MORE THAN A PUNCHER'S CHANCE
The Mercedes-Benz A-Class has never been a car to excite the enthusiast driver. The A45 AMG model comprehensively rewrites those rules. Andy Enright reports.
Ten Second ReviewWith all-wheel drive and a massive 360PS power output, the A45 AMG is the giant killer we'd been waiting for from Mercedes-Benz. If you want a devastatingly quick hatchback that can do it all, this is where you should start your search.
BackgroundThere's never been a Mercedes quite like the A45 AMG. The company's small cars have fulfilled a specific role in recent years and that has been to ferry people who cared more about badge equity than build quality about town. Yes, the old A-Class was a clever piece of design, but it always seemed an outlier, a car that was never imbued with all the qualities we expected from the three-pointed star in a condensed form. That changed with the 2012 introduction of the third generation 'W176' car.
Here was an A-Class that changed everything. It looked great, it felt properly screwed together and, above all, it drove exactly as a small Benz should. Upon that car's launch it was the worst-kept secret that a hot AMG model would be along in due course and the A45 AMG is that car. With a 360PS power output that deploys through all four wheels, it throws down a challenge that's tough to answer. Mercedes has redefined the hot hatch in its own form.
Driving ExperienceOf course, there will be some who accuse Mercedes of little originality. A small, expensive, German hatch that directs 350PS+ through all four wheels is, to many, an Audi RS3. That may well be the case, but if there's one thing that Mercedes has discovered in its competition with Audi, and indeed BMW, it's that there's usually space in the market for all three brands, as they all have different buyer profiles. This A45 AMG is a niche sell for sure, but that's only because of its price. Any petrolhead worth their salt would want to get behind the wheel of this one.
It's technically intriguing. The engine is a version of the 1991cc four-cylinder powerplant that's found in the humbler A250 model, but so much has been changed to reliably achieve that 360PS power output and 450Nm of torque - more than a Porsche 911 Carrera S. There are now two radiators instead of one, a larger intercooler and variable-vane turbocharger, plus the exhaust system is different and now features a 'loud' mode. The suspension gets firmer springing, meatier fixed-rate dampers and bigger anti-roll bars. Plus it's all finished off with reassuringly huge brakes, a wider track, and gumball 235/35YR-19 tyres.
The steering has also been revised with firmer bushings offering better feedback. The transmission is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic which has been tweaked to offer quicker shift times and more aggressive automatic shift modes. The AMG 4MATIC all-wheel drive system directs up to 50 per cent of torque to the rear wheel to ensure a playful bias to the car's handling and guarantees a rapid getaway. The 62mph benchmark comes and goes in just 4.6s on the way to 62mph en route to an electronically limited 155mph maximum, although some markets get an option of a 175mph top end.
Design and BuildThe styling updates that differentiate the A45 AMG are actually quite subtle. Too subtle perhaps, bearing in mind that there's already an AMG Sport trim level available for the ordinary A-Class models that ramps the aggression up several notches. Still, if you know what you're looking for, you'll recognise this car's "twin blade" radiator grille and the cross strut in the front apron, both painted in matt titanium grey. Black 'flics' surround the large cooling air intakes at the sides. From the side, you'll spot the light-alloy wheels in a twin-spoke design and the side sill panels with inserts in matt titanium grey. The rear apron with its highlighted air outlet openings at the sides features a diffuser insert and trim in matt titanium grey. Two square, chrome-plated tailpipes of the sports exhaust system finish the rear end appropriately.
Jump inside and you're bound to like the sports seats in Artico man-made leather and Dinamica microfibre. It's not some cheap leather-alike finish either. This feels like leather and is extremely hardwearing. The steering wheel gets red contrasting top-stitching, while the dashboard trim is finished in a somewhat cheesy carbon-fibre look, one of the rare off-keys. A classier touch are the SLS-style air vents in black/red, the red seat belts and the AMG door sill panels. The instrument cluster presents information by means of a central colour display with a race timer mode.
Market and ModelThe A45 AMG gets a specially-tuned ESP stability control system with three modes; On, 'Sport Handling' and Off. Jump onto the brakes in either of the latter modes and the full ESP protection kicks back in. There's also an additional function called 'ESP Curve Dynamic Assist' that nips the brakes on the inside rear wheel to increase agility through bends.
It also gets a radar-based collision warning system. Working with Adaptive Brake Assist, which lowers the risk of rear-end collisions, the Collision Prevention Assist system gives a visual and acoustic warning to alert a distracted driver to identified obstacles and prepares Brake Assist for the most precise braking response possible. This is initiated as soon as the driver steps firmly on the brake pedal. It's all very clever but like the best technology, doesn't impose itself until it's actually needed.
Options that buyers might like to consider include 19-inch wheels, a carbon-fibre exterior package, the Night package with black trimmings, AMG Performance seats and the AMG Performance suspension set-up, which delivers an even more focused ride and handling balance.
Cost of OwnershipYou might need to keep some self-control when faced with the options list if you're not to put the kibosh on residual values. BMW and Audi have both realised that their super high performance smaller cars tend to be in big demand on the used markets, despite being relatively expensive to run in terms of fuel and other consumables. Mercedes bills this engine 'the most powerful series production four-cylinder engine in the world' and while the old Mitsubishi Evo in FQ-400 or the Subaru Impreza in SC400 guise were both more powerful, they're no longer with us, so for a likely brief period, that's a valid claim. It's also surprisingly efficient as well.
Whereas both of those aforementioned cars would be lucky to see 20mpg on a good day with a favourable slope and a following wind, Mercedes claims an average fuel economy figure of 40.9mpg for the A45 AMG. Clearly this figure will head south if you use the throttle pedal as intended, but it's hard to argue with the 165g/km emissions figure. Insurance cover may well be a different matter.
SummaryIt wasn't so very long ago that a sporty Mercedes A-Class sounded like some sort of industry in-joke. This was a car that just didn't do sporty at all. That all changed with the introduction of the third-generation car, which furnished Mercedes with a platform to go stalking the likes of BMW and Audi. The A45 AMG is quite some first attempt at a seriously sporty A. The 360PS power output and AMG 4MATIC four-wheel drive system are just the start. The seven-speed twin-clutch gearchange and the fiendishly clever multi-mode ESP stability control system offer the driver time and space to act.
This is automotive evolution happening before us, the distillation of everything Mercedes knows about performance cars into one small package. It's all there. The hand-built AMG engine, the manic performance balanced with class-leading safety systems. An interior that looks as if you've spent over £30,000 on your car. All-weather ability that leaves the rest standing. You wanted an AMG hatch? It's been a while but you'll probably find the wait was worth it.