Car reviews - Mercedes-AMG - A45 - S
Supercar performance, F1-style fast DCT, improved ride, decisive handling, meaty steering, phenomenal grip, drive modes, track performance monitor, dash quality
Room for improvement
Some rack rattle through bumpy corners, road noise, occasional bumps still get through inside, flaky ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice command
A $100K hyper hatch that can harass a Porsche? Enter the Mercedes-AMG A45 S 4Matic+
23 Apr 2020
That was more than 20 years ago, because the ultimate version of the fourth-gen Benz baby has gone all superfly, with its cool threads, lairy looks and – most importantly – Defcon One 2.0-litre turbo wallop.
That’s the long and short of the Mercedes-AMG A45 S, the most super-hot hatch Australia has ever seen. Now available to own for an eye-searing $100K, is it actually that good? (Hint: yes!)
First drive impressions
Nowadays, there are tepid, warm and hot hatches, encompassing everything from an Abarth 500 to a Volkswagen Golf R. And then there is the latest Mercedes-AMG A45 S 4Matic+.
Superficially, you’d be forgiven thinking it’s just a tarted-up latest-gen A-Class, which has exorcised most of the previous version’s issues of patchy interior quality and poor rear-seat and cargo area packaging, but hasn’t blown us away as a definitively better proposition than the ageing Golf 7.5 or Audi A3.
The AMG flagship version, however, is something else entirely. As Mercedes-AMG CEO Tobias Moers puts it, “…we have completely redesigned our 45 models – from the engine and transmission through the chassis, the elaborately constructed drivetrain to the body structure and of course the design itself – all with one goal: to raise vehicle dynamics and the sporty driving experience to a level previously unimaginable in the compact class.”
Them’s fighting words indeed.
Stylistically, the designers have judged the AMG upgrades well, with details such as the vertical grille strakes, flared wheel arches accommodating the wide track stance and myriad spoilers, diffusers and aero aids providing very promising clues as to what lays beyond.
The same goes inside, which already benefits from the small-car world’s most alluring/brazen dashboard presentation, thanks to the dazzling MBUX multimedia system, variable digitised instrumentation, striking shades of back lighting and lashings of metallic and man-made microfibre materials.
In stark contrast to the previous A45, this cabin looks and largely feels like a million dollars. The quality uplift is real.
That there’s decent levels of legroom up front and actually-usable space for adults out back will be music to the ears for many ruing the old W176’s interior limitations.
Beware, however, that the body-hugging buckets – while comfy and supportive – are on the firm side; that vision out is hindered by high shoulder lines and fat pillars (thank goodness for surround-view cameras); that the chunky steering wheel’s remote controls are fiddly and even intimidating at first to get your head around; the column-mounted auto selector shifter is wildly at odds with the boyracer hyper-hatch image; and the ‘Hey, Mercedes!’ voice actuating system can be infuriatingly ignorant to some simple commands. Just try asking for Radio 3RRR.
Minor points all, however, because we’re here to drive what may be the world’s greatest-ever hatchback, certainly as far as performance is concerned.
Mr Moers’ M139 1991cc four-cylinder turbo petrol engine is, without a doubt, the heart and soul of the A45 S 4Matic+, providing a mesmerising, memorable experience that will stay with you long after you leave the car if you’re game enough.
Burbling enthusiastically at idle, in default ‘Comfort’ driving mode, the AMG hatch is reassuringly docile at regular urban speeds, providing measured, controlled and ultra-smooth progress without drivetrain clunkiness, transmission snatch or overall lumpiness – as you might expect of something wearing the Three-Pointed Star.
Where the M139’s talents shine is in its extraordinary ability to alter character in line with the driver’s moods and desires, be they delicate or devilish.
Even before selecting Sport, pivoting your right heel forward will immediately bring dramatic acceleration, accompanied by seamlessly swift ratio shifts that can be controlled manually via the excellent wheel-sited paddles; choose Sport and there’s an instantly obvious edge to the sound and speed that’s being summoned, accompanied by a definitive hardening of the chassis below; and going S+ is like adding Dolby stereophonics to the orchestral exhaust whilst simultaneously opening another floodgate of throttle thrust, for seriously and deliriously fast responses.
The magic here is that the official 3.9-second 0-100km/h time seems pessimistic (we recorded 3.81s), given the sheer bandwidth of power that’s available.
Up in the top end, nearing the 7000rpm red line, it feels as if there’s a house-falling-off-a-cliff well of torquey momentum to plunder.
The amount of muscle on offer is biblical for something as prosaic as a hatch, resulting in an endless hunger for speed if you just plant the pedal to the metal.
Of his own cars, Enzo Ferrari once said you pay for an engine and the rest is thrown in for free, and that springs to mind here too – if it wasn’t for the A45 S’ other magnetic talents.
Try, for instance, the towering braking ability – handy in a chassis that, come rain or shine, sticks to the chosen line through corners whether at incredibly high speeds or dawdling around like there’s a pesky cop following behind.
Or the speed-dependent steering that might be a little weighty dawdling around town for some but firms up beautifully and is always whip-smart precise without erring into nervousness when you’re hammering along.
Tenacious grip and reassuring control when you need it, yet with built-in play when you want that too.
That the Merc offers Race and Drift modes that suspend most or all of the traction safeties for tyre-smoking and/or tail-wagging shenanigans underlines the wide personality spectrum that’s been engineered inside the ultimate A-Class.
Sadly, in these times of Covid-19 limitations, raceway access wasn’t available.
Laser-guided ballistic the A45 S may be, but it isn’t perfect. While commendably compliant over most roads, the adaptive dampers don’t always keep the hard thuds crashing through inside.
There’s some rack rattle over craggier surfaces as well as occasional torque tug in damper conditions.
And on our coarse chip surfaces, the level of road-noise intrusion varies from droning to distracting at times. You can’t quite have it all, clearly.
So, what do we make of the Mercedes-AMG A45 S 4Matic+?
The name might sound like characters chosen randomly for an automated password, but the W177 pushes the hot-hatch game up into an entirely higher league, while palpably improving the ride comfort and cabin quality experience compared to the patchy old one. Job well done then, Mr Moers.
Pity it’s so expensive, but like Enzo might say, the engine alone is worth the price of entry.
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