It’s faster, feistier, and a lot more comfortable. But is the more complete Mercedes A45 AMG still the king of hot hatches?
WHAT IS IT?
An update for the flagship model of the most affordable Mercedes-Benz range, the Mercedes-Benz A-Class. And a very quick compact car that is also the most affordable AMG.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
The flagship A45 has been facelifted, and as well as minor stying revisions gets significant tweaks to the driving experience. Have they improved it, or has it lost its edge?
BMW M135i and M235i, Audi RS3, Volkswagen Golf R
THE WHEELS VERDICT
The formula hasn’t changed but the execution has, for the reigning hot hatch king.
PLUS: Fiery four-cylinder turbo; all-paw traction; great turn-in and grip; attention to detail
MINUS: Tight rear seat; power rules over torque; launch control could launch harder
THE WHEELS REVIEW
MERCEDES AMG product planners knew they had such a good thing with the A45 AMG that they told engineers not to worry about more power for the facelifted model, which has just gone on sale in Europe.
The 265kW/450Nm was plenty, they had decided, and worked well in the car that has been hot-hatch hot property since it went on sale late in 2013.
But in the quest to sharpen the gear shifts from the standard seven-speed auto, engineers also took the time to revise the ratios. And they found a few more neddies as well. Power and torque still lead the class, now at 280kW and 475Nm.
AMG says the engine is tapped out, and any future performance gains will be incremental.
Still, it's a mighty whack from a hatchback that at its more affordable and sedate end - the A180 for Australia - kicks off the Mercedes-Benz lineup.
Engage the A45's launch control and it scrambles to 100km/h in 4.2 seconds. That's Porsche 911 territory - in a city hatchback.
So it's a feisty device, and one that can elicit an equally feisty exhaust note to back up its riotous performance.
In its most sedate, Comfort, mode the exhaust is bassy but otherwise lacking character. Throttle response, too, is borderline languid, and the gearbox quickly relaxes into upper ratios unless you're brutal with your right foot.
But engage Sport or Sport+ and the exhaust fires into a symphony of blaring upshifts and lift-off burbles backed up with the occasional crack. Gear shifts too are more purposeful, especially the aggressive downshifts when rushing into a bend.
A blat along a German autobahn reinforced the fiery nature of the 2.0 turbo, still building speed relentlessly as the needle tickled past 200km/h.
But it's the chassis that's had the biggest forward leap for the A45 AMG. It's now available with adjustable dampers, with the aim of quelling the stiff ride that robbed the diminutive five-door of comfort on anything but smooth hotmix.
The result is a car that's compliant and refined at pace: infinitely easier to live with, yet with beautiful control. High speed bumps lurch the compact hatchback body momentarily before it’s capably caught to press on.
Excellent front-end grip translates to crisp turn-in, although the A will ultimately push wide at its nose. Yet it’s still playful on the throttle: lift off on a sweeping bend and the tail gradually glides wide.
The short suspension travel and sporty focus means it’ll rock and roll at low speeds. And if you dial up the Sport+ or Race settings the bone jarring is back, good only for a track attack.
The launch control, teamed with the four-wheel drive system, goes a long way to delivering that wild initial acceleration. It doesn’t engage with the neck-whipping ferociousness of some, though.
Another minor gripe is the minor wind noise off the A-pillars at 100km/h-plus.
Inside there's not much new, aside from the chunky steering wheel and a new 8.0-inch Apple-esque screen artistically grafted to the dash. A quintet of circular air vents with metallic highlights set the scene for a modern, detailed dash that's topped off with a carbon fibre-inspired matte material and red highlights, right down to the stitching.
Storage is still a letdown, with the cupholders the most obvious home for a phone. The rear seats, too, are tight for head and leg room, best left to the littlies. Yet there's a split-fold rear seat and netting under the parcel shelf, in a rare hint of practicality.
None of which will be a turnoff to the target buyers. It’s fast, loads of fun and occasionally wilfully frenetic. Yep, the A45 still nails the hot hatch brief, for those prepared to fork out close to $80k. Only now it’s a lot easier to live with when you’re not on a hot lap.
Engine: 1991cc 4cyl turbo
Max power: 280kW @ 6000rpm
Max torque: 475Nm @ 2250-5000rpm
Transmission: 7-speed auto
Kerb weight: 1480kg0-100km/h: 4.2sec
Price: $78,000 (estimated)
On sale: Early 2016
Click here to read the full range review of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class.