ZWARTKOPS, Johannesburg – The local introduction of the new Mercedes-AMG A45 S 4Matic+ and CLA45 S 4Matic+ took place at the AMG Driving Academy at Zwartkops Raceway. Having driving the A35 extensively during Performance Shootout 2020, we were looking forward to experiencing the full-fat A45 on one of our local tracks.

Background

It's intriguing how much Mercedes-Benz’s model range has changed over the past decade or two. Gone are the days where the Stuttgart-based firm manufactured mainly four-door luxury barges. One of the main instigators of this range shake-up was the first-generation A45 AMG. Offering 265 kW in a compact hatchback body was unheard of at the time and the term "super hatch" or "hyper hatch" was quickly established.

With the latest edition of the Mercedes-AMG A45 S (overseas, a standard A45 is also on offer), the Affalterbach-based performance division has shifted the goal posts yet again. The M139 2,0-litre, single-turbo engine develops 310 kW and 500 N.m ... in a compact hatch! A track is indeed a fitting place to get acquainted with this car.

Behind the wheel

The winglets on the front bumper, the aggressive rear wing (part of the R26 350 AMG Aerodynamics package) and the overall stance of the new A45 S leaves you in little doubt about the car’s intentions. Open the door and the sports seats and Alcantara-covered steering wheel (with the driving mode selector on the tiller) further emphasise this is an AMG in every way.

Some of us would argue that AMGs should be fitted with big, brawny V8 engines, but that view started slowly changing after the original A45 was introduced. As with AMG-badged models higher up the food chain, you can select a number of driving modes and suspension settings. On the track, I chose "race mode", which dials in the most focussed settings and relaxes the ESP a little, allowing the car to slide before the safety systems help you out.

The engine is impressively punchy, even on part-throttle inputs. There is enough torque to make rapid progress, but when you rev the engine all the way to the 7 000 r/min redline, it responds with serious conviction. It revs not unlike a naturally aspirated engine, except there is more torque on offer throughout the range. Also, engine speed does not taper off towards the redline; this latter fact makes the engine feels especially strong.

The 4Matic+ all-wheel-drive system works well and one can instantly feel how the rear axle receives more torque during, for example, a tight corner. This assists the driver by marginally tucking the nose into the bend. One can hardly call it oversteer, as it is such a small amount, but once you know what is happening, you can neatly use it to blast around a corner quicker and with more feel through the steering wheel and seat.

In the faster corners, especially through Zwartkops’ long right-hander, the A45 S felt utterly stable. That said, there is a playful nature to the A45 S that the vast majority of all-wheel-drive hatches lack. The freedom a race track environment offers allows you to exploit a car’s performance to a greater degree; although this all-paw hot hatch's grip levels are high, the car never felt boring in how it headed through a bend.

Summary

After my drive on track and with the cars cooling down, I had a hard think about the latest A45’s ability. A few years ago, these performance figures were to be found only in V8-engined cars. Those days are gone. On the right road with some tight corners stringed together, I doubt a C63 would be able to get away. Indeed, the A45's punch is enough for it to keep up with cars boasting far larger engines.

At more than 1 500 kg, however, this is no lightweight hatch, thanks largely to the technology on board and that all-wheel-drive system. That said, it never feels that heavy at all; the way the engineers have managed to hide this vehicle's mass is truly impressive.

Ultimately, there is a part of me that misses sportscars of old; the rawness of actually driving the vehicle yourself (without any clever under-the-skin aids) and the challenge that comes along with that. This, the A45 S does not offer. Instead, it serves up truly eye-widening performance that even less experienced drivers are able to exploit. Still, at more than R1,1-million, it comes at quite a price...



FAST FACTS

Model: Mercedes-AMG A45 S 4Matic+
Price: R1 113 840
Engine: 2,0-litre, four-cylinder, turbopetrol
Power: 310 at 6 750 r/min
Torque: 500 between 5 000 - 5 250 r/min
0-100 km/h: 3,9 seconds
Top Speed: 270 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 8,3 L/100 km
CO2: 189 g/km
Transmission: 8-speed dual clutch
Maintenance Plan: 5-years/100 000 km