Mercedes-AMG A 45 review
AMG takes the standard Mercedes A-Class and turns it into a fire-breathing 4WD hyper hatch - the Mercedes-AMG A 45
In the race for the world's fastest hatchback, the Mercedes-AMG A 45 is one of the fastest five-doors on sale. It battles for the number 1 spot with the likes of the Audi RS3 Sportback and Ford Focus RS, and Mercedes-Benz has revised the car's specs over time to keep it at the top of the tree.
From the outside, the A 45's black detailing isn't much different from the AMG Line trim level found on regular petrol and diesel variants of the A-Class. But under the bonnet lies a 2.0-litre engine that's rated at 381 bhp, up from 355bhp when it was first launched in 2013. Used to its full, that equates to a 0-60mph time of 4.2 seconds, which is supercar quick. It's helped by the standard-fit seven-speed DCT twin-clutch semi-automatic gearbox, which is linked to a full-time four-wheel-drive transmission (there's no manual option).
Elsewhere, you get a premium interior that's got a decent amount of kit, including sat-nav and parking sensors, although Merc still offers a long list of options, including an AMG-branded bodykit, sports exhaust and adaptive dampers. That's fine, but when you consider that the standard A 45 starts at nearly £41,000, it would be easy to spec one up to a price in excess of £50k.
As well as the standard model, Mercedes also offers special editions with exclusive trim finishes. Models like the Yellow Night Edition don't add speed or performance, but will give the A 45 an exclusive look to help them stand out.
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Rivals for the A 45 include the Audi RS3 Sportback, the Ford Focus RS and Volkswagen Golf R. Of these three, the Focus RS is the most entertaining driver's car, plus it undercuts the A 45 by about £10k on price.
Other turbo 4WD models to consider are the Subaru WRX STi, while the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 is the saloon sibling of the A 45, which can also be had as a Shooting Brake for more boot space. If you want a more involving drive, then the BMW M2 Coupe is worth a look, while the M140i and M240i hatch and coupe both offer rear-wheel drive thrills for less money.
The Mercedes-AMG A 45 is one of the fastest hot hatchbacks money can buy. It was the first performance car from Mercedes' AMG division to use a 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder engine and four-wheel drive, and this Audi RS3 Sportback rival offers searing pace in a compact package. All-weather traction is great, while the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox delivers razor-sharp changes for effortless cross-country sprints
However, the A 45 isn't the best handling hyper hatch on sale, and prices are high. Even the entry-level car is over £40,000 – but you get what you pay for. Quality is first rate, and of course there's that all-important Mercedes badge on the nose. The Ford Focus RS offers a more engaging driving experience for less money, but the A 45 is faster...
Engines, performance and drive
As you’d expect for a car wearing the AMG badge, the A 45 delivers scintillating performance. Helped by four-wheel drive and launch control it will rocket from 0-62mph in just 4.2 seconds, the mini Mercedes feels viciously fast through the gears.
On the road, if you keep the revs high, the A 45 really flies. On paper it's even faster than a Volkswagen Golf R or Audi RS3, though there's little to seperate them driving back-to-back. The Ford Focus RS is more playful, but for ultimate bragging rights, the Merc takes gold.
Happily, the uprated chassis is more than a match for the engine’s explosive performance. The suspension is lowered and stiffened, resulting in rock-solid body control, while the 4MATIC all-wheel-drive transmission delivers limpet-like traction, even in slippery conditions.
The AMG Dynamic Plus package adds a limited-slip differential that helps the A 45’s nose claw the tarmac on the exit of turns. But the car just doesn’t offer such fun balance and isn’t as adjustable on the throttle as a Focus RS.
The steering doesn’t offer huge amounts of feedback, either, but it’s precise and well weighted. As a result, the Mercedes is a devastatingly fast point-to-point machine that carries huge speed through a series of corners.
The price you pay for this incredible agility is an extremely firm ride. Only since the car's facelift has the AMG been made available with adaptive dampers. These do help somewhat, but the standard passive units are stiff at low speed and a little fidgety on motorways. On the plus side, there’s very little wind noise, while a tall top gear keeps the engine revs at a relaxed 1,800rpm at 70mph.
Mercedes-AMG A 45 buyers only get one engine to choose from, but quite the engine it is. The turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder gets a mammoth 376bhp and a considerable 475Nm of torque, pulling strongly right through the rev range.
It'll do 0-62mph in just 4.2 seconds and hit an electronically limited 155mph. The slightly less powerful Audi RS3 takes a tenth of a second longer, while the much cheaper – but almost as fast – Ford Focus RS completes the benchmark sprint in 4.7 seconds.
MPG, CO2 and Running Costs
With standard stop/start and emissions of 162g/km the A 45 is impressively clean for a car that produces more than 350bhp.
Cleaner than the BMW M140i (179g/km), the Merc sits three tax brackets lower, although its high price tag means the cheaper BMW will cost company car drivers similar amounts of tax. An Audi RS3 – with its potent five-cylinder engine emits 189g/km.
Mercedes offer monthly direct debit fixed price-servicing deals, which make it easier to budget for maintenance, while private buyers can take heart from the fact the AMG should hold on to 53.4 per cent of its value after three years.
However, watch out for the massive options list, as getting carried away here can easily add £10k to the bill and you won’t recover that expenditure come part-exchange time.
Insurance groups start at 44 for the entry-level Mercedes-AMG A 45, while the Premium specification sits one group higher. Both the Ford Focus RS and Audi RS3 fall into group 40 – so no matter which super hatch you go for, insurance premiums will be high.
The A 45 will retain between 48 and 50 per cent of its value after three years, which is impressive regardless of make, model or engine. This is a highly sought-after market, though, and most rivals can match – if not beat – at A 45's depreciation numbers. A BMW M140i, for example, retains between 48 and 50 per cent, while an Audi RS3 blows it out the park by holding on to 57 per cent of its value after three years. Most other A-Class models will keep around 42-45 per cent.
Interior, design and technology
If you’re looking to attract attention, the Mercedes probably won't be at the top of your shopping list. While the standard A-Class turns heads with its bold styling, the AMG fades into the background somewhat, and could easily be mistaken for a humble A180 diesel.
That said, all cars get a subtle bodykit, twin-exit exhausts and 18-inch alloys. It’s possible to opt for the expensive AMG aerodynamic Package, which adds a large carbon fibre tailgate spoiler and front splitter if you really want to be noticed.
The sporty makeover is more obvious inside, where you’ll find AMG branding for the dials, heavily bolstered sports seats, floor mats and illuminated kick plates. However, unlike some pricier AMG models, you’ll have to pay extra for the tactile metal gearshift paddles and bespoke gear selector.
Highlights of the standard A-Class interior include circular, metal-rimmed vents for the air-conditioning and the tablet-style infotainment screen mounted on top of the dashboard. And while some of the plastic trim doesn’t feel quite as upmarket as its rivals’, the A 45’s cabin is solidly built.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
All cars come with the standard car's iPad-style screen bolted to the dash, with the familiar Mercedes infotainment interface. It's trickier to use than BMW's brilliant iDrive system, and the sat-nav graphic leave a little to be desired. That said, the rest of the dash it wonderfully laid out with high-quality materials and decently weighted switchgear.
The COMAND online sat-nav system is about £1,000, but the eight-inch screen’s graphics are still low res. There’s no touchscreen capability, although the rotary controller is easy to use.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Given its relatively humble hatchback roots, it’s no surprise to find the A 45 delivers decent practicality. The interior is roomy, there’s plenty of useful storage and the boot matches the VW Golf R for carrying capacity, offering a solid 341 litres.
Yet while the AMG almost equals the Golf for rear seat space, the combination of shallow windows, high-backed front seats and dark interior trim means the cabin feels a little claustrophobic, with limited legroom. Also, the steeply raked roofline results in a low door opening, making it hard to load and unload children into their child seats.
The compact rear isn’t a problem for occupants sitting in the front, but the thick A-pillars have the potential to cause dangerous blindspots at junctions and roundabouts. Thick C-pillars mean rear visibility isn’t great, either.
The beauty of a hot hatchback is that they're just as easy to live with as their lesser-powered siblings on a day-to-day basis. In terms of size, the A 45 sits in the same class as the Audi RS3, BMW M140i and Ford Focus RS.
It's the shortest of the lot, yet wider than all three. This gives the A-Class a squat look, but can make it slightly harder to manoeuvre in tight city streets. Visibility isn't great, and if you spend a lot of time in town, a Golf R might suit your needs better.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
The A 45 loses nothing to its diesel siblings in terms of head and leg room, but that's not necessarily a good thing. The back feels quite cramped due to the sloping roofline, while the small rear windows make it quite dark in the back. Leg room isn't bad, but you'll struggle to fit three across the bench for longer journeys.
The 341-litre boot isn't great in the family hatchback class, but it far surpasses the space on offer in an Audi RS3. The Audi's load area shrinks from 380 litres (in the normal A3) to 280 litres thanks to a complex diff and relocated battery, while the A 45's boot remains the same despite the extra power.
The boot in the AMG A45 is exactly the same size as it is in the A 200 d. Fold the seats flat and you'll reveal a 1,157-litre load space.
Reliability and Safety
The latest A-Class didn't do very well in our Driver Power owner satisfaction survey – placing 86th out of 200 cars in our 2016 round-up, but some of the brand’s other models put in a strong performance. The C-Class finished a respectable 43rd, though key rivals like the Audi A3 managed a solid 47th-place finish. The dealers didn't fare too favourably, either, finishing behind Lexus, Jaguar and Porsche – but ahead of BMW and Audi.
Mercedes has a hard won reputation for safety, so it’s no surprise the A-Class received a five-star Euro NCAP rating. Every model gets seven airbags, stability control, adaptive brake lights that flash during emergency braking and Attention Assist that monitors the driver for signs of fatigue. Further safety kit enhancements to the AMG include upgraded brakes and four-wheel drive.
The Mercedes-AMG A 45 comes with a three-year unlimited mileage warranty. There are plenty of dealers dotted around the country, too, so keeping your hot hatch in check should be relatively straight forward. You can extend this for extra cost.
Mercedes recommends servicing your A-Class every year or every 10,000 miles, whichever comes sooner. A major check-up is recommended at around 18,000 miles and two years. There is a good service plan with several different payment options.