Mercedes-Benz will likely charge into the American-market compact-luxury party in 2014, several years tardy but with no shortage of enthusiasm.
The incursion kicks off with the swoopy CLA-class sedan and will eventually include a sub-GLK crossover and an electrified B-class. The company's U.S. stewards are also considering the A-class hatchback as a fourth small offering, but the car on these pages is significant even if Americans never have a chance to buy one. This A45 AMG prototype packs the same hardware that will power the CLA45 AMG sedan that arrives in U.S. dealerships in 2014.
We could hardly have picked a worse day for our first encounter with the A-class on steroids. From the start, the rain is pouring down on the scantily disguised, white A45 AMG, which returned only this morning from the torture chamber known as the Nordschleife. R&D chief Tobias Moers slides his short and wiry frame behind the squared-off steering wheel, pulls the red seatbelt tight, adjusts the mirrors, and hits the start button. From the passenger seat, I look over his right shoulder to see that the speedometer readout expires at 320 kph (199 mph) and the tach is redlined at 6200 rpm. The rest of the dashboard is hidden by a coarsely cut piece of camouflage. Even at idle speed, the 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder sounds like no other A-class powerplant. As we pull out of the factory, the direct-injected unit emits a hungry growl that is duly amplified by a sound tube that connects the engine bay to the center stack...
"We have done a lot of work to make this car more drivable than its competitors," states Moers as he swings the prototype back toward Affalterbach, the wipers still on full speed and the passenger's blood pressure still on alert. "Although the definitive setup is balanced and safe, you still get an amazing depth of feedback and information with the full sensation of speed." This rare fluency of motion is evident from the passenger seat. The A45 AMG is not only very fast, it also is a remarkably interactive companion. Instead of fighting the driver, the road, and the laws of physics, the most desirable A-class knows more about pace and poise than many self-appointed sports cars. If Mercedes does indeed decide to bring the A-class to the United States, it would be smart to start with this version. After all, speed trumps size.
On sale: 2014
Price: $50,000 (est.)
Engine: 2.0L turbo I-4, 350 hp, 332 lb-ft
Fuel Mileage: 19/28 mpg (est.)