26 Jul 2013

Mercedes A45 AMG review - It's not a hot hatch, it's a "super hatch"

Colin Hubbard reviews the top of the A-Class range, the A 45 AMG

The A45 is AMG’s first attempt at making a proper hot hatch.  Previously, in conjunction with Mercedes, they produced the A250 ‘Engineered by AMG’ which failed to hit the spot so how does the A 45 AMG fare?
Mercedes A45 AMG
Mercedes AMG, as a rule appeals to the older driver, mainly because their V8’s start from £50,000 which is way above the younger drivers budget, even as a secondhand purchase but also in the way they drive.

They are not razor sharp tools, such as a BMW M3, which the younger generation prefer, but lazy, tail happy automatics with thunderous soundtrack and straight line speed.  The A45 now fills the previously redundant hot hatch market segment for AMG and in a way you never would have expected.

If you asked me 5 years ago how AMG would would have achieved such performance in a hot hatch I would have said use a small V6 with a supercharger and rear wheel drive.

What they have actually done is to take the standard 2-litre 4 cylinder turbo engine, throw most of it in the bin, then hone, bore, blueprint, line and fettle to produce a staggering 355 bhp and 332 lb/ft of torque. This is, thankfully, mated to a Haldex controlled 4 wheel drive system via an automatic only dual clutch 7 speed gearbox.

Mercedes did a great job on the design of the new A Class.  It is small but well proportioned in size, probably in between a Golf and Polo. This made AMG’s job easy in the styling department with relatively simple changes to bumpers, skirts, exhaust and wheels to create a handsome hatchback but with a purposefully sporty look. With the optional aerodynamic track pack (huge rear carbon spoiler and deeper front valance) it looks even more purposeful if a little ‘Max Power’.
Mercedes A45 AMG

When entering the car you are greeted with an overtly quality interior with a good choice of materials, finishes and colours. The main colour theme is dark grey but with a liberal use of red on the seat belts, heater rings, floor mats, stitching and seat highlighting.

The air vents deserve a mention of their own and wouldn’t look out of place on a Zonda, being made from alloy rather than plastic with an outer red ring and a fluid smooth twist action.

The steering wheel has a lovely feel with a perfect silhouette to see all the instruments through, and to use the paddles - definitely not an afterthought. It has Alcantara sections where you grip the wheel 99% of the time and leather on the flat top and flat bottom sections. A joy to use.

The standard fit Recaro seats are an absolute work of art having fixed headrests in the right spot - they grip you like a vice during cornering with the small of the back perfectly supported on the straights. It honestly felt like someone had taken a mould of my frame and created these seats for me. They are not too rigid and restricting like a 911 GT3 but I didn’t move at all during some serious roundabout tomfoolery. They look amazing even in the rear with a ribbed Alcantara seat base and back with leather sides and fixed headrests like the front.

So to the exciting bit, key in the ignition slot and twist to start the engine and warm the fluids.  Note - no keyless go on this model. The engine sounds a little more gruff than its ordinary siblings and settles to a low burble. Nothing special yet.

Select drive from the sculpted and AMG-stamped gear level by pressing forward and we’re off. After a mile or so I’m beginning to wonder whether they have given me the wrong car.  It's short-shifting at low revs and the suspension is composed over bumps and dips.  My late Nan could have got in this car and gone to the shops perfectly easily. She would have kerbed the alloys and pulled out of junctions without looking but you get the point - it’s a great daily driver.

Then I saw a little button at the side of the gear selector with a C/S/M on it, I assumed Comfort, Sport and Manual and then it clicked, I was in comfort mode. So I selected Sport (auto) and the engine gave a little bark at me like when when a dog shouts at its owner to kick the ball. It wants to play!

Holy Jesus, it’s now a completely different animal, it wants to rev to the limiter on every input of hard throttle and is showing it’s every bit capable of hitting sixty from standstill in the quoted 4.6 seconds. 

Initially when you nail the throttle theres a slight dig into the pockets to see whats there then, whoosh, it seems to find some magic and manic acceleration gear after gear hunting the red line like a dog after a ball, again and again.
Mercedes A45 AMG

The delay is down to the huge turbo and seriously big bore exhaust (look at the engine bay pictures to see the 6 inch inlet and 4 inch outlet) trying to push so much air through the tiny 4 pot motor.

Being a twin scroll turbo means it can cope better with high and low boost having two exhaust gas inlets and two nozzles( one small, sharper angled for quick response and one large, less angled for massive power) but theres always going to be some lag on a turbo this big.

The optional sports exhaust is identified by the 4 outlets in the rear bumper as opposed to the 2 on the standard item. This is the only option I would stump for and is definitely worth the extra £510. Thus equipped and at full chat it sounds like an angry wasp (unlike its larger V8 powered relatives who are more like an enraged bear) give it the beans and it delivers in snow skoop loads. At the end of the rev range on full throttle, when fuel supply is cut for a nanosecond to select the next gear the bark is like a sheet of wood being dropped onto another sheet of wood, a loud bang so aggressive it made me jump on several occasions.

Through the rev range it has more of an deep, industrial whir not a not deep, burble grumble like powerful turbo cars from Subaru and Mitsubishi. This has partly been dictated by emissions as it has a very clever supercomputer constantly analyising grip, gear selection, throttle input and temperature to ensure the right amount of boost and fuel are applied the very instant you require some go.

Boost is restricted in lower gears so as to not overwhelm grip and is seriously withdrawn in comfort mode in order to make smooth progress, with up to 40.9mpg on the combined cycle. In addition the emissions are rated as 161 g/kg of CO2 which is quite an achievement considering the performance the car can offer.
Mercedes A45 AMG

Four wheel drive and a very competent chassis transforms the A Class into something of a back road hero. Its Haldex 4WD system works by sending power to the front wheels most of the time and when it senses extra power being applied and grip overwhelming the front it sends up to 50% of the power to the back wheels.  To be honest, it didn’t feel anything other than entirely 4WD.  I could never feel the transition of the extra power being send to the rear.

There's no front wheel squabble or over or understeer just absolute grip on both straights and on corners.  It doesn’t want to play just perform.

The steering is accurate and it does literally go where you point it, but it could have some more feel.  That’s not to say it's lacking in feedback per se - just not a Porsche standard of set up.

The suspension is absolutely planted.  On bumpy, tight roads its doesn’t wander or tramline like larger cars with wide tyres - it just darts to and from points A and B on its fairly moderate non runflat 235/40/18 tyres. There's superb balance both side to side as well as back to front - much more stable than its larger siblings, in fact it's so stable feels it like a wheel in each corner on a square stance and reminds me of the original Alec Issigonis Mini (not the fake, fat BMW one).

All this acceleration gives a heavy workout to the brakes.  They took a pounding but I never experienced any brake fade during my time with the car. The set up is large dimater steel discs all round but with huge racing 4 pot callipers at the front, providing steady modulation and delivery time after time.

As a package the A45 AMG car has the best of both worlds - serious performance as well as everyday usability.  It really is 2 cars in one: a Dr Passive or Dr Maniac at the touch of a button. On a 'drive it like you stole it' run this turbo nutter bastard just grips, digs and goes.  Even when coming down the gearbox there's a hearty, boom, boom, boom, as it gives a little blip of throttle.

All these things come together to make a special little car and well deserved of the full blown AMG title, even with just 4 cylinders. On a back road it is untouchable - no bouncing, powersliding or traction control light flashing.  Just grip and poise and lunacy.

My only critism with the A45 AMG is the centre console.  There's a small section of scratchy plastic and there's nowhere to store your smartphone when charging other than in one of the two cupholders - mine didn’t fit in these though. It’s a quick easy fix, some better quality plastic on the centre console and an aux socket in the storage box between the seats so you can leave your phone charging in there.

The cost for all this performance is a list price of £37,745 - and the only option I would recommend is the sports exhaust to let everyone know you mean business.

It comes with a 3 year unlimited mileage warranty and requires a service every 12,500 miles which is staggering considering its output of 178bhp per litre, which is a first for a production car.

What AMG have done here is create another market segment by creating a ‘Superhatch’, a class above the performance of the humble hot hatch with insane power in a kiddy carriage package. You could say a car aimed at the Playstation generation rather than the cigar generation.

Will it sell? Hell yes, I see people taking out second mortgages and chopping in their trackday car and daily driver to buy one of these horizon hunters!

Do I like it - no. I love it. If Carlsberg made hot hatches…………………………..

Review by Colin Hubbard.  See all of Colin's articles and reviews here, and his A250 AMG review here.
Mercedes A45 AMG engine bay

Mercedes A45 AMG - front seats

Mercedes A45 AMG - rear seats

Mercedes A45 AMG centre console

Mercedes A45 AMG wheels

Mercedes A45 AMG Track Pack