The title of 'most powerful hot hatch' goes to the Mercedes-AMG A 45, which packs a phenomenal 280kW. A veritable supercar among small hatch ranks.
Audi’s five-cylinder RS 3 wrested the title briefly from this car’s predecessor, but Mercedes-Benz responded by ramping-up the output of the fiery five-door to snatch the podium back.
So, with all the makings of a no-compromise race car under the bonnet, and the outward user-friendliness of a city-friendly hatchback, what is the A 45 really like? More to the point, could you live with its brattish manners?
Vehicle Style: High-performance prestige small hatch
Price: $77,900 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 280kW/475Nm 2.0 turbo petrol 4cyl | 7-spd dual-clutch transmission
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.3 l/100km | tested: 10.6 l/100km
We’ve taken the Mercedes-AMG A 45 to a racetrack before - that’s where you learn all kinds of fantastic things about how a car will handle at the limits, with searing brake temperatures and a steady flow of equally-heated driver inputs.
But it doesn’t tell you much about how a car deals with speed humps, shopping centre carparks, trips to the office, and dropping the kids off at school. Let's face it, while the A 45 is a serious piece of performance equipment, it will still spend most of its life tied up in all the other mundane tasks that we ask of a car.
The regular Mercedes-Benz A-Class range does all of those things with easy aplomb, but it also maxes out at a very reasonable 160kW.
So, does a 120kW shot in the arm, and a handling package devised by the race-hardened engineers at AMG help or hinder the smallest vehicle in the Mercedes-Benz range? We ran it around the block a few times to find out.
- Standard equipment: Dual-zone climate control, keyless entry with push-button start, electrically adjustable heated front sports seats, Red Cut leather seat trim, multi-function sports steering wheel with shift paddles, panoramic sunroof, sports pedals, red seatbelts, carbon fibre-look trim, AMG floor-mounted gear selector, rear privacy glass, LED head and tail lights, 19-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 8.0-inch infotainment screen, COMAND menu selector, 12-speaker Harman Kardon Logic 7 surround sound, Bluetooth, USB, Aux inputs, DAB+ digital radio
- Cargo volume: 341 litres minimum expandable via 60:40 split fold rear seat
The entire A-Class range has benefited from a few small upgrades as part of the 2016 refresh, however as the A 45 was already loaded, it only gains a few visual tweaks in addition to a drive mode selector behind the stubby gear selector.
There’s certainly no way you’d confuse the A 45 as anything other than a performance car, with deeply bolstered sports seats, red outboard seatbelts, a carbon fibre-effect dash pad, red-ringed air vents, and a unique AMG instrument cluster.
The front seats, in Red Cut leather, manage to provide a decent balance of seat comfort and vice-like grip, with adjustable leg and backrest bolstering on the driver’s seat, along with power adjustment for both front seats.
Accommodation in the rear is a little less generous. There’s room for two back there, but three will be a pinch, headroom is a little short and kneeroom behind the bulky front seat-shells can be a little lacking.
A redesigned button array on the steering wheel is more user-friendly than before, but some of the ongoing Benz quirks remain, like the park sensor displays obscured by the front screen and middle rear passenger (if you’re carrying one).
The infotainment display itself measures 8.0-inches, but lacks touchscreen inputs. Beneath it the centre stack is a button-heavy carryover from before while the COMAND rotary controller lives on the centre console and drives the whole system.
It’s a sensible solution, but still not as user-friendly as BMW’s iDrive or Mazda’s MZD Connect, with confusing ‘layers’ hidden out of view.
A debit as far as accommodation is concerned is that the painted window frames are visible from within the cabin. In a car that’s only a shade away from $80k that shouldn’t be the case, particularly when both Audi and BMW have managed to hide theirs behind a neat plastic trim.
Practicalities however are good; there’s 341 litres of boot space behind the tailgate and rear seats that drop flat via a 60:40 split.
However there's a high load-lip to clear, and a narrow opening thanks to the wide-ish tail-lights.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 280kW/475Nm 2.0 litre turbo petrol four-cylinder
- Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, all wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear, AMG-tuned adaptable dampers
- Brakes: Four-wheel ventilated disc brakes with cross-drilled rotors, 350 x 32mm front, 330 x 22mm rear
- Steering: AMG Electric speed-sensitive power steering
With an absolutely ferocious 280kW straining at the leash from just 2.0 litres, the Mercedes-AMG A 45 boasts one of the highest specific outputs per litre for a forced induction engine.
This thing is a genuine fire-cracker, an all-out assault on the senses, with noise and thrust almost unmatched in its class.
As you’d expect from something with the A 45’s boy-racer looks, the hatch offers a uniquely rambunctious sound signature, which can be amplified on the fly by tapping the variable exhaust button - either way the results are far from subtle.
The full 280kW of power arrives at 6000rpm, while the 475Nm torque max is on call from 2250 to 5000rpm. Those outputs represent a handy boost of 15kW and 25Nm over the pre-facelifted model.
Drive is via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, linked to an on-demand 4Matic all-wheel-drive system that diverts torque to the rear axle as required up to a maximum 50:50 split.
And the system generates phenomenal amounts of grip. Whether tearing down the quarter mile, or firing through a tightly wound mountain road, the A 45 doesn’t needlessly send power to a weightless wheel, but keeps shuffling the engine’s prodigious output to where it will be of most use.
We missed out on a chance to pedal the car in the wet, but in dry-weather testing we picked up just the barest hints of understeer when pushing particularly hard. For the most part, the 4Matic system is as neutral as can be.
The transmission itself is liquid-fast, as most dual-clutch transmissions are, but manages to get by without the stuttering, or low speed insecurity of some we've experienced. Helped, no doubt, by the A 45’s immense torque outputs.
City driving will see the A 45 shuffle quickly through gears in search of the highest, most fuel-efficient ratio.
But turn the AMG Dynamic Select controller through Sport and Sport+ modes, and the engine, transmission, steering, and adaptive suspension will all respond accordingly.
If you’ve completely taken leave of your senses there’s also a Race mode, but it’s genuinely too aggressive for street use.
The adaptive damper system is another of the A 45’s 2016 party tricks. However, even in comfort mode the AMG-tuned system still offers a focused, firm ride.
While in this mode it will absorb imperfections in the road surface, but they’re still very noticeable, even at low speeds.
Dail up through the sportier modes, and you can make the suspension feel almost rock solid.
The benefit is body roll that’s barely noticeable, agile handling, and tyres firmly adhered to the road surface at all times.
A fast steering-rack sees steering wheel inputs turned into crisp instructions at the front wheels.
The result is that the smallest member of the AMG family is quite a bit of fun to throw about, although on long, straight highway sections there’s a heavy and unresponsive feel just off centre.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - the A-Class range scored 35.8 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Traction control, stability control, ABS, EBD, brake assist, blind spot monitoring, active bonnet, auto emergency braking, nine airbags (dual front, front and rear side, full-length curtain, driver’s knee.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The A 45’s closest rival has to be the Audi RS 3: a five-door body, seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, all wheel drive with an engine that falls just 10kW and 10Nm short of the AMG, albeit with Audi’s soulful-sounding five-cylinder engine doing the heavy lifting.
BMW counters the hot Merc with two rear-wheel-drive offerings, the M135i hatch rated at 240kW, or the soon to arrive M2 coupe which produces 272kW. Outstanding dynamics and classic inline six-cylinder appeal make these two something unique in the segment.
And then there’s the Ford Focus RS - a real fly in AMG’s ointment. The Focus RS is also yet to arrive, but promises a heady 257kW and 440Nm for a relatively bargain price of $50,990 plus on roads
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Despite being shrouded in bodywork that suggests a level of manic practicality, the Mercedes-AMG A 45 probably isn’t the ideal family truckster.
Of course, MB is aware of this, targeting young professionals, SINKs and DINKs (that’s single or double income, no kids) and urban dwellers looking for something with buckets of sports-hatch appeal.
The deployment of adaptive suspension has made the A 45 marginally less-tiresome to use on a daily basis, but the fire-breathing five-door is still a performance machine first and foremost.
Could you live with it every day? Absolutely yes; solid and predictable handling, plus sure-footed grip ensure that.
And just like every truly outrageous performance car before it, and just like every truly outrageous performance car ought to be: it's absolutely uncompromising, unrelenting, and unbelievable fun, all at the same time.
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