Hot hatches the Mercedes way
Make no mistake, certain segments of the new vehicle market are doing better than others, SUVS and Crossovers for example are all the rage these days. One segment that stood the test of time and trends and has continuously done well in South Africa throughout the last 40-years is that of the hot hatch.
Hot hatches make perfect sense, offering practicality and everyday driveability with performance that makes 90s supercars look immediately average. In South Africa hot hatches are among the top sellers in many manufacturers line-ups, for example a large portion of all the Volkswagen Golfs sold in SA in recent years was a GTI.
Mercedes-Benz too sees this segment as very important because it is a great way to attract new, younger drivers to this iconic brand and hopefully retain them, as their vehicle needs progress over time.
Mercedes-Benz arrived on the scene with a bang, redefining the hot hatch segment when they launched the A45 AMG in 2013, fitted with the most powerful production four-cylinder engine on the market at the time. Now completely updated the A45S and CLA 45S are set to reassert their dominance on this segment.
What’s under the bonnet
At the heart of these models is once again the world’s most powerful turbocharged four-cylinder engine available in a production vehicle. The new M139 engine offers a whopping 310kW and 500Nm, which means that acceleration from a standstill to 100km/h takes just 3.9 seconds in the A 45 S and 4.0 seconds in the CLA 45 S.
This engine is produced to the one man, one engine AMG mantra and relies on technology such as a 2.1 bar capable twin-scroll turbo and exhaust manifold, two-stage piezo injectors, an electronically controlled wastegate and multiple water pumps to cool the cylinder head and crankcase separately.
Putting the power down
Helping convert all this power into forward momentum is an eight-speed DCT dual-clutch gearbox. The standard Race-Start allows maximum acceleration from a standstill while those who like to manipulate the gears themselves can choose a manual mode no matter which drive program they have selected.
All-wheel drive is standard along with AMG Torque Control in the new rear axle differential. This system utilises two electronically controlled multidisc clutches, each of which is connected to a rear axle drive shaft. In this way drive is not only completely variable between the front and rear wheels but also between the left and right wheels. This results in consistently optimum traction in adverse weather conditions or during extreme cornering manoeuvres. This sophisticated solution allows Drift mode which is included as part of the optional AMG Dynamic Plus package. Drift mode makes power sliding possible. Power sliding a hot hatch, what find of trickery is this? Well let me tell you, I really manhandled this car on the skidpan at Zwartkops and the manoeuvres you can get away with and come back from make even the tamest drivers look like Kenny from the Block. Initiate a sharp turn and instead of understeering into the shrubbery power is transferred to the wheels with grip, like those at the rear, stay on the power and you are rewarded with a graceful powerslide that is easily corrected with a slight touch of the brakes.
AMG select driving modes cater for Slippery, Sport, Sport +, Individual and Race conditions as standard and are easily selected via a dedicated knob on the steering wheel.
Show to match the go
Visual cues include an AMG-specific radiator grille, wider front wings with flared wheel arches to create space for the wider front axle and a front apron featuring a jet-wing design. Wider AMG side skirts visually lower the vehicle, while the rear view is characterised by two pairs of 90mm exhaust pipes. Only the S –models will be sold in South Africa, which also feature 19-inch alloys fitted with sticky Michelin rubber
The body shell has been extensively reinforced and a lightweight aluminium shearing plate, mounted underneath the engine increases torsional rigidity of the vehicles front end, which is further aided by diagonal struts at the front and rear of the under body. Damping is taken care of by new AMG suspension that incorporates frequency-selective shock absorbers.
With its sporty appointments and the MBUX infotainment system, the interior is a comfortable place to be. I did however feel that the seats could do with a bit more bolstering, the high levels of mechanical grip mean that occupants do slide around a bit when pushing the car to its limits.
MBUX creates an even closer connection between the vehicle, driver and passengers. Users can choose between three AMG display styles, Classic, Sport and Supersport. The trailblazing voice control activated with the words “Hey Mercedes” is also on board.
Hitting the track
Drivers planning on spending time on the racetrack can rely on the AMG Track Pace, this virtual race engineer, is standard equipment on S models. When negotiating a circuit, it continuously monitors more than 80 vehicle specific data points, including lap and sector times. After putting in some fast laps, the driver can use the data to analyse and if necessary, improve their driving skills.
The Mercedes-AMG A 45 S and CLA 45 S are the perfect embodiment of a hot hatch and are extremely easy to drive quickly, with the ability to make anyone look good whether drifting around a wet skid pan or lapping a racetrack.
The systems in this car do it all for you, all the driver needs to do is select the right mode, point the car in the direction they want to go and get on the accelerator as early as possible or the brakes as late as possible for a lap time that will make much more powerful cars look silly.
A bit easier on the pocket
For those looking for something a bit more affordable, Mercedes-AMG has taken the wraps off its new Mercedes-AMG 35 4MATIC range offering an attractive entry point for those buyers who are still looking for a high level of performance and style. The A 35 4MATIC will be available in South Africa in hatch, sedan and CLA 35 4MATIC formats.
These models are every bit an AMG and feature a four-cylinder turbocharged engine capable of 225kW and 400Nm coupled to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, AMG suspension and the variable AMG 4MATIC all-wheel drive. This results in a 0-100km/h-sprint time of just 4.7 seconds for the hatch, 4.8 seconds for the sedan and 4.9 seconds for the CLA 35.
Inside the 35 models feature the same luxury, comfort and convenience features as the halo model including a fully digital instrument cluster and MBUX functionality. A new generation of AMG steering wheels provides the perfect link between driver and vehicle as it is fitted with built-in Touch Control buttons.
Five AMG Dynamic Select driving programs enable a wide range of vehicle characteristics from comfortable to dynamic.
The 35 models ranges from R841 000 for the A 35 4MATIC Hatch to R948 000 for the CLA 35 4MATIC.