What is the Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG?
This Mercedes-Benz, launched in summer 2012, is the screaming mad member of the A-class family of otherwise restrained but polished five-door hatchbacks aimed squarely at the VW Golf and Audi A3 market. Unlike them, however, the scorching-hot A45 is not aimed at stealing customers away from any rival in particular, and its £38,190 starting price ensures that, not to mention its astonishing power, which pushes it well beyond conventional hot-hatch territory.
Not that you’d expect anything less of a Mercedes with the letters “AMG” in its designation. The model’s hand-built engine is the most powerful 4-cylinder production engine in the world. It produces 360bhp and 332 lb ft torque. To help transfer all that power to the road, it has Mercedes’ 4MATIC four-wheel drive system in place of the standard model’s front-wheel drive, while the suspension is AMG’s very own dedicated and uncompromising sports set-up.
Rivals are few in number, and the closest is the BMW M 135i. With 320bhp and 331 lb ft of torque surging through the rear wheels it promises to be even more entertaining and, at “just” £33,000, slightly easier on the pocket. Another is the VW Golf R. Its 2-litre engine produces a comparatively lowly 290bhp and 280 lb ft torque but like the A 45 it has four-wheel drive and, fitted with a DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission, can skip to 62mph in 4.9sec, which is only 0.3sec slower than the Mercedes. It costs £31,970.
The A45 AMG is a hot hatch without compromise. Its standard sports suspension is stiff and spine-jarring on all but the smoothest roads. There is no way to adjust its settings – you either like it or lump it. The springs transmit the merest surface irregularity to the cabin, rendering each journey an ordeal for passengers, if not the driver who may believe, wrongly, that this is an essential trade-off in a high-performance car.
Unbelievably, buyers can choose to order the optional AMG Performance suspension, which is stiffer still. Our advice? Avoid it at all costs. The steering is light around town but quickly weights up, though inconsistently, to give the car a sportier feel. It’s not especially communicative, making it harder for the driver to judge how much remaining grip the front tyres have.
The engine’s power comes in a raging torrent with, impressively, barely any dip in momentum from each gear to the next. Turbo lag is almost undetectable, while the paddle-shift-controlled gearbox responds instantly. The seven-speed semi-automatic transmission has three settings: auto, manual and sport. In the last of these, upward gearchanges are made at higher revs and are accompanied by a fruitier-sounding exhaust, which bangs like a gun between shifts.
The brakes are hugely powerful, with loads more bite in reserve. And helping to keep the whole plot glued firmly to the road is a four-wheel drive system that, in extremis, transmits 50% of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels. Of course, the A45 is fun, but it’s frustrating, too. On a public road, it feels like a caged beast. It needs a race-track to show what it can really do; where you can safely explore the limits of its grip and the thrill of its launch control system. Otherwise, trapped in suburbia, it paces up and down, revealing only a hint of its performance. Which is why, ultimately, it’s not in the first rank of hot hatches. Cheaper, less powerful rivals achieve a better balance of ride comfort, crisp handling and performance, while the best of them reveal the full range of their talents, more of the time.
Given this car’s single-minded purpose it’s a surprise to find just how inviting and spacious the A45’s cabin is. This is a genuine four-seater with ample space for a large driver to adjust their seat without seriously impinging on the person behind. The fascia is stock A-class, and none the worse for it, but has some welcome splashes of alloy, leather, red stitching and a covering of soft-touch trim that looks like carbon fibre. Its five rotary air vents are familiar not only from the A-class, but the CLA and forthcoming C-class. Also familiar is the infotainment display (similar to a tablet) mounted above the centre three, almost as an afterthought.
The gearchange is a neat affair and has just three positions: Drive, Neutral and Reverse. Park is a separate button ahead of them, which you simply press to take the car out of Drive. Select Drive to move off, and Park is automatically disengaged. Less thoughtfully designed is the Mercedes-Benz-trademark combination wipers/lights control stalk to the left of the steering wheel. It’s quite short, presumably to keep the fascia clear. As a result, the rear screen wiper switch is fiddly to operate. Coming on top of the assorted push/pull and twist movements required to operate the other functions, it’s a black mark on an otherwise attractive, spacious and well sorted cabin. A quality-made cabin, too. It will have to be, given the unforgiving suspension.
The one to buy
Mercedes A45 AMG
- 1991cc, turbocharged, 4 cylinders
- 360bhp @ 6000rpm
- 332 lb ft @ 2250-5000rpm
- 7-speed automatic
- 0-62mph in 4.6sec
- Top speed:
- 40.9mpg (combined)
- Road tax band:
- L 4292mm, W 1780mm, H 1433mm
Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG rivals
BMW M3 saloon (Click here for used BMW M3 prices on driving.co.uk)
Audi RS4 Avant (Click here for used Audi RS4 on driving.co.uk)
Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG (Click here for used Mercedes C63 on driving.co.uk)