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310 kW. 0-100 km/h in 3.9 seconds. R1 156 840. Heroic figures are a given when discussing the Mercedes-AMG A45 S. The first two are mighty impressive for what’s effectively a compact hatchback. The third one slightly less so. Does the new baby AMG justify its seven-figure price tag?

FROM GT R TO A45 S

Let’s chat about the headline figure. At 155 kW per litre, the new 2.0-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder engine is currently the most powerful series-production four-cylinder engine. AMG’s engineers have been really rather clever in achieving such a heady output. Like the boisterous AMG GT R’s 4.0-litre V8, the A45 S’ engine features roller bearings on the shafts of the turbo compressor to reduce mechanical friction, leading to the charger responding quicker. What’s more, the aluminium crankcase is a chill-cast unit, made by pouring molten aluminium into a metallic mould using gravity. The result is a fine-grained, dense structure guaranteeing high strength to allow combustion pressures of up to 160 bar.

There are other advancements, too, of course, but in an effort not to bore you to death, simply know: this four-pot is mega. Response is razor-sharp, especially so in the upper reaches of the rev range (the maximum power output is delivered at 6 750 r/min and the engine revs to 7 200 r/min, lofty for a turbocharged engine). I first drove the A45 S last year on Spain’s Jarama Circuit, a technical sequence of tight corners, long straights and undulations, and even in a sterile track environment where speed feels difficult to gauge no matter how powerful the car is, the A45 S chased down bends at an astonishing pace. It certainly feels like a 3.9-second car, aided by the all-paw traction of the 4Matic+ system shuffling drive between the axles and the rear wheels, plus 500 Nm of torque from 5 000-5 250 r/min.

The A45 S also has a fantastic 8-speed dual clutch ‘box. Unlike the previous A45’s oft-recalcitrant transmission, the new 8G-DCT unit shifts quickly and obediently. Coupled with a steering system that’s direct and surprisingly feelsome (though perhaps too light for some tastes), the A45 S is a fantastic track weapon.

SIESTA? Qué va!

A track’s not where South African owners will use their cars, of course. Time to head to the Spanish hills north of Madrid just as the locals are settling down for an afternoon siesta. I set the drivetrain-management system to sport. The AMG Ride Control suspension setup offers the usual three modes (comfort, sport and sport+) with a trio of additional options: slippery, individual and race. As soon as we reach the outskirts of the town of San Sebastián de los Reyes, traffic thins and we have the roads mostly to ourselves (and the usual cyclists). Here the A45 S impresses even more than it did on the track. The asphalt is surprisingly patchy in places – Spain’s roads are usually exceptionally well maintained – but the A45 S doesn’t baulk. It rides with a compliance that would shame the previous model (and some normal A-Classes specced with big wheels), allowing it to transfer that 310 kW without losing traction and turning ragged.

Meanwhile, the light steering is less of an issue on the road, the 350 mm front/330 mm rear brake discs bite with real conviction and we’re soon into a flow. The A45 S quickly builds up trust as it reacts consistently and with real flair. This isn’t a one-trick pony. I revel in the chassis’ ability to remain composed whatever you throw at it. It’s an incredible achievement for something with relatively basic roots in the illustrious world of AMG.

THERE ARE SOME FLAWS, THOUGH…

The A45 S isn’t perfect. The engine sounds a tad anodyne despite the riot of bangs and pops issuing from the four exhaust outlets – Audi’s warbly five-cylinder remains tuneful – and the interior doesn’t quite feel up to the quality you might expect at the price tag.

And then there’s the price. While I don’t fundamentally have an issue with a performance hatchback costing well into seven figures (especially not one that looks this fantastic), the standard-features list should reflect the price. And the A45 S’ doesn’t; Mercedes-Benz SA has relegated such features as a reverse camera (R10 300), digital instruments and the larger MBUX infotainment screen (R20 100 combined), and adaptive damping (R24 000) to the options list.

Ultimately, value for money is a relative term and buyers will make the call whether they consider the A45 S worth the outlay, or an expensive folly in a market offering myriad alternatives with more illustrious badges (Porsche 718) or six-cylinder thrills (BMW M2). To me, the A45 S manages to just about justify its price thanks to its world-class chassis and, yes, that one-of-a-kind engine.

PRICING

Mercedes-AMG A45 S 4Matic+ 8G-DCT: R1 156 840

About the Author: Terence Steenkamp
Editor. Car lover. Traveller. Doggy dad. Pinot noir drinker.