FIRST DRIVE | New 2019 Mercedes-AMG A45 finds the Goldilocks zone

AMG’s new hyper hatch and its CLA brother get class-beating power and a smoother ride

01 August 2019 - 06:17 By Denis Droppa
Behind that toothy AMG grille is the world’s most powerful series-production four-cylinder engine, with 310kW. Picture: SUPPLIED
Behind that toothy AMG grille is the world’s most powerful series-production four-cylinder engine, with 310kW. Picture: SUPPLIED

The previous version established itself as king of the hill in the hot-hatch league with its 265kW/450Nm outputs, so the new Mercedes-AMG A45 had plenty to live up to. 

And speed-wise it has delivered. With up to 310kW and 500Nm of snarl under the bonnet, the new car once again outguns all rivals. The car that comes closest is the Audi RS3 with its 294kW and 480Nm, while a VW Golf R doesn’t even feature in this hyper hatch zone with its 228kW and 400Nm.

The fast Benz is also available as the CLA 45 sedan, and both cars will be launched in SA in September or October at prices still to be confirmed.

How a car puts down the power is just as important as the numbers, and a chassis that’s set up either too hard or soft can spoil the party. The Benz faithful will be happy to know that this high-powered duo of A45 and CLA45 have found more of a Goldilocks zone in terms of pace and driveability.

They’re hotshot handlers but have also become more civilised machines when not being driven in full-attack mode, and the overly firm ride of the previous-generation cars is gone.

All-wheel drive was once a byword for understeer, but the CLA 45 has no trouble drifting. Picture: SUPPLIED
All-wheel drive was once a byword for understeer, but the CLA 45 has no trouble drifting. Picture: SUPPLIED

At the heart of the package is the M139, the world’s most powerful series-produced four-cylinder engine, a turbocharged 2l ball of fury with technology like friction-reducing cylinder nanoslide coating as used in Merc's Formula One powerplants. The engine has been rotated 180º to put the weight of the turbo at the rear for a better centre of gravity. 

Assembled in the one-man-one-engine philosophy in AMG’s Affalterbach headquarters in Germany, the engine makes 285kW and 480Nm in the stock version. However, it’s the A45 S and CLA 45 S with the full-fat 310kW output that we drove at the international media launch in Spain earlier in July.

It shoots the A45 S from 0-100km/h in a claimed 3.9 seconds (4.0 secs for the CLA 45 S) and to a 270km/h top speed, and they’re believable figures by the amount of rush they generate.

Perhaps there might be some turbo lag when driven at Gauteng altitude, but at our sea level jaunt it was as absent as the memories of certain testifiers at the Zondo commission. The power delivery’s lusty and linear all the way from idle up to the 7,200rpm red line, and the eight-speed AMG Speedshift dual-clutch transmission is slick.

The hearty war cry sounds like there is at least two extra cylinders in the engine, and aural charisma’s enhanced in the Sport Plus mode by a crackling exhaust.

All-wheel drive keeps it all quite manageable and composed, allowing aggressive throttle thrusts without incurring the torque steer that afflicts front-wheel-drive cars, nor the tail-happiness of rear-wheel drives.

And yes, perhaps most importantly to the enthusiast driver, there’s a minimum of fun-sapping understeer. The intelligent AWD diverts torque between the front and rear axles as driving conditions demand, and a limited-slip diff varies power between the rear wheels, leading to a car that feels neutral on the limits when carving up a racetrack or mountain pass. Or, if you deactivate the traction control and possess the necessary skill and testicular fortitude, you can power-slide to your heart’s content.

Yellow decor and AMG trimmings create a none-too-subtle cabin ambience. Picture: SUPPLIED
Yellow decor and AMG trimmings create a none-too-subtle cabin ambience. Picture: SUPPLIED

With the electronic nannies engaged, the A45 and CLA45 are forgiving cars that can be driven pretty aggressively without biting the hand that guides them. The traction is superb and one can jump on the power early out of tight bends. That said, there is enough tiger in the tank to require some restraint. It’s important to consider that 300kW-plus used to be the kind of power made by exotic sports cars not too long ago.

Turning a regular A-Class and CLA into fire-spitting AMG 45s also involved chassis tweaks, including a reinforced bodyshell. The improved torsional rigidity and firmness-adjustable suspension has given the cars not just heroic handling but a better ride quality. 

With the optional AMG Ride Control adaptive damping system, which offers three different levels of suspension firmness, they ride over rough roads smoother than the super-firm last-generation cars, even in the sport modes. 

With six driving modes, from Slippery to Race, meek commuter or track-attack sportscar is a button-push away.

Their styling now more clearly identifies them as members of the AMG family, and for the first time the A45 and CLA45 feature the AMG-specific radiator grille with 12 vertical louvres. Dual bonnet domes and flared wheel arches further accentuate the visual aggression.

Interior AMG treatment includes black Artico “man-made leather”, yellow accents and sports seats. As much as I like the Star Trek vibe of the MBUX infotainment sytem, the central digital is partially blocked by the steering wheel — I had to keep taking my hand off the wheel to see the navigation instructions.