Having a racetrack virtually to yourself is always an awesome experience, and that’s what happened for me at the launch of the 2016 Mercedes-AMG A45 4Matic.
The track: Eurospeedway Lausitz, or the Lausitzring – a 3.4-kilometre, 12-bend stretch of ripple-stripped tarmac that plays host to the German superbikes championship and German Touring Car Championship (DTM) racing.
The car: the world’s most powerful four-cylinder production vehicle – a five-door hatchback powered by a 2.0-litre turbo engine with an astonishing 280kW of power and 475Nm of torque. To give it some context, 280kW is more power than a series one VF Holden Commodore SS, and it’s all from an engine that’s a third the capacity.
A little more context?
That new Porsche 911 Carrera with a twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine has less power and torque (272kW/450Nm).
And this thing is likely to cost half of what a Mercedes-AMG C63 S does. The C63 S is $154,900 plus on road costs, where the current A45 costs $75,700. A minor price rise is likely for the 2016 version.
But with 4Matic all-wheel drive, a new front (optional) differential lock and a heavily reworked seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, using the worked AMG 2.0-litre engine’s power should theoretically be as easy as pie.
Before the other three-dozen media outlets on this wave of the launch had arrived at the track, I had organised to get some almost-alone time for video purposes.
Only my co-driver from another Aussie outlet and a professional racing car driver would be allowed on the track for 45 minutes. That pro? Benz legend Bernd Schneider, in a Mercedes-AMG GT S pace car.
The car was already running when I donned my helmet, with the familiar buzzy pop and crackle of the AMG four-cylinder’s exhaust note getting my pulse up. Before I jumped in the car I had a look at the bank of stadium seating that runs alongside the main straight, with capacity for several thousand people. It was a pretty daunting atmosphere, but thankfully there were only two spectators in the bleachers.
Jumping in to the A45, the 2016 model feels immediately familiar: mainly because there have not been a vast number of interior changes. There’s a new steering wheel, which is more modern and in AMG trim is lined with suede to help with grip, and a new 8.0-inch media screen that, in my car, was showing a power meter.
However, there is a new knob in the car that governs the behaviour of this high-performance hatchback. No, not me – the AMG Dynamic Select driving mode controller, which allows the driver to choose between Comfort, Sport, Sport+, Individual and, my favourite, Race mode. Each setting adjusts the steering calibration, throttle sharpness, gearbox reactivity and suspension damping, because the A45 now comes with standard adaptive sport suspension.
Seemed fair to start off in Race mode, then.
So I set my seating position – including the side and under-thigh bolstering of the excellent Recaro bucket seat – buckled up and did exactly that, the result of which was the engine idle speed lifting and the exhaust noise rising.
Then Bernd set off for a ‘learning lap’. He seemed to think that I’d driven this track before, shooting off rapid-fire instructions over the radio system and hurtling around the course at massive speed.
I did my best to focus on learning the layout of the track, while also following his line and concentrating on the car’s behaviour.
It’s lucky then, that the A45 is mostly very predictable.
The 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine may be the most powerful on Earth, but it never feels stretched, and the way the engine builds power gradually – rather than walloping you low in the rev range – means its not hard to manipulate.
If you stamp the throttle the in gear response is epic, and the feel of the throttle pedal is superb.
The accompanying noise is, quite simply, excellent, particularly on the main 650-metre straight where the engine wound out to redline and topped 210km/h.
The dual-clutch transmission rewards with sharp, precise shifts under hard throttle, and when you leave it to its own devices it chooses the best gear for the corner in almost every situation. In fact, I tried the paddleshifters and found the reaction speed of the shifts was better when the gearbox was left to do the thinking, and so that became the default. Yes, a gearbox is smarter than me.
And transmitting the grunt to the ground is executed by way of the company’s 4Matic all-wheel drive system, which can evenly spread the torque between the front and rear.
You can feel the all-wheel drive pulling you through corners as you apply throttle but a lot of that comes down to the car’s new (optional) front locking differential, which helps by keeping the front wheels spinning at the same speed.
Benz claims the differential lock “stabilises the car and gives you more agility on the track”, and that’s bang on.
It makes powering out of corners engaging, not torturous, with only a slight hint of understeer through tighter corners, but through longer, sweeping bends it pushes on very well.
You can push it on its tyres, poking the throttle mid-corner or even lifting off as you turn the car in to the corner will see some rear-end slippage, and the Race mode is designed to allow some extra drift. It is a lot of fun, and if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself pushing the car in a deliberate attempt to try to catch it out.
The only criticism I would level at the A45 on track is that it can lack some feel to the steering, particularly on-centre when you start to add lock in corners.
Apart from a couple of mistakes from the driver – not the car – it was a certifiable track weapon.
Full pricing and details for the Mercedes-AMG A45 are yet to be confirmed by the brand, but whatever it costs and however it is equipped, we can’t wait to see how it stacks up on Aussie roads early next year.