Car Reviews

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.

RMP_0193

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.

 RMP_9947

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.

RMP_9984

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.

RMP_0001 (3)

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.

RMP_9999

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.

back-A45
Boot, under the boot floor (no spare tyre), cargo net by passenger footwell.

 

RMP_9974
First aid kit, 12v socket with cover, strong tie-down points, child restraint sensibly located, another storage net. Good work, Mercedes.

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:

  RMP_9954

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.

RMP_0016
The headrest isn’t adjustable, but everything else is! One difference between expensive cars and standard cars is a seat memory function.

Then we come to the infotainment system. Here is the important photograph:

RMP_9969

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.

RMP_0009
The airvents are opened and closed by a rotating the X shape in the vent, a nice little touch. You can browse the web…painfully slowly and only when stopped. That bit is pointless, but the Internet connectivity via WiFi hotspot is also used for online Mercedes information.

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. 

RMP_9992

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.

IMG_0057

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.

RMP_9962

The car is also highly customisable. You can even set the colour of the mood lighting.

RMP_0040

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.

RMP_9968

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 engine

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:

a45_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: 

RMP_0038

Drivetrain

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.

RMP_0011

Traction systems

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.

Transmission

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.

Drive modes

The A45 has the following driving modes:

  • Comfort
  • Sport
  • Sport+
  • Race
  • Individual

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:

RMP_0037

The drive mode controller is shown below. Twist to select, and the result is confirmed on the dash screens.

IMG_0062

RMP_9960

OK, so that’s what the car has. Here’s how it performs:

Around town: The A45 is an easy, comfortable car to drive around town. While the sophisticated electronic systems are quite capable of subtly and gently correcting even the slightest traction loss, the car’s grip is such that their capabilities are never really required. The exhaust has two settings; normal and “who is that hoon over there?” Even in the normal setting there’s a pleasant burble that never gets old, and the occasional, muted, crackle and snap when you decelerate. There’s also a brilliant reversing camera with moveable guidines and two view settings:
 
rev-camera-AMG-A45
 
Making it even harder to crash are front and rear parking sensors with audio warnings. Unfortunately, the front sensor readout is pretty much blocked by the display screen for most drivers, but the ones at the rear can be seen in the rear view mirror. This is pointless as you’re better off using your wingmirrors and the reversing camera.
 
A45-sensors
 
Noticeable in the left image above is the fact the car is moving forwards slowly, yet the reversing camera is still active. That’s good, it saves constant switching on/off. There is also a little icon of the car in the bottom-right showing what you’re about to hit; see the yellow outline on the front left of the icon?
 
Also on the parking front, the self-park system is easy to use and as effective as these things get, which means that anyone with half-decent parking skills can do a better job more quickly. The electronic parkbrake is somewhat hidden on the right side of the steering wheel, and like most of them, releases automatically when you drive off.
 
The glide mode is not noticeable unless you are looking at the rev counter. Your driving instructor told you never to coast in neutral and that advice holds true, but as the Mercedes can instantly shift back into gear it’s actually not a control or safety issue. The A45’s claimed fuel consumption is 7.3L/100km, but we never got even remotely close to that even allowing for spirited driving. We returned more like 9 to 10, which makes the 56L tank seem a little small. 
 
The previous model received some criticism about its ride, but I’m happy to report no such concerns on the 2016 version. Yes, it’s firm but it’s by no means uncomfortable. The Sport suspension setting makes little difference.
 
But it’s not all good news. You may think that the AMG would be an agile zip-in, zip-out fun machine. It’s not. Sure, it has as much power as yesterday’s supercars, but the problem is accessibility. It simply lacks the immediacy of throttle response that is a big part of why the likes of the Toyota 86, MX-5 2.0L manual and Suzuki Swift Sport are such low-speed delights. Sure, once the car has decided to set off the scenery will blur, but you shouldn’t need to wait. There are four driving modes and it’s better as you move from Comfort through Sport to Race, but you shouldn’t need Race mode which basically means the car doesn’t much let the revs drop below 4000rpm and you feel like a hoon who got a lucky ticket and swapped his ’90s Commodore for a new car…suburban roads are not where the AMG’s talents can shine.
 
RMP_0142
 

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.

RMP_0247

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.

RMP_9965
Parkbrake on, auto stop/start not enabled, and the adaptive cruise control – DISTRONIC PLUS (yes, it has to be ALL CAPITALS because Mercedes) with its following distance on. The car is also in Comfort mode.

Safety

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:

RMP_9972

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.

There are two options for the AMG A45:
  • 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.

AMG-aero

Colours red, white and black cost no extra; the six other options are an extra $1190.
 
It’s not often that a top-of-the-range car can be referred to as a value buy, but I think it’s fair to describe the AMG A45 as a bargain. It’s got yesterdays-supercar performance and a long list of usable, luxury features.
 
The Dynamic Select Pack isn’t much extra and is of questionable value. A tyre pressure monitoring system is always handy, especially when you’re running expensive, thin tyres on expensive 19″ wheels and there’s no spare tyre. The limited slip differential is effective, but you’ll need to drive the car extremely hard to notice it. The aerodyanmics package would have no effect on the road, and only a minute effect on the racetrack so it is really cosmetic only.
Unsurprisingly, the A45 is not rated to tow anything.
 
RMP_0223

Related links

 

Find the best demonstrator car deals for Practical Motoring readers around Australia on our Live Deals website. 


Subscribe
Notify of
guest
4 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
FrugalOne
FrugalOne
4 years ago

Lost me at 98 octane and no spare wheel..

LR
LR
4 years ago
Reply to  FrugalOne

I’m surprised he didn’t lose you at $77,990 if these are your biggest concerns.

Why would you want to put anything less than 98 in the car? If you put 95 in it, you lose 10-15% of of power- you may as well buy something with 15% less power from the factory and save yourself the money.

Buy a car that runs on E10 you tight ass, leave performance cars to people who will invest the money to take car of them.

Robert Pepper
4 years ago
Reply to  LR

High performance engines run 95 or 98. They have to these days and the target market doesn’t mind the tradeoff. Same for the spare wheel.

McF1
McF1
4 years ago

A great comprehensive review; what would be the percentage rating for the A45?
A terrific video showing how Mercede’s deal with safety requirements for it’s self-centering transmission selector. It is interesting to see that Chrysler/Jeep is now updating it’s software to be as what Mercedes had done from the very start; from another web site “..software update will take a few hours to perform. After that the transmission will automatically shift to Park if the driver’s side door is opened, the driver’s seatbelt is unbuckled and the vehicle is stopped or moving slowly…”.
The A45 AMG packaging is very different from the usual prestige car packaging which is to have an extensive option list (the metallic paint is standard on the A45, and it’s impressive that it has a standard memory seat specification). This is one of the big differences between the Audi RS3 and A45. The RS3 list price is only about $1,000 more than the A45, but to reach the A45 package the Audi’s option list needs to be ticked numerous times which may easily add another $10,000 to it’s price.
On the subject of options, with the new Porsche Boxster, the reversing camera is an option; very disappointing. At the local Porsche dealer the Boxster with some options was $155,098 drive-away, and the Boxster S was $184,151. In the scheme of things as in the article, “…..I think it’s fair to describe the AMG A45 as a bargain.”
It’s good that the review refers to the passenger. This is something that the designers of the Audi TT had forgotten about with it’s very neat looking interior, which has no centre display. Audi has also done the same with the new R8. In regards to centre displays the looks of the sat-nav system in the Mini is fantastic.

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper