hang of it, A 45 S becomes a drift tool of note. Oh yes — when you pick Race mode, the car’s exhaust tone becomes considerably more gruff with pops, bangs and all. Just to add effect!
A 45 S likes to stop too — its brakes love to be abused. Jump on them way beyond your comfortable markers on track and still A 45 S retards splendidly. The punch holes in the ventilated and perforated 360 x 36 mm front discs whirr under the severe clamping pressure of their 6-piston monobloc fixed front callipers. Them and 330 x 22 mm rear rotors in single-pot floating callipers slow the car supremely and consistently. Without a trace of fade.
PEERLESS PERFORMANCE HATCH
So there’s no doubt that as an extreme performance hatch, this car is currently peerless. It has a few foibles off the boil though. Short on low down grunt, it relies on its gearbox to shift down quickly. But the ‘box tends to freak out while accelerating in comfort mode in normal driving. It finds the wrong gear, prompting a paddle shift to something that actually made sense.
And while AMG promises that ride comfort has been improved over the previous model, that makes us wonder if we’ve forgotten how harsh that car must have been? Let’s just say that this car is honest about what it drives over. It’s direct, brutal set-up is ever-present, even in its most basic comfort mode. There it still rides well enough. To satisfy some of the people some of the time. Not all of the people all of the time….
Of course, the Mercedes-AMG A45 S has really cool cockpit to offset its W12-like ride (that’s Lewis’ weekend wheels, by the way). Complete with the ultimate man to machine interface, Merc’s impeccable Starship Enterprise instrumentation and MBUX infotainment crosses the dash to deliver a choice of Classic, Sport and particularly striking Supersport modes. Supersport even works with My Mercedes’ Track Pace virtual race engineer data logger to hone your own driving skills.
STEERING LIKE LEWIS!
That market leading multifunction steering wheel also harks after the device that Hamilton uses. With a brilliant touchpad, dials and buttons on each stalk to respectively control driver and infotainment functions, there’s a pair of extras controllers just below. For one-touch control the car’s various engine, drive and chassis wizardry. Alas, some cabin aspects are also flimsy. Finishes feel cheap, the piano black is noticeably plastic and it tends to creak and groan too much, too.
But those are just the trimmings that come a significant second to this car’s red-blooded extreme performance pedigree. A giant leap forward over its already milestone predecessor, this one is not just considerably more powerful, quicker and faster, but the latest Mercedes-AMG A 45 S also brings night and day chassis improvements to make remarkable progress in the short time since the last one arrived.
At an eye-watering R1.1 million however, there are indeed a few aspects that we found lacking. Some may find those concerns hard to accept at this price bracket, but it’s unlikely any of that will ever matter to the guy or gal who will actually go out and buy one of these. And to them, the message is clear….
LONG LIVE THE KING!
The Mercedes-AMG A 45 S is a huge fun, great looking and still practical ultra performance hot hatch that ticks every dynamic box with distinction. Enough to conclude, long live the hot hatch King. Go get it! — Michele & Giordano Lupini
Images: Michele Lupini
ROAD TESTED: Mercedes-AMG A 45 S Engine: 310 kW 500 Nm 2-litre turbo petrol I4 Drive: 8-speed DC auto AWD TESTED: 0-60 km/h: 1.97 sec 0-100 km/h: 3.88 sec 0-120 km/h: 5.12 sec 0-160 km/h: 8.32 sec 400m: 11.9 sec @ 192 km/h 80-120 km/h: 2.28 sec 120-160 km/h: 3.21 sec CLAIMED: VMax: 270 km/h Fuel: 8.4 l/100 km CO2: 192 g/km Warranty/Service: 2y unl./5y 100K km LIST PRICE: R1.156M RATED: 8