The A45 proves Mercedes-AMG has found the formula for not just a fast hot hatchback, but a genuinely involving one
|Huge performance, engaging chassis, interior design|
|Expensive, A35 delivers a similar experience for less|
The latest Mercedes-AMG A45 could hardly be more different from its predecessor. While the two cars look similar on paper – five-door hatchback bodies, turbocharged four-cylinder engines, all-wheel drive – the new A45 now feels like a car engineered for driving enthusiasts rather than simply a very quick way of getting from point to point.
It’ll still do that too of course, and with over four hundred horsepower at its disposal, the A45 S is the most potent hot hatchback on sale. But big speed is now just one component of the A45’s repertoire. It builds on the solid progress AMG made with the A35, and the end result is one of our favourite hot hatchbacks..
The A45’s one of those cars that transcends class boundaries, too. It’s almost not worth comparing with other hot hatchbacks, given its expense (it’s more than fifty grand) and performance. In some ways, it actually makes more sense in CLA coupe form, where you might be tempted to class it as a supersaloon.
If we’ve one reservation, and it’s a small one, it’s that while the A45 does offer a more complete and engaging driving experience than the A35 below it, there really are limited opportunities to enjoy the extra performance. That makes the A35 look like particularly good value – though it’s worth remembering that it’s the A45 we brought along to evo test drive.
Prices, specs and rivals
Just over $60k will get you into an A45 S – $61,381 on the road, to be precise. That’s undoubtedly a large sum of money for a five-door, Focus-sized hatchback, but could be considered a modest sum for something with comfortably more performance than most other cars at this price point. Extend it to $68,660 and you’ll be into an A45 S Plus.
The standard car is well-equipped, with niceties such as AMG Performance sports seats in Artico artificial leather and Dinamica artificial suede, specific AMG body styling, uprated brakes, a valved exhaust, numerous AMG interior details and a full infotainment suite with augmented reality satnav.
The Plus brings with it standard adaptive damping, the AMG aero kit, 19-inch forged cross-spoke alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, full leather trim and a Burmester sound system, among other things. The glorious Sun Yellow paintwork is a no-cost option, but metallic shades are $722 extra and the Designo paints a little more than that.
Rivals for the A45 S are currently pretty slim on the ground, at least until a new Audi RS3 arrives. Rather than looking In terms of rivals, the A45’s life just got a lot harder now the new Audi RS3 is out in the wild. That’s because the new RS3’s gone and upset the status quo with a chassis that’s a far better medium to enjoying the warbly five-pot. In fact the chassis goes so far as to make the engine and transmission feel a little bit underwhelming. Bring on the twin test.
Looking outside the realm of hot hatchbacks – most are ten grand cheaper, a hundred horsepower down and have less prestigious badges – we’d instead consider spending a similar $60k sum on a proper sports car.
That arena’s looking fairly healthy at the moment, with real diversity of choice; the new Toyota Supra, the BMW M2 Competition, Alpine A110, and Porsche 718 Cayman all start around the $60k mark. We’d note though that the Supra missed out on a finalist slot in eCoty 2019, in which the A45 S finished in third place.
The 718 Cayman is worth a look though, particularly given with a few options on an A45 S Plus, you’re nearing the $77,751 of a 718 GTS 4.0 – basically a detuned Cayman GT4. A two-door sports car is clearly a very different proposition to a five-door hatchback, but if you’re buying more for driver appeal than family-car practicality, there are few cars on sale today that can match the GTS.
Engine, gearbox and technical specs
Far from being just the A35’s 2-litre turbocharged engine with an ECU tickle, the A45’s power unit is effectively all-new. The whole thing is rotated by 180 degrees compared to that of the A35 (so it’s still transversely mounted) with the exhaust ports and turbocharger now on the firewall side and the intake at the front, to the benefit of airflow and cooling.
The turbocharger is different too, with roller bearings for reduced friction, and divided ducts to separate exhaust pulses for faster, less disturbed flow. Lessons learned from AMG’s hot-V V8s mean the turbocharger is cooled by oil, water and air, the latter by special ducts in the engine cover, while the wastegate is electronically controlled.
In the engine itself there are different valves, two-stage fuel injection, separate water pumps for the block and cylinder head, a two-stage intercooler, and a baffled sump to prevent oil surge under high cornering loads. Oh, and the whole thing is put together like a proper AMG engine – handbuilt by one individual in Affalterbach.
So what does all this get you? The answer is 415bhp at 6750rpm and 369lb ft of torque from 5000 to 5250rpm. Don’t let the narrow torque band fool you either – this engine is mighty throughout its rev range, no less than you’d expect for the most powerful 2-litre engine in production, and the most powerful in any hot hatch. While we’ve seen engines at this level before, most notably in Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions, bear in mind too that this won’t require anything like the sub-5000-kilometre oil changes required of that car…
Power is sent to all four wheels, first through an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission (rather than the A35’s seven-speed DCT), then through, at the rear axle, a pair of multi-disc clutches to direct power to whichever wheel needs it most. All this tech comes at a cost though, and it’s not just the purchase price – the A45 S weighs in at 1560kg, or around 80kg more than the AMG A35.
Performance and 0-100 time
It should come as no great surprise that a relatively compact, all-wheel-drive car with more than 400bhp at its disposal is capable of sharp off-the-line acceleration. Mercedes-AMG quotes a 0-100kph time of 3.9sec, which is three-tenths quicker than the old A45 managed, and in A45 S trim as sold in the UK, top speed is 270kph.
The way the drivetrain behaves is more important than the outright acceleration though. On the road, where you can only really use the car’s potential for very short periods of time, there’s actually not a great deal of difference in terms of pure speed to the 302bhp A35 – you can use the less powerful car’s performance more frequently.
But while the A35’s engine is hardly lacking in response or character, the A45’s more fiery unit feels like someone has turned up the gain on an old tube amplifier. Throttle response is keen from low revs, allowing you to surge forward with little effort, and performance only builds from there. It revs smoothly but there’s a harder edge to the sound than with the A35, while the top-end rush is even greater, really encouraging you to use the last of the revs.
Make sure you’re in at least Sport+ mode and the barking and crackling exhaust adds to the theatre, though there’s perhaps a little too much sound also piped into the cabin for some tastes. Regardless, thundering through the gears feels exciting, and the changes from the dual-clutch box are themselves swift, and AMG’s metal paddles have a satisfying mechanical click to their action.
The brakes are more than up to the task of hauling the A45 S back down from high velocities too. There’s an initial softness to the pedal travel that could perhaps be improved upon (though it does make creeping around at normal speeds a smooth affair), but as is typical with AMGs, power and progression are plentiful thereafter, and with the caveat we’ve not yet carried out sustained lapping on track, fade isn’t an issue.
Ride and handling
This is perhaps the greatest departure from the old A45. Once a flat-footed, firm-riding hatch that placed grip over finesse, the latest A45 S has enviable all-round abilities, capable and composed where you need it but also enjoyable and interactive where you want it.
There is, obviously, plenty of ability. Grip levels are remarkable, from the moment the tyres bite on turn-in to the moment you wind off steering input and fire off up the next straight. With the driver mode in Sport or Sport+, which have more positive weighting than in Comfort, the A45 responds in such a way that you can confidently pick apart a corner as soon as you’ve turned in. There’s enough feedback, but importantly the predictability to make inputs intuitive.
Mid-corner the A45 S leans hard on its outer tyres, but does so evenly – and there’s enough body control that the inner pair remain resolutely planted too. Find you’ve gone in too hot – it’s unlikely given the powerful brakes and keen front end, but possible – and a lift of the throttle quickly neutralises the car.
Get on the power early and you don’t wash wide as expected, but power out at more or less the angle you’re pointing the steering, the rear end feeding you around to lock the car to your chosen radius. Really lean into the power out of a tight turn and you’ll get an additional few degrees of rotation, easily caught by relaxing some lock.
The ride quality is good too. Firm, sure, but you’d expect that of a car of this performance. Importantly though it’s not uncomfortable, and is probably better than any other A-class thanks to the clever damping. Knocking the car into one of its sportier modes doesn’t notably harm things either, even on bumpy UK roads.
The upshot is that the A45 S isn’t just fast, but also a real driver’s car. It doesn’t need to be driven flat out to appreciate its qualities, but ask for more and the car will deliver without a second thought – all while keeping you, the driver, in the loop.
L/100km and running costs
When those old Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions were making 400 horsepower you’d be lucky to see 14L/100km and the oil would need draining and replacing every 5000 kilometres.
Today, a car with that level of performance is slightly easier to look after – Mercedes-AMG claims up to 8.6L/100km from the A45 S, it comfortably meets EU6 emissions standards, and while servicing is calculated by the car rather than being on a set plan, the old A45 had a 16,000-kilometre, 12-month schedule.
It’s too early to make a call on the A45’s long-term appetite for consumables as yet. For reference though, a set of the A45’s 245/35 R19 Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres comes in at approximately $910 fitted, delivered by Blackcircles.
Interior and tech
There’s a new Audi A3 around the corner waiting to snatch this accolade away, but we reckon the A45’s cabin is one of the best available in a hot hatch. It doesn’t have the charming simplicity of an old 205 GTI of course, nor a snappy manual gearshift sprouting from the dash like an EP3 Civic Type R. But what it does have is an environment that, visually at least, wouldn’t look out of place in something a lot more sophisticated.
Mercedes’ widescreen cabin layout in the A-class (it’s actually a pair of screens, but both sit within a single binnacle) gives you all the information you could ever need. Finding the right combination of dials and displays that work for you is a little tricky, with so many options, but once you’ve settled on a layout the effect is suitably futuristic, and with convenient touch-sensitive pads on the steering wheel, fairly easy to navigate. Some features are hidden a little deep within the various menus, but the important stuff is easy to come by, and Mercedes has sensibly kept physical controls for the air conditioning.
Of the AMG-specific aspects, you get a pair of well-bolstered and supportive sports seats, and a steering wheel much like that of other AMGs. Those main touchpoints are well positioned, as are the pedals, so finding a driving position that works is a pretty simple process. The steering wheel feels great too, and AMG is one of few German manufacturers that does gearshift paddles properly – they’re well-sized, well-positioned and operate with a tactile click.
To our eyes the latest A-class is more attractive than its predecessor, and that carries across to the A45. You’d probably not describe it as one of the all-time great hatchback shapes, but in its basic form it’s pleasingly simple, well-proportioned and has just the right air of aggression courtesy of the AMG-specific wheels, grille and lower spoilers.
The A45 S’s design differs from its lesser A-class siblings mostly from its pumped front wheel arches and wider 19-inch alloy wheels. In isolation the effect might appear subtle, but sit an A45 next to an A35 and the differences are more striking.
You can pump everything up further in Plus form with AMG’s aero kit, which adds a larger rear wing and front canards and forged alloy wheels, and opting for the Sun Yellow paint of our evo favorite contender is a surefire way to shine a spotlight on the styling – though keep to a subdued colour and avoid the aero pack, and the A45 can be rendered incredibly subtle for a car making 415bhp.
This article originally appeared at evo.co.uk
Copyright © evo UK, Dennis Publishing