In a sane world, a small hatchback with supercar levels of performance makes little to no sense. But when the skunkworks at Mercedes-AMG decide to build one despite the odds, the result can be rather different…and sensational!
Weaponising a small hatchback with over 400 horsepower is like using a power drill for dentistry purposes. You know things can go awfully wrong, but then you can’t just resist the urge, can you? The Mercedes-AMG A45 S gives you similar vibes. For all intents and purposes, it comes across as an overcomplicated tool for the job – an exercise in excess.
Honestly, I just can’t for the life of me understand how Mercedes’ management approved of putting this mad little thing into production. Imagine the boardroom meeting where one loose nutter from Affalterbach gave the idea of stuffing unfathomable amounts of firepower into the smallest Mercedes out there. And, more amusingly, instead of shutting him up, his colleagues went, ‘Hmmm, that makes perfect sense!’ So much for the Germans being the sensible ones.
The point I’m trying to make is that a hatchback, by its very definition, is supposed to be practical, efficient, and fun. Sure, boosting its fun element won’t do any harm – which is why hot hatchbacks exist and are also popular – but when carmakers decide to pack more heat than a car of this shape and size can hold, it can only end up two ways – a massive disappointment or a monumental win. So, the obvious question is – which of these roads does the A45 S AMG take?
Pots of Power
Let’s start with some numbers – 1,991cc, four cylinders, 416bhp, 500Nm, 0 – 100km/h in 3.9 seconds, a top speed of 270km/h. You get the picture, right? This is no humdrum or half-baked AMG. Instead, it’s an AMG that dials everything all the way up to 11. On duty here is Mercedes’ cracking new M139 2.0-litre twin-scroll turbocharged motor. Though very similar to its predecessor (M133), the M139 is built completely from the ground up. As cliched as it might sound, it’s a beast of an engine. As things stand today, it’s the most powerful four-pot motor in a production vehicle, which churns out 208bhp/litre, which means that each cylinder pumps out 104bhp. Just for reference, the VW Polo 1.0 TSI develops 108bhp from its three cylinders, and here in India, it’s something that we consider as a ‘hot hatch’. So, if that’s hot, the A45 S must be lava, right?
As reflected in the numbers above, the performance is equally galvanic. You’d imagine that putting a massive twin-scroll turbo on a puny 2.0-litre motor will result in bucketloads of lag, but somehow, that’s not the case. The four-pot motor kicks into action and goes ballistic as soon as boost starts building after 1,800rpm. The acceleration, as claimed, is relentless – the A45 S shoots forward as if it’s headed for outer space. There’s an incessant supply of power.
While performance is mind-blowing, there are two things that are particularly impressive – the refinement of the engine and the wide powerband. At no point does it sound or feel strained, and it never runs out of steam either. Even when you’re banging the rev-limiter at 7,200rpm, this motor doesn’t seem to stop assaulting your senses.
Playing along nicely with the engine’s hot-headedness is the A45’s 8-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. Shifts are brutally quick and seamless. Whether you choose to change gears yourself with the paddle-shifters or leave the ‘box to its own devices, there’s no delay – it’s almost telepathic. The way the momentum builds up is terrific and mind-numbing. No wonder Mercedes markets it as a compact sports car and not a hot hatch – the A45 S feels every bit as fast and vicious as a V8 AMG.
There are six driving modes – Slippery, Individual, Comfort, Sport, Sport+, and Race. In the latter two modes, every single component on the A45 – steering, suspension, engine, and transmission – reacts instantly to your inputs. The exhaust flaps also kick into action in Sport+ and Race modes, which means that you get to hear those deep and raspy cracks and burbles on overrun. Go flat out, and you can briefly hear the exhaust pipes gurgling in between the 8-speeder’s instantaneous gear shifts – typical AMG indulgence, this. In Comfort mode, it’s a bit more civil, but it still refuses to shake off its AMG hangover.
The moment you take the Nappa-leather wrapped AMG Performance wheel and place yourself in body-hugging AMG sports seats, the A45 S feels like a road-going racer. Its chassis and AMG-specific suspension (FSDs or frequency selective dampers are standard, but adaptive dampers or AMG Ride Control is optional) are harder than nails. The ride is unapologetically firm, and a lot of road and tyre noise filters into the cabin. Thanks to its lowered springs, the ground clearance is laughable too. You’ve to be really careful while going over ramps and big speed breakers.
The upshot of the firm setup is that the A45 S takes corners as if it’s on rails. Sharp, precise, and unflinchingly good – that’s how I’d describe it. It threads tight bends beautifully, flows through sweeping corners, and gobbles up straights like it’s on a mission. And, when you do overcook a corner entry, you can always rely on the car’s beefy six-piston AMG brakes, which help it lose speed superbly.
If there’s any criticism that I have, it’s that the steering isn’t exactly dripping with feel and feedback. It’s quick and accurate, but in a car this potent and exciting, I’d have liked it to feel more connected.
With the kind of fire-power the A45 S packs, it couldn’t do without an all-wheel-drive system. So, with the blessing of Mercedes’ 4Matic+ drivetrain, the A45 S’ transmission channels the drive to all four wheels – albeit it’s not as simple as you might think. It’s a rather sophisticated system that brings you the best of both worlds – grip and traction, as well as a hit of AMG insanity. The 4Matic+ packs a mechanical differential at the front and a clever twin-clutch electronic differential at the rear. The AWD system can send up to 50% of the torque to the rear wheels, while the electronic diff can channel all of it to either of the rear wheels. It even has a ‘Drift’ mode, for god’s sake.
While I can’t really explain the technicalities of the system in detail, all I can tell you is that it translates really well on the road. There’s loads and loads of grip, as the A45 S turns really, really well. You can sense that the AWD system favours the front wheels for the most part, but when you do something silly, like running in too hot into a corner with sharp steering angles, the front end doesn’t simply wash away. Instead, the system proactively sends the power to the rear axle, and the tail progressively rotates to counter the understeer, tightening your line. You can actually experience the power shuffling between the four wheels through the sensations under your bottom – pretty engaging, I’d say.
As for the Drift mode, well, I did try it for the heck of it – how could I not, right? The system works very differently from bigger AMGs. The front-axle is never fully disengaged here. But when you gas the car out of a corner hard, with full opposite lock and throttle-pedal mashed to the floor, the AWD system sends a bucketful of torque to the outside wheel, and the rear comes around quite nicely. Since we were driving on a public road, and I had no intention to end up in a ditch, I resisted the urge to go all-out. So, I didn’t allow my inner (silly) voices to tell me otherwise. I stopped fooling around after a couple of attempts. However, from what I can tell, getting the tail out of shape came pretty easily, which means that the Drift mode isn’t just a marketing gimmick – it works.
Cage of Anger
So far I haven’t commented on the A45’s design. Do I like it, love it, or hate it? Truth be told, I don’t find it particularly attractive. If you talk purely in terms of aesthetics, I find the shark-nose bonnet a little too pointy for my liking, and the back end looks quite stubby. However, while it’s not exactly a work of art, I can’t resist its naughty and brash attitude. The A45 looks lithe, mean, and angry – as if it’s out to eat supercars. And in this Sun Yellow paint scheme, along with those tasty 19-inch AMG wheels, it makes me go weak in the knees. Not exactly beautiful but so damn hot!
Inside, it’s every bit as luxurious as a Merc should be. You get all the gizmos and luxuries, including the latest MBUX touchscreen infotainment, Burmester sound system, and more. Sure, it’s not exactly practical or comfortable like a regular A-Class, but then if you have got those things in mind, you should probably look elsewhere.
Not only is the A45 S a little too mad for a hatchback, but at nearly ₹80 lakh (ex-showroom), the asking price is equally crazy for what’s essentially a small and quite impractical hatchback for our roads. But that’s not the point. Look at it the other way – the A45 S is the most affordable route to get into the world of real AMGs. Sure, it may not have a barking mad V8 motor (which is anyway on its way out from other AMGs), but when it comes to sheer thrills and drama, this four-pot wonder is a full-fat AMG that packs quite a fury, and then some. Think of it as a muscle car and a sports car shrunk into one. Nobody would want one in their right mind, but when presented with the option, you can’t say no. In short, the A45 S is a rebel without a cause, which, perhaps, is its main draw.
- Mercedes-AMG A 45 S
Engine: 1,991cc / 4-Cylinder / Twin-Scroll Turbo
Transmission: 8-Speed DCT / All-Wheel-Drive
Power: 416bhp @ 6,750rpm
Torque: 500Nm @ 5,000 – 5,250rpm
Price: ₹79.99 Lakh (Ex-Showroom)
X-Factor: A pocket-sized AMG rocket that can give designated sports cars a bloody nose – both on the straights and around corners.