After a brief period last year where the Audi RS3 stole its belt, the Mercedes-AMG A45 has returned from the gym with bigger biceps to reclaim the title of “Most Powerful Hyper Hatch”.
Now flexing a beastly 280kW of power and 475Nm of axle-twisting torque from its tiddly 2.0 litre turbo four, the A45 has a level of brawn that’s disproportionate to its stature. A jockey with a power-lifter’s strength? That’s not a bad analogy.
It’s not all about muscle though. For 2016 AMG has hopped-up the A45’s driveline and suspension to give it an added edge, and what better place to test the whole shebang than a race track?
Vehicle Style: High performance prestige small hatch
Price: $77,900 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 280kW/475Nm 2.0 turbo petrol 4cyl | 7sp dual-clutch transmission
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.3 l/100km
Here’s what’s new for the A45 - 15kW more power, 25Nm more torque, a tweaked calibration for its 7-speed twin-clutch automatic, an optional locking front-differential ($1990) and a new aero package.
The price has also jumped $2100, but the A45 still lobs in with a $1k price advantage over its nearest competitor, the Audi RS3 Sportback.
The rest of the package is virtually the same, but we’re really just concerned with the bits that make the A45 go. Let’s fire it up and find out.
On The Track
The venue for this test is the Broadford circuit just an hour or so North of Melbourne. It’s a fitting place to stretch the A45’s legs, for, like AMG’s entry-level model, it’s small but serious.
It’s fairly tight and technical. Designed for bikes and devoid of gravel traps it’s not exactly the best place for fast cars, but the A45 feels at home here. It might have four wheels instead of two, but its 280kW donk gives it rolling acceleration that’s bike-like in its briskness.
But you need to keep it in the zone. This engine is in its element from the middle of the tacho and up, so if you’re in manual mode, forget to downshift and stray below 3000rpm, you’ll lament the relative lack of low-down urge.
Keep revs high, keep that turbo spinning, and you’ll be rewarded with savage thrust and startling straight-line speed.
The steering is razor-sharp with a meaty feel transmitted through that thick-rimmed steering wheel - the handgrips of which are trimmed in grippy Alcantara.
Turn-in is superb, but the rack isn’t too sensitive around dead-centre. Mercedes knows how to make a car steer well.
Chuck it into a tight corner and the A45 is pretty hard to unstick, and it’ll hang on tight even as you start feeding in power. However, it seems that no matter how aggressively you dance on the throttle or reef the wheel, the end result is understeer.
At a maximum, the A45 will only send up to 50 percent of torque to the rear axle, and it never feels as playful as, say, the Audi RS3, which CAN direct 100 percent of its power to the back wheels. Tail-out shenanigans are hard to provoke, but at least that limits the chance you’ll slide sideways into a tyre wall.
As a result, the A45 is competent, stable, and predictable, but a little uneventful.
The new front-diff definitely helps it throw down its considerable power with a minimum of fuss though, and it’s a worthy option to tick for those looking for a weekend warrior to take to the occasional track day.
The gearbox is pretty hard to fault in a racetrack environment. AMG’s version of this transverse seven-speed twin-clutch is quick as a cheetah through the ratios, with perfectly rev-matched downshifts that eliminate the chance of compression lockup when decelerating.
Transmission, steering, engine and suspension tunes can also be changed via the AMG Dynamic Select switch on the centre console, with settings ranging from Comfort (snore) to RACE (hell yeah!).
Prefer light steering but razor-sharp throttle response? Dial in Individual mode and customise each setting to your personal taste.
Part of the experience of tracking a car is the sound, and the A45 is a rorty little thing for a 2.0 litre four-pot.
There are plenty of pops and snarls on gear changes and overrun as the ECU squirts a little extra fuel into the cylinders, but they don’t seem as prominent as the pre-update model - but maybe the helmet wrapped around our heads had something to do with that?
TMR Track Test Verdict
It may not have the most playful chassis in the “entry-level high-performance luxury car” niche, but the Mercedes-AMG A45 still rewards with huge acceleration, razor-edge steering and tenacious grip.
It may not feel as wild as you might expect a 280kW hatchback to be, but it’s a proper pulse-raiser. Make no mistake about that.