Hot Benz pair packing power, pace

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The A45 has been designed for on-road driving fun. Photos supplied

That saying about the size of a dog in a fight being less important than the size of the fight in a dog came to mind after my first drives of the latest hotties from the AMG oven.

The old-school E63, seemingly destined to be one of the last cars to run that famous bi-turbo 5.5-litre V8, and the new-formula A45 - the Affalterbach skunkwork's smallest car, first four-cylinder and first in-house four-wheel drive - are obvious opposites, yet how similar the smack-in-the-back sensation.

The abiding memory from running the baby brawler on road and track in Australia is that it appears to have been crafted with two distinct purposes in mind: firstly, to shove into also-ran status every high-powered all-paw hot hatch in history - plus, of course, the BMW M135i; secondly, to demonstrate that there is another route to creating the ballsy bravura that trademarks the AMG badge.

Is this car as good as a hot hatch can get? The maximum outputs of 265kW and 450Nm are truly astounding for a 2.0-litre four-cylinder.

Consider that the previous performance flagship, the far from slow A250 Sport, has 100kW and 100Nm less and that many a supercar cannot match the high specific power of 133kW per litre.

The engine block is Benz, the rest bespoke AMG: A high-pressure turbocharger pumping 1.79 bar of boost; special bearings and solid pistons handle high internal pressures akin to those found in a diesel engine. They assure it is as durable as any other AMG engine, and you'd hope that were the case: The internal stresses must be incredible.

A clever four-wheel-drive, well-tuned direct shift transmission, some very classy performance rubber and a lot of AMG-created special pieces, some under the bonnet, some (anti-roll bars, springs, dampers and steering knuckles) underpinning the car all abet this stun 'em sizzle.

In itself, that's familiar territory, if not for Benz then for anyone who has experienced a Lancer Evo or a WRX STi. And, yet, as hard-edged as the Japanese rally special spin-offs were, the A45 is potentially even more raw.

Actually, there's much about the A45 to suggest Benz was contemplating having a go at the World Rally Championship itself: The car already delivers race-harness-ready chairs and an optional suspension retune of the already granite-hard standard setting, plus an OTT rear roof spoiler which in combination with nose-sited carbon fibre mini-blades develop 40kg extra downforce at 250kmh. It also has a launch control that applies a WRC logic in its pre-load operation. On over-run, the exhaust breaks into a boisterous ''stage finish'' cackle.

So is competition the go? For the hardware, yes: the CLA 45 (same drivetrain, sedan body, due soon) will be a circuit racer. But the A45, we're assured, is made this way purely for on-road driving fun.

Good luck with that. Underestimating the A45 in everyday driving isn't smart. It will blaze at the slightest provocation and, as good as the 4matic four-wheel-drive hardware is, it might become a tricky wee thing on low-grip surfaces. Really, though, the biggest daily challenge (next to keeping within the speed limit) will be living with the unremitting ride.

Not that the E63 is much less unrelenting.

The starter pack might be a solidly built, luxury-lavished medium sedan, but nothing has been spared to make it an absolute response to the BMW M5 and Audi RS6. Not least because New Zealand receives the ''S'' edition, with 22kW and 80Nm more than the ''standard'' E63. This means 430kW and 800Nm, providing a 0-100kmh time of 4.1s, a 0.5s gain on the A45.

Though the stonk isn't subtle, the E63 look almost is. Despite adoption of all the expected body addenda - gaping bumper intakes, wider wings to house big brake-wrapping 19-inch wheels and paired double-barrelled big-bore exhausts - the E63 lacks the A45's race-suited air.

The sense of it being a businessperson's chariot is enhanced when slipping behind the wheel, regardless that it, the pushbutton-adjustable sports seats, drilled pedals and the stubby gear-lever for the seven-speed automatic are all AMG.

The throaty burble at idle instantly signals hostility, of course, and though there's some docility on light throttle, give it a decent boot and the world starts to blur. And that's in the factory's ''normal'' setting.

Slotting into Sport then hitting the AMG button unleashes a more furious effect, complete with throttle blips on the downchange. This mode asks the driver to sharpen up, too, for now the reins are loosened enough to allow wheelspin of those massive 285/30 R19s . . . in first, second and, ahem, third. Since all that torque is available from 1750rpm, I shouldn't be surprised.

The relief is that this E63 is more than a straight-line sledgehammer. It offers a lot of ability and, as long as you're sensible with the throttle input, plenty of balanced, gripping ability through the bends.

Both cars are loaded and exquisite in their detailing, and all this comes at a hefty price.

 

Hot Benz pair packing power, pace
At a Glance

A45 AMG

Price: $94,900

Engine: 1991cc four-cylinder turbocharged petrol, maximum power 265kW@6000rpm; maximum torque 450Nm@2250-5000rpm

Transmission: Seven-speed direct shift automated manual

Brakes and stability systems: Disc brakes, ABS, EBD, EBA, ESP, DSC

Wheels, tyres: Alloy wheels, 235/35 R19 tyres

Fuel and economy: 6.9 litres per 100km on EU combined cycle, capacity 56 litres

Dimensions: Length 4292mm, width 1780mm, height 1430mm

E63 AMG

Price: $215,000

Engine: 5461cc eight-cylinder bi-turbocharged petrol, maximum power 430kW@5500rpm; maximum torque 800Nm@1750-5000rpm

Transmission: Seven-speed automatic

Brakes and stability systems: Disc brakes, ABS, EBD, EBA, ESP, DSC

Wheels, tyres: Alloy wheels, 255/35 R19 front, 285/30 R19 rear tyres

Fuel and economy: 10 litres per 100km on EU combined cycle, capacity 80 litres

Dimensions: Length 4879mm, width 1854mm, height 1474mm