There is a tricky balancing act premium manufacturers contend with. That is expanding market share while maintaining brand equity and overall cachet. Critics were sceptical when Mercedes-Benz birthed the A 45 AMG wunderkind last year. Is this compact car worthy of wearing the moniker denoting frightening performance and theatrics?
I spent about 1000km in the saddle soon after its launch. Slaying mightier and pricier beasts is its forte. The turbocharged, 2.0-litre engine (265kW and 450Nm) disproves the notion that there is no replacement for displacement. On the straight of Phakisa Raceway in Welkom it embarrassed an Audi RS5 and a previous generation BMW M6.
My biggest disappointment was the handling. It simply does not feel as sharp or fluid as its peers, such as the BMW M135i and Audi S3. Still, waiting lists prove the insatiable demand. And since the CLA 45 and GLA 45 have joined the fray, do not expect the hype to wane soon. Mercedes-Benz hosted a track day with the trio last week, to remind us of the strong business case that exists for fast compact cars. AMG sales and marketing boss Marcel Perez said growth in this division had increased by as much as 80% compared with last year.
The focal point of the day was the GLA 45 AMG, the latest addition. It lays claim to being the most powerful compact crossover in production. You might remember we tested it in August, over some rigorous off-road conditions — without any- thing breaking. This time our assessment was limited to the tarmac of the Red Star circuit. It is fractionally slower than its two siblings, dispatching the 0-100km/h sprint in 4.8 seconds versus 4.6 seconds. Quite negligible, really — you will still out- pace almost everything else out there.
On the handling front, my sentiments are a little different than they are towards the A 45 AMG. Let me compare the maddest GLA to its only rival: the Audi RS Q3. In comparison, the Mercedes feels keener to be thrashed. It does not lean as much under abrupt changes in direction. But like the other two, it needs to be finessed through the corners; fluidity is not its biggest virtue. Speed and charisma, however, certainly are. Dashing down the penultimate straight in the middle of a downpour at 180km/h, the GLA felt supremely stable. But taking off from standstill is even more joyous, thanks to those mighty burps that signal each gear upshift. Traits like this and the ability to trounce cars with bigger capacities make these compact AMG models endearing.
But the price induces tears. And Mercedes-Benz does bend one over the proverbial barrel when it comes to optional equipment. The standard models are truly barren and you will need to spend more to ensure your AMG is not confused with one of the lesser models in the stable. You’ll pay R629 900 for the A 45, R708 600 for the CLA 45 and R755 000 for the GLA 45.