SINGAPORE – Think of a baby dragon as depicted in cartoons. It has tiny wings, looks aggressive but adorable, but it can still set fire to your face if you poke it in the belly. The A 45 AMG is just like that, except maybe for the part about scorching your cooing mug.
What else do you expect from Mercedes-AMG, the lunatic asylum that masquerades as a division of the Daimler group? This a company started by people who thought it was a good idea to buy a used S-Class, soup it up and then enter it in the grueling 24 Hours of Spa endurance race. (It was. The car finished second, and would have done better except it was monstrously thirsty and ate its tyres like they were candy.)
To this day, the AMG crew builds racing cars for Mercedes, but it also takes the brand’s production cars and does wonderfully loony things to them, mostly involving big, big engines built lovingly by hand. The A 45 departs from the usual AMG recipe somewhat, because its engine is a relatively tiny 2.0-litre thing, but it’s been turbocharged to the point where it could power an aircraft carrier into battle. With 360 horsepower to its name, the A 45 AMG is actually the most powerful four-cylinder car in the world.
As you’d expect, since all that power only has a little hatchback to haul around, the A 45 is seriously speedy. Put your right foot down, and the view through the windscreen suddenly looks like video footage on fast-forward. 100km/h flashes up in only 4.5 seconds, which makes the little Mercedes quicker than any Maserati. If that amazing stat doesn’t impress you, then chew on this: if you can find the space and no one’s looking, the A 45 won’t stop accelerating until 270km/h, and it only quits there because a computer tells it to.
All four wheels are driven, so in spite of the engine’s mighty power output there’s never so much as a chirp from the tyre when you have the hammer down, and even in the rain the Mercedes is reassuringly surefooted. Speaking of hammers, when you give the Mercedes the full welly, it sounds like Thor himself is swinging away inside the mufflers. No kidding, the furious racket the Mercedes makes in ‘Sport’ mode is a huge part of the car’s appeal. Lean on the accelerator, pull the ‘Up’ paddle behind the steering, and the resulting explosion is the sort of noise that makes the small hairs stand. You could frighten a bunny to death with a simple, rapid drive-by in the A 45.
As much raw power you’ll get from the engine, there are brakes to match the performance. The left pedal actually works so well that the first few times you use it in anger, you find yourself stopping short of your corner entry, leaving you to sheepishly remind yourself to summon up the courage to brake much later the next time.
As for the handling, the Merc feels like much more kart-like than the standard A-Class models; you flick the lovely Alcantara-covered steering wheel, and it snicks into turns with fast reflexes but without the kind of suddenness to scare you. The ride is firm enough to make even thin men think about putting on a sports bra, but the payoff is the sort of composure that leaves you with the slightly nagging feeling that no matter how fast you just went through a corner, you could have gone just that little bit quicker. Essentially, the Mercedes makes driving fast so easy that if you fail to post a decent lap time in one of these, you must have the anatomy of a Ken doll.
If you ask me, though, it’s not raw pace that marks it out as a great driver’s car. No, it’s the fact that you want to have it in ‘Sports’ mode all the time. Most times when a car has selectable modes you choose a comfy setting and leave it there until you sell it, but the A 45 has the sort of irrepressibly raunchy character that demands the quickest gearshifts, the loudest exhaust and the sharpest throttle responses constantly, all of which are available at the press of a button.
You’ll be punished for your excesses at the pumps, though. In four days with the Mercedes I averaged an embarrassing 13.9L/100km, using roughly twice the claimed average of 6.9L/100km. Other things to ponder are the cramped, upright rear seating and limited view out of the car from the driver’s chair, although these will probably be forgotten each time you lay eyes on the cabin’s gorgeous raciness.
The Recaro front seats? You wouldn’t think them out of place in a Ferrari (actually you might even think of them as an upgrade). As for the red contrast stitching, the speedo that goes up to 320km/h, and the flat-bottomed steering wheel, they all do lots to put you in a suitably playful mood each time you clamber aboard the Mercedes.
Same goes for the exterior, although here’s the bad news: the racing stripes, the red accents on the grille and rear wing, and the painted brake calipers? They’re all part of the ‘Edition 1’ styling pack, so if you fancy them on your A 45 you’ll have to come up with $29,800 extra. Gulp! Still, the A 45 AMG sounds like a racing car and pretty much goes like one, so it might as well look the part, too. A sheer love of driving is reason enough to buy one of these hell-raising Mercs, of course, but the Edition 1 pack would cap things off nicely. Dragons look good in stripes, don’t they?
NEED TO KNOW Mercedes-Benz A 45 AMG
ENGINE 1,991cc turbo in-line four, 16V
MAX POWER 360bhp at 6.000rpm
MAX TORQUE 450Nm from 2,250 to 5,000rpm
GEARBOX 7-speed dual-clutch
TOP SPEED 270km/h
0-100KM/H 4.5 seconds
FUEL EFFICIENCY 6.9L/100
PRICE $304,888 with COE
Also Consider: BMW M135i
Photographs by Annie Leibowitz. Just kidding. They were by Leow Ju-Len