2016 Mercedes-Benz AMG A45 review
Robert Pepper’s 2016 Mercedes-Benz AMG A45 review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and rating.
In a nutshell: The AMG A45 is three cars in one; practical hatch, hyper hatch and luxury car.
2016 Mercedes-Benz AMG A45 review
Price : from $77,900 (plus ORC), Dynamic Pack [ as tested ] $1900 option; Warranty : three-year, unlimited kilometres; Safety : five-star ANCAP 2016 (35.8 / 37); Engine : 2.0L 4-cyl petrol turbo, 280kW @ 6000 rpm, 475Nm @ 2250-5000rpm; Euro 6 emissions compliant; Transmission : seven-speed DCT automatic; all-wheel-drive; Body : 4367mm (L); 1780mm (W); 1417mm (H); wheelbase 2699mm; Turning Circle : 11.04m; 0-100: approx. 4.2 seconds; Top Speed : 270km/h; Seats : 5; Tare Weight : 1555kg (unladen); Towing : not rated; Fuel Tank : 56 litres; Spare : none; Thirst : 7.3L/100km ADR81/02 combined cycle; Fuel : petrol (98 RON)
THE FORMULA TO CREATE a hot hatch is simple. Stiffen, tune and lower the suspension, adding wider and lower profile tyres. Replace the seats, add various cosmetic garnishes inside and out, and increase power a bit.
Mercedes has more or less followed that recipe except I can only assume it made a mistake early on during the initial specification discussions. Somewhere in the Mercedes’ corporate HQ in Stuttgart there would have been a whiteboard session where the target specs for the new hot hatch were being decided, and everybody agreed 180kW would be adequate. Instead, the engineers accidentally wrote down “280kW” which is adequate in the same way that a fire truck is adequate to douse a match.
To put that power into perspective, the Ferrari 360 of 1999-2005 made 300kW with less torque… and both the F360 and A45 run 0-100km/h in 4.2 seconds, which for the AMG is an improvement of 0.4 seconds on the previous model.
Today, the average hot hatch is doing fine with 200kW, and the hot sedans like the Evo and WRX STi are around 225kW. That’s why the AMG A45 has defined its own class of hyper hatch, paralleling the likes of the McLaren P1, Ferrari LaFerrari and Porsche 918 which are hypercars, a step beyond mere supercars like the Ferrari 458. In the hatch world, only the Audi RS3 comes close with 270kW. But while the AMG-Mercedes/RS-Audi measurbator power battle is academically interesting for nerds, it is ultimately pointless because as we’ve argued before, mere specifications do not tell the whole story especially once you’re looking at sub-5 second 0-100 times.
So that is the background, and here is our test car, finished in a rather striking red and it comes with the $1900 Dynamic Pack, but not the $1392 Aerodynamics Pack.
Room & Practicality
The A45 is an expensive hatch, but you’re not just paying for the two badges. Everything is useful, liveable and stylish. All four windows are one-touch, there’s a storage net by the passenger’s feet, the centre console has a moveable lid and the drinks holder doesn’t get in the way of operating controls. There’s not a huge amount of storage compartments in the front, but there’s the usual and they’re all very practical – for example there’s carpet in the door pockets which helps stop things sliding around and making a noise. When we review a car sometimes it’s not what it does well, it’s the common mistakes it avoids and the A45s designers have pretty much got it right, as you’d expect for the outlay.
Into the second row and we find some decent space for the passengers, a 12v socket, and heating/cooling vents. Sadly, no storage pocket on the back of the seats. The rear seats are comfortable, except the centre which is usual for hatches, but especially so here because the AMG is an all-wheel-drive which means there’s a pronounced transmission tunnel in the centre.
If the red seatbelts are not to your taste, then black is an option. The fact the car is red is a coincidence, not by design.
An omission is a storage box in the second-row fold-down table. However, the table does reveal a door in the back of the seat which can be folded away to permit long items to poke through from the boot to the second row. The seats fold down in a 40/60 split.
The boot is well designed. There are two lights, one in the door and one in the boot, strong tie-downs and nets for securing things. The light in the boot door top even has a red component for safety, and there’s a pull-down handle too. This means you don’t need to get your hand dirty. Such are the little touches that mark out the great cars from the good cars. Even the removeable parcel shelf has a net underneath it.
On the inside
Everyone who saw it agreed the AMG is a beautiful, stylish car both inside and out. The front seats are particularly good:
They look the part, and are very adjustable with the exception of the headrests. Not only are there the usual seatback, angle and height adjustments, but look at the buttons on the side of the seat; those adjust the side-bolstering wings too. The seats also manage to provide a lot of support, yet are easy to slide in and out of. And to top it off, the steering wheel is reach and tilt adjustable. If you can’t get comfortable in the A45, it’s not the fault of the car…unless you’re tall, as our 6ft 2inch tester found there was insufficient headroom.
Then we come to the infotainment system. Here is the important photograph:
All the navigation, media, vehicle setup and other secondary options are controlled by that little dial (twist to select, press to confirm), combined with the * button to bring up a menu, and the back button next to it. The results are displayed on the screen mounted to the dash which looks detachable, and looks like a touchscreen, but it’s neither. Opinion varied about how the screen looked – “afterthought” was one comment – but personally, I liked it.
And everybody loved the dial/screen control system. These are so much more usable than the usual touchscreens found in too many cars these days. In fact, Mercedes have filled the cockpit of the A45 with buttons and dials, which is excellent, most excellent. This is because the controls can then be operated by touch without looking, unlike touchscreens which demand the driver look to operate.
There is a numeric keypad, and dedicated buttons for media, phone, nav and the like, all one-press easy to get to, no menus and scrolling. Some are duplicates of the steering wheel controls, but that’s no bad thing, allows the passenger to use them too. And we have simple, usable dials for heating and go up in degrees, not half degrees!
I have said this of Audi, and I’ll say it of Mercedes too; those two should be forced to loan their user interface design teams to the Japanese because their insistence on using mismatched touchsreens for everything is becoming a road safety issue as it increases driver distraction. And, ANCAP need to focus on usability as a prime road safety feature.
Yet for all its plethora of dials and buttons the Mercedes has a classy, good looking interior. All the colours are consistent, for example.
Another mark of a well designed car is that the centre dash display integrates with the main display; changing information in one place affects the other, and such is the case with the AMG. To some extent you can choose which information you want where. It’s not the best at such mixing of displays – the 2016 Prius comes to mind – but it’s much better than most.
There is one usability miss and that is the speedo, which goes to an unrealistic 320km/h, wasting space like so many other cars. But the real crime is that it’s hard to see where 70, 80 and 100km/h is. Fortunately, there is a digital speedometer but you might want to use the display for something other than showing speed.
The car is also highly customisable. You can even set the colour of the mood lighting.
Two USB ports in the centre console, again with carpeting. The second one is for smartphone integration; sadly, we ran out of time to investigate this feature.
There is also a large sunroof which lets a fair bit of light in. If you don’t like sunroofs you can’t option it out, but you wouldn’t otherwise know it’s there.
The owner’s manual for the car is part paper, part electronic and built into the car. The electronic part is easy enough to use except when you’re tapping out search keywords, but it is annoying that Mercedes decided to economise on a few pages and make their paper manual thinner. If they’re doing to do that, then make it accessible on the web as other manufacturers have done.
Performance, Ride and Handling
AMG A45 technical overview
Before we dissect how this car performs, some words on what driving tech it offers:
The A45 has a four-cylinder 2.0L turbocharged petrol engine running on 98RON fuel that produces a quite staggering 280kW of power and 475Nm of torque. Here is the output graph:
Yes, that is bizarre – the way the torque curve abruptly flattens is clearly the result of computer limiting. Still, the effect is a nice progressive power curve. If you’re interested in what the engine is doing then you can look at it here:
The transmission is a Haldex all-wheel-drive that Mercedes call 4MATIC. It is front-drive biased, typical of Haldex, and can distribute only up to 50% of torque to the rear wheels, so the car is never rear-biased. Immediately, purists are worried…but without pre-empting the driving part of this review, let me assure you the car never, ever feels front-drive. Trust me, I’d be all over it if there was a hint of torque steer or power-push understeer. I have to say this is the best Haldex unit I’ve tested so far, which to be honest isn’t saying much as most of them have been hopeless offroad and feel front-drivey on-road. That said, it never feels rear-drive either.
There is a computer-controlled clutch in the rear axle which determines how much torque, if any, is sent to the rear axle. Examples of torque split:
- Normal torque split (in all modes) -> 100:0 (front/rear)
- Full-load acceleration at approx. 50 km/h → 60:40
- Dynamic cornering under load → 50:50
- Exceeding the μ-jump limit (where left and right wheels have different traction) → 50:50
- Heavy braking with ABS intervention → 100:0
There is a “glide mode” where when coasting or braking the transmission is disconnected and the car idles…that would be 0:0, and is only available in Comfort mode. There is also a launch control function which didn’t work on test. That’s fine, such things are mere gimmicks anyway.
Tyres & Suspension
The tyres are Continental ContiSport 5p 235/35/19 asymmetric tread front and rear, and there is no spare. At least if you get a flat you can use the same tyre and wheel on any corner of the car, unlike those vehicles which run different sized tyres front to back and pair them with directional tyres. Asymmetric means the tread is not symmetrical; directional means the tyre is designed to work rotating forwards only.
The front dampers are twin-tubes, and the rear are monotube. This is unusual, as normally carmakers set one so they can blather on about the advantages of one or the other, but by using both Mercedes has (thankfully) missed the chance. The real trick to suspension is the skill of tuning, not so much which damper design is chosen. The A45’s suspension is adaptive, which means the dampers can be firmed or softened. Exactly how this is done I don’t know, and there are a few possibilities so I won’t speculate. There is a button to stiffen the suspension, but the car will adapt automatically anyway.
There are the usual electronic programmes such as ABS, EBD, brake traction control and engine traction control (explanation here). In the case of the AMG these are also proactive, which means they gently work before traction is lost to neutralise oversteer and understeer, as opposed to reactive, correcting after the fact.
The stability control system has three settings; on, sport and off. The sport mode increases the time taken for the system to intervene and reduces its correction. The off mode allows drifting, but sadly this road test did not include any such work.
An option is what Mercedes refer to as a “locking differential”, part of the Dynamic Select pack along with a tyre pressure monitoring system, but to call the diff “locking” is misleading. The term usually means a fully open differential can that can be locked so its differential function is eliminated, and both wheels on the axle are forced to rotate at the same speed. The most common use for such systems is in offroad vehicles, and indeed Mercedes use the term for their G-Class vehicles (coming soon to Australia, we hope).
Here’s what Mercedes say about the differential: “the mechanical AMG front axle locking differential improves traction in all driving situations and increases lateral dynamics. This is achieved by reducing the slip on the inside front wheel. So the front differential lock improves the traction through the optimisation of front left and right wheel”. That’s more an explanation of what it does than how it does it, but elsewhere they say it is a purely mechanical device.
From this we can conclude the front differential is actually a torque-biasing limited-slip differential, probably a helical unit similar to what’s in the front of the Mitsubishi Evolution Lancer (tech explanation here). That would make sense, as if the differential went from fully open to fully locked epic and instant understeer would be the result followed by an unscheduled test of the A45’s safety features. Nobody puts a locking differential as commonly understood in the front of a roadcar. I think the “locking” bit comes from the fact it probably could fully or nearly fully lock if needs be, not that it would normally do so. The rear differential is open, but of course under the control of the computers which vary braking pressure across the axle.
The transmission is a 7-speed DCT, or dual-clutch transmission. This means it doesn’t have an inefficient torque convertor but is a more direct, efficient drive and offers quicker gearshifts as in effect DCTs are like having two manual gearboxes, one for the odd gears, one for the evens, and both operated automatically. There is no way to shift manually unless you use the paddle shifts. In Race mode, the car will not shift up at redline but bounce off the limiter, telling you with a red flashing warning it is best to shift up.
The A45 has the following driving modes:
Frankly, that’s one mode too many, Mercedes succumbing to a bit of gimmickry that really should be beneath it. If there was a difference between Sport and Sport+ I couldn’t pick it. There is no Eco mode, unlike other Mercedes. These modes vary the:
- engine response – sensitivity to throttle
- gearshift points – the sportier modes hold gears for longer before changing up
- stability control calibration – stability control is always active, but its thresholds are slightly reduced
- suspension settings – either normal damping, or a slightly stiffer damping
- fuel efficiency settings – in all but Comfort the stop/start system is disabled, as is Glide mode (more on that later).
Each mode has a preset, but Individual allows you to choose what you want from the four configuration options:
The drive mode controller is shown below. Twist to select, and the result is confirmed on the dash screens.
OK, so that’s what the car has. Here’s how it performs:
On the open road: This is where the AMG does its best work. I can dip into the journalist’s filing cabinet of cliches, pull out the folder marked “grip” and any would be appropriate. Prodigious, limpet, rails…the AMG A45 is an amazing feat of engineering. The lack of immediacy doesn’t matter when you’re flowing through country roads and you have such rich reserves of propulsion on which to call. With seven speeds and that engine the car is always ready to pull, and pull hard once you’re into any of the three sport driving modes. It doesn’t matter too much which you choose, as the car adapts anyway, but you do notice more aggressive gearchanges in Race.
As around town, switching to the firmer suspension setting makes no significant difference. I’d argue that on the average country road a softer setting would be more advantageous, and ultra firm only worthwhile on the racetrack…and some would say the harsher suspension means less grip and therefore fun. Anyway, the car adapts its suspension settings for you, learning as you drive.
So we have grip, we have power, and those are two of the basics for pace. The third is control. Here again the A45 excels; brakes, steering and chassis balance are all in proportion, the car going exactly where its pointed with no complaint. The basic engineering is first class, but you can feel the real key to the car’s easy neutrality is electronic control, and this is where the compliments stop. For all its speed, the A45 removes the driver too far from the raw driving experience to be a true apex-lover’s car. It’s simply too easy and unrewarding. It will adjust mid corner, but it’s the car’s electronics doing it, not you, and such are the capabilities of this vehicle that public roads are not the place to explore limits.
It’s good then, that the AMG has another way to deliver a thrill and that is its ambience, presence and sense of occasion. The AMG, to my eye, has just enough subtle performance styling cues to mark it out, but there’s nothing vulgarly ostentatious. Most of my testers agreed, except Ms L who wanted a bigger wing as fitted to her own 2014 model. We shall agree to disagree.
Inside, the sense of occasion is continued. I could write words, but you’re better off just admiring the interior images. But the images can’t show you the best feature, which is the engine and exhaust note when doing its best work. Frankly the turbo 4-cylinder 2.0L sounds better than many V8s; angry deep-throated resonance rising in perfect pitch to revs, bursts of throttle on the downshifts punctuated with snaps, pops and crackles.
The A45’s attraction is the combination of its styling, interior and soundtrack, allied to its awesome pace and ease of use. It is an impressive package and one that is unlikely to lose its lustre as the months and years of ownership pass by.
It is an interesting contrast to another fast AWD car, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. The Evo is all about delivering traction and letting you decide what you do with it. The AMG delivers the traction, but helps you deal with it.
The AMG A45 has a 5-star ANCAP safety rating with 35.8 out of 37. It scores and 3 out of 3 points for bonuses awarded for SAT, or Safety Assist Technologies, of which it has an impressive array, most of which are well executed, so it is in fact much safer than many other 5 star cars.
There is a basic AEB system which detects objects ahead, warns the driver if impact is likely to result and helps slow the car down. There is lane keep assist, driver fatigue detection, blind spot indication, and the reversing camera/sensor system has been described above. The lane keep system is too subtle to be effective, the blind spot monitoring is excellent and we didn’t keep straight long enough to test the fatigue system.
The reversing camera is very clear, and has two views one of which has guidelines that move with the steering wheel.
There are lots of little safety touches like this:
In light of the recent Jeep issues with a return-to-centre transmission, we made a video showing how Mercedes deal with the same problem. ANCAP award no points for this sort of thing, but it is important nevertheless.
Pricing & Equipment
There is only one specification of AMG A45, the 2.0L 7-speed automatic for $77,900 plus onroads. No manual, no other engine…not that you’d want any other.
There are four other A-Classes ranging from the 90kW, front-wheel-drive A180 for $37,000 plus onroads, to the model just below the range-topping AMG A45 which is the A250 Sport 4MATIC, an all-wheel-drive hot hatch. Like the AMG, the A250 has a 2.0L turbo but only offers 160kW and 350Nm compared to the AMG’s 280/475. The A250 is $53,500 plus onroads. The big differences? The AMG runs 0-100km/h in 4.2 seconds, the A250 in 6.2 seconds. The A250 also uses 95RON fuel compared to the A45’s 98RON, and is a bit more fuel efficient at 6.3L/100km vs 7.3, no doubt due in part to weighing 100kg less at 1455kg.
- AMG Dynamic Select Pack. This comprises a tyre pressure moniotirng system and what Mercedes variously claim to be either a limited slip or locking differential at the front for an extra $1900 (see tech explanation above).
- AMG Aerodynamics Package. Rear wing, front splitter and front apron flics for $1392.
Here’s the car with the Aero package. Note the extra black wings front and rear.
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