This is the new Mercedes A45 AMG, one of the most powerful hot hatches ever built. The A45 is also the first hot hatch that Mercedes’ AMG tuning division has ever built, and it’s gone all out with its initial attempt: there’s a 355bhp turbocharged engine, four-wheel drive, a seven-speed twin-clutch paddleshift gearbox, and the performance to embarrass a Porsche 911.
It’s a rival for the BMW M135i and new Audi S3, but is it any good? Read on for CAR’s first drive review of the new Mercedes A45 AMG.
Our new 2018 Mercedes A-class review
Is the Mercedes A45 the first four-wheel drive model from AMG?
Actually it’s not. With the infamous tyre-frying antics of everything from the C63 to the SLS supercar it’s easy to forget that AMG’s actually been building four-wheel drive SUVs – the G, GL and ML – for many years, and the latest E63 and CLS63 saloons and estates are also now available with Mercedes’ 4Matic system (at least in LHD markets). And we hear the next S-class AMG models will also come with four driven wheels.
But the A45 is AMG’s first model to be based on a front-wheel drive hatchback, so 4Matic was deemed crucial to control all that power. Mercedes claims its four-wheel system is 25% lighter than that of rivals – and it’ll be used in the CLA and forthcoming GLA too – and here’s it’s been beefed-up to cope with 332lb ft. Up to 50% of the torque can be sent to the rear wheels, and this drivetrain will be used in the CLA45 and GLA45 AMG models too.
The A45 isn’t short on horsepower either…
From a mere 1991cc AMG has squeezed 355bhp, meaning the A45 produces more horsepower per litre (178bhp) than just about every other car on the road. New 911 GT3? Pah! Bugatti Veyron Super Sport? Not even close. Each engine is hand-built by a single technician too (as is the AMG way) but unlike the bigger V8s and V12s, which are assembled at its Affalterbach HQ, the 2.0T is actually put together in Merc’s Kölleda engine plant.
Visually the A45 looks little different from a standard A-class with the optional AMG bodykit, and the ‘Turbo’ badges just aft of the front wheels are one of the few visuals that betray that 355bhp lurks beneath. It’s reasonably restrained inside too, with only the paddleshift-equipped steering wheel, AMG-specific dials, new transmission tunnel-mounted gear selector (it’s a column stalk on other twin-clutch A-class models) and a few red highlights distinguishing the A45 from lesser As. What you can’t see is the stiffer front suspension, new rear axle and 350mm (front) and 330mm (rear) brakes.
How does the Mercedes A45 AMG drive?
It’s a little heavier than the rivals from Audi and BMW, and it’s perhaps because both the S3 and M135i feel so remarkably potent that the A45 doesn’t seem as rampantly fast as we were expecting. Then again, it’s still stonkingly quick, will smack past 62mph in 4.6 seconds, and leave those other two Germans behind in a straight line.
Despite all that power and torque there’s no wheelspin or steering corruption when you boot the throttle either, so how early you get on the power more often than not comes down to your judgement rather than any limitations on the A45’s part. It’s not as scintillatingly sharp as a Megane RS, doesn’t live to be abused, but it’ll be quick no matter what the weather and who’s behind the wheel. It’s got the surefootedness of an Audi S3, but with much of the swagger and bravado we’ve come to expect from AMG.
And the latter owes much to how great the A45 sounds, whistling and whining, crackling on the overrun, and the momentary retarding of the ignition and injection that creates a wonderful bark during full-bore upshifts. Most of it is artificially enhanced, but it’s special nonetheless.
But for it to be faultless we’d want a little more weight and feedback from the steering, and for the dual-clutch gearbox to have impeccable manners. As is the case with every AMG (to varying degrees) the ‘box doesn’t always upshift when your right fingers command it, and it can be equally tardy when you’re dropping down through the cogs too. And watch out if you switch the gearbox to its Manual setting. Then it won’t automatically upshift at the redline, but because the engine is so smooth you can all too suddenly hit the limiter, so more often than not it’s best to leave it in Sport+ and only override the paddles when needed.
Any other downsides?
Two, the first of which is the rather steep asking price: £37,845. Yes, the now-defunct BMW 1-series M Coupe and Audi RS3 Sportback both cost £40k so you could argue the (more powerful) A45 AMG represents decent value, but the latest 316bhp BMW M135i and 296bhp Audi S3 are £30,555 and £30,500 respectively. And even once you’ve optioned them with five doors and paddleshift gearboxes (and added a theoretical £2k to the semi-M car for the 4wd xDrive system that’s only available of LHD models) you won’t top £34k. Meaning you’ve got to really want a Mercedes hot hatch to spend as much money on the A45 AMG as you would on a new Porsche Boxster.
The second fault? The suspension, or lack thereof – even on smooth roads in Continental Europe the A45 AMG fidgets and thumps and crashes. CAR’s long-term A-class (on ‘comfort’ suspension) isn’t comfortable on British Tarmac, and any other A with the Dynamic Handling Package (15mm lower, with two-stage damping) rides horrifically, so we can’t see the A45 coping particularly well on our broken roads with its firmer, fixed-rate dampers.
It’s not in tune with the times like a VW Golf GTD, but rough ride and high price notwithstanding, the new Mercedes A45 is an impressive hot hatch, especially when you consider AMG has no history tuning family hatchbacks. Bring on the group test with the BMW M135i and Audi S3…