Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - A-class - A45 AMG
Soundtrack, thrust, level of equipment, style, AWD grip, massive brakes
Room for improvement
Transmission’s occasional hesitancy to kick down, $75k isn’t cheap for a hatch (although nothing under $100k is its equal for speed)
29 Aug 2013
IF nothing else, the A45 AMG is dramatic.
How else do you describe a manic little AWD pocket rocket with a 265kW/450Nm 2.0-litre turbo that pops and barks near the rev limiter and a double-clutch transmission that upshifts with the sound of a dozen air rifles shot in tandem?It’s the world’s most powerful four-pot, one that outstrips the Mitsubishi Evo X, Subaru Impreza STI and Audi S3. The 0-100km/h dash is dispatched in 4.6 seconds - the sort of numbers a supercar from two generations ago would have been proud of.
Engage the race start launch control - put the transmission into manual mode, pull both paddle shifters, left-foot brake and boot the throttle - and it feels every bit as fast as Benz claims. The snap, crackle, pop audio accompaniment adds to the ambience.
But like a proper performance car, the devil is in the details. Peer into the cabin and you’re presented with body-hugging heated leather racing-style buckets, a flat-bottomed (and topped) suede wheel and oodles of faux carbon-fibre trim. Red dash highlights and belts complete the racer look.
From the outside, the 19-inch wheels add a hint of menace to the already chic exterior design. Add the $1990 bodykit option with a boy-racer rear spoiler and front flics and its resembles a WRC - though whether that’s a good thing for a Mercedes is up to you.
As with other AMGs - the next cheapest of which is twice the price - the A45 is loaded to the hilt with gear, including adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, adaptive headlights, a panoramic sunroof, satellite-navigation, internet access and a Harman Kardon premium sound system.
At $74,900, it’s a lot of bang for buck. But then, its BMW M135i arch rival (a rear-drive, six-cylinder) is $10,000 cheaper. Now there’s a hard purchasing decision if ever there was one. Though truth be told, they have two very different ideologies.
We drove the car over a mix of road and track. The former was ideal for sorting out any discrepancies in ride and noise, and the latter for adjustability and grip at the limit.
The 19-inch wheels with sticky Dunlop tyres, paired with all-wheel-drive grip when required (up to 50 per cent of torque can be re-directed from the front to the rear axle), stiffened springs and massive 350mm front/330mm rear ventilated brakes give more than an iota of surety.
It lacks the feel of a ‘pure’ rear-drive car in the twistiest stuff - its nose has a tendency to want to push wide - but a little lift-off will bring the tail around. Hold the foot flat and send maximum torque to the rear, and the car’s AWD traction comes to the fore - where a rear-drive car would be a (highly entertaining) challenge, the A45 isn’t. It’s more hot rod than playful.
The firm suspension never jars, but keeps the car tied down and bodyroll to a minimum. For $1990, Benz will firm this up by 20 per cent, which may add an extra level on track days, but may prove excessive for regular, jutted roads.
The electric steering system - as always, we must sound like broken records - lacks the mechanical feel of an old hydraulic system, but it’s well-weighted and responds instantaneously to inputs. The suede hand grips are a delight, as are the solid metallic paddles.
The drivetrain is brilliant at getting the power down too, combining with the linear turbo engine (what lag?) and incisive paddle shifter setup to punch out of corners like a bull from a gate.
Should you get bent out of shape, those massive anchors rein you in with alarming effectiveness, and after a half-day of heavy use showed no sign of any fading - despite emanating enough heat to roast a chicken.
On the public blacktop, the car behaves as expected. It rides firmly, but rarely booms or shudders with the regular suspension. The low-profile tyres send a fair boom through the cabin, but that again is ‘situation normal’ for the class.
The only fault we could find was an occasional hesitancy from the transmission in full auto mode to kick down a gear. No doubt, AMG has programmed the self-shifter this way to help economy - combined-cycle consumption is just 6.9 litres per 100km - but we caught the car out in too high a gear once or twice right at the desired moment of acceleration.
Potter around town in comfort mode and, bar the occasional corrugation in the road, you’ll be as happy as Larry. All this ensures the A45 AMG is a real chart-topper, with an appropriate sensory soundtrack.
No wonder the waiting list is six months.
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