Mercedes-Benz A 45 AMG 2013: First Drive

words - Mike Sinclair
The hottest hatch of all has arrived Down Under... With, of all things, a Mercedes badge!

Mercedes-Benz A 45 AMG 2013

Quick spin
Bass Hills, Victoria

What we liked
>> Fast and surprisingly civilised...
>> ... until you push ‘Sport’ button...
>> ... Or use the launch control... Yee-hah!!!

Not so much
>> Not as sharp as some
>> 4MATIC system is still clearly front-biased
>> Expected more ‘drama’ from big-kW four

This is not our full launch review of the hottest hatch to be sold Down Under... Ever...

This is not our full launch review of perhaps the unlikeliest car ever to wear a Mercedes-Benz badge.

No, for those you’ll have to wait until next week – AFTER the local launch of the Mercedes-Benz A 45 AMG takes place.

In the meantime, this is yours truly’s first impressions of the car that I’d contend changes the face of AMG. The car that takes AMG from ‘simply’ Mercedes’ hot haus to a unique position – that of the brand with the world’s widest range of high-performance vehicles.

You’ve already read our man in Europe’s track drive impression of the A 45. What we can now confirm is the car’s credentials on the road Down Under. And no, it’s not perfect, but boy is it quick – and a hoot to drive to boot.

We grabbed ‘our’ A 45 from Mercedes-Benz HQ and spent just half a day with it in the Bass Hills in South Gippsland. Tight, twisty and sinuous, the roads there are poorly surfaced and regularly adorned with the stuff that comes from cows (no, not milk!)... In other words, perfect hot-hatch territory.

Not for the purposes of comparison, but as a rolling ‘control’ we even took along our long-term ReanultSport Megane 265.

And the very short version of the findings -- from our very short drive? Not the purest of handlers, the A45 is nonetheless an astonishingly quick and, ultimately, very forgiving car to drive. It is, for want of a better cliché, the sort of car that makes heroes from zeroes.

The crew will bring you chapter and verse on the technical details from the launch. But after our short drive, I reckon the key to the AMG’s pace is its power delivery and, ironically, its slightly ‘dumbed down’ chassis manners. This may seem counterintuitive but bear with me...

Sure, a well driven, fettled Lancer EVO or Subaru STI in capable hands might eventually get away from the A 45, but what of Golf R, Focus RS (ST’s not in the hunt) and, yes, Megane RS? Let’s say drivers of similar skill levels so equipped will have their work cut out even keeping the little AMG in sight... It is that good!

Producing 265kW from just 2.0 litres, the AMG’s turbocharged four-cylinder engine should have a hair trigger and kick like a mule. Instead, it builds boost quickly (from almost idle, it seems) and simply shoves you into next week. There’s less turbo rush than you’d expect and bucket loads of torque, yet it’s happy to rev...

The combination of these characteristics, the super-four’s big stomp and AMG’s fettled version of the Benz seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox means corners can be tackled in a choice of cogs. Near enough is good enough for truly impressive pace.

For the chassis’ levels of grip, the A 45 should stick like sh1t to a blanket and then snap with all the forgiveness of an early-1970s 911. Instead, even at high levels of commitment, there’s enough feedback through steering wheel of the tractive credentials of the front tyres and plenty of seat of the pants ‘early warning’ that you’re approaching the limit.

And when you do step over the mark, it behaves like a (mostly) benign front-driver -- moderate the throttle just a touch or keep it buried, as the situation warrants. And all the time you’re carrying truly ‘interesting’ levels of pace.

Part of the success of the equation is the Dunlop SportMaxx rubber on which our tester rode. There are stickier tyres, but the breakaway characteristics of the 235/35 ZR 19s fitted are a great balance of ‘forgiveness’ and grip.

The A 45 has a classy cabin and all the mod-cons you’d expect of a prestige hatch. Sports style buckets give support without locking you into place. The navigation screen is sharp and clear, tablet style. Also worth noting are the decor touches and soft touch dash-pad and the like.

Overall, the A45 is civilised on highways and byways, and quiet -- at least until the ‘Sport’ program is selected and opens up the high-performance exhaust that is standard on all Aussie-delivered A 45s.

Choose Sport mode and suddenly there’s all the pop, crackle and burble you’d expect from an AMG-badged vehicle -- just not the normal V8 hit parade. Instead, you’ll likely want to take the WRC-style soundtrack to the ‘nth’ level and try the race start option.

What sounds like a fair dinkum rally car on the soft limiter before you side-step the brake pedal, transforms into a blend of superbike and open-wheeler as the AMG four-potter rips to 100km/h from a standing start in less than Benz’s 4.6-second claim and demolishes a standing quarter in a time that’s not far away from that 430kW behemoth HSV’s just released!

But I’m stealing my colleagues’ thunder... So I’ll leave it here...

From bespoke electric supercar, all the way now to hot hatch, with SUVs and fast sedans and limos in between, no other single performance brand comes close to the breadth of product AMG now offers.

The new A 45 may well be the brand’s cheapest car. But take it from us, it’s approaching its most compelling...

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Published : Thursday, 22 August 2013
In most cases, attends new vehicle launches at the invitation and expense of vehicle manufacturers and/or distributors.

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