The official tuning arm of Mercedes-Benz, AMG, has a reputation for building slightly bonkers cars. It began back in the early 70’s with the 6.9 V8 500SEL built for the European Touring Car Championship and continues today as the company stuffs gruff V8’s, usually with a supercharger or twin turbochargers added for good luck, into whatever Mercedes-Benz product they can lay their hands on. So what exactly is the AMG badge now doing on the side of a medium sized four cylinder hatchback? It may be turbocharged and have four wheel drive, but still…
Rest assured, this is still a proper AMG and one look at the numbers reinforces that. The turbocharged 2.0 engine produces 360hp (265kw) and an astounding 450nm of torque, making it the most powerful four cylinder production engine, ever. 100hp/litre used to be the old benchmark – the A45 smashes that out of the ballpark with 180hp/litre and it races to 100km/h in just 4.6sec. The Haldex 4WD drives the front wheels around town for fuel economy, but can divert up to 50% to the rear when the pace picks up.
Hmm… a fast, turbocharged, four cylinder, all wheel drive small car – haven’t we seen this before? Well, yes. The concept isn’t exactly new, but the A45 brings a lot more to the table than the others. It offers style, build quality and levels of refinement that makes an Evo X or STI look and feel quite crummy in comparison, and the AMG brand brings benefits you don’t get with a Golf R or BMW 1M. It may be keenly priced (on the AMG scale), but make no mistake – the A45 is a legitimate AMG. That means your hand crafted engine bears the name and signature of its builder. You also have access to the same program of customer benefits, like drive days and product launches, that SLS buyers get which is possibly one of the greatest marketing ploys ever. The A45 will attract new buyers to the brand and when it comes time for them to upgrade, of course they’ll buy another, more expensive AMG. Who’d give up the lairy track days you now look forward to?
AMG are well aware that the aural experience of their cars is a large part of the package, and whilst the A45 doesn’t pack the bass line growl of the V8 models, it comes with something entirely different but just as satisfying. Whilst it’s an option in Europe, all Australian models come fitted with the sports exhaust which, when in sport mode, pops and burbles on over run and emits a deliciously evil crack on fast upshifts of the 7 speed sequential transmission. It’s an addictive noise; think of the sound a DSG transmission makes and then multiply it threefold – it’s clearly audible inside with the windows up, and loud enough to turn heads outside. It’s brilliant, addictive, juvenile fun the way only AMG knows how and I love it.
Speaking of juvenile fun, the launch control system is especially impressive. What’s juvenile about it is that in a road car, there is absolutely zero logical reason for launch control. But who cares? Select sport mode, pull both gearshift paddles back, release, click into first gear, left foot on the brake and right foot flat on the accelerator. The ECU brings the revs up to 4,000rpm and holds them there, the motor making noises that sound almost identical to a WRC car on the startline. Release the brake and you are assaulted back with all four wheels madly applying all that torque to the road. All you need to do is hold it flat as the computer changes up gears at the mathematically perfect time, getting you to 100km/h in 4.6 seconds and keeping on going until you either ease off the gas or change gear yourself. It’s juvenile, but damn it’s a lot of fun.
Other AMG models like the C63 and E63 are known as wildcats, willing to lay down some rubber and wanting to hang the tail out at a moment of provocation. The A45 departs somewhat in that the handling is incredibly competent yet somehow grown up as well. It’s astonishingly quick, and the torque from that engine just gobbles up small straights in between bends. It corners flat and hard, and whilst we were on the public road so therefore not exploring the outer limits of adhesion, that all wheel drive system provides so much grip that there was not even a hint of the show coming undone. I guess what this means though is that when physics takes over and you have your accident, you’ll be traveling mighty fast into the scenery.
Or maybe not. Despite the livery, the car used for our drive is not actually a dedicated racing car, rather the daily driver of the owner’s wife. He ‘borrowed’ it to have a fire extinguisher fitted for ‘safety reasons’, then figured he might as well give it a run in the Legend of the Lakes hillclimb at Mt Gambier and if you’re going to do that, you might as well look the part too. The stickers have since been removed and the car is now back to daily driver duties, but the heat of competition revealed that the A45 is actually good fun on the limit. The ECU lets the driver hold big 4 wheel drifts, and through the bus stop chicane the little A45 was regularly seen high on three wheels.
No, there was no three-wheel action on our drive but what did surprise me was how, unlike a lot of contemporary performance cars and despite its reputed on-limit nature, the A45 is actually decent fun at seven or eight tenths. The rush of acceleration and the crack of upshift is there when you want it, but for brisk driving on a road like Basket Range that big turbo provides surges of lagless power to get you swiftly to the next corner. It’s really satisfying to swing through the twisties at 60-100kmh, stressing neither the car, your passengers or your license. That’s something that’s often overlooked these days in the chase for outright figures but that’s the pace you usually drive at, so it’s important that the car remains enjoyable.
An AMG should be like James Bond – suave, sophisticated and reserved when necessary but still able to knock your lights out if the situation calls for it. Whilst the A45 won’t leave two black marks down the road outside your mother-in-law’s house, it still knows what’s going on. It will play the role of commuter, and when in Eco mode and trundling along in 7th gear at 1100rpm it will do a damn good job of mimicking a sensible, responsible car. But it has this angry character boiling just beneath the surface, waiting to burst out at any opportunity. A character that thinks it’s funny to shock pedestrians with gearchange cracks and passengers with mad launch control takeoffs. So in other words, it’s a proper AMG. Just not as we know it.