Mid-life revisions make A45 the king of the hot hatch castle ENGINE 1991cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo / POWER 280kW @ 6000rpm / TORQUE 475Nm @ 2250-5000rpm / WEIGHT 1480kg / 0-100KM/H 4.2sec (claimed) / PRICE $78,000 (est) ERCEDES' A-Class has been a polarising car – if extremely popular – and no model more so than the performancefocused A45. Upon its 2013 release it set new standards for hot hatch performance, but its uncompromising ride, extrovert visuals and raucous soundtrack made it an acquired taste.
In preparing the 2016 mid-cycle update, due to hit local showrooms in December 2015, Mercedes aimed to address some of these issues.
Some of the more prosaic concerns like cramped rear accommodation, poor rear-three-quarter visibility and narrow access to the boot are architectural, unable to be changed until an all-new model arrives, but new equipment and substantial changes to the chassis promise to have a considerable effect on the dynamics of AMG's hyper hatch.
That said, the extra 15kW and 25Nm extracted from the A45's 2.0-litre turbo four is likely to capture most headlines, as it re-establishes it at the top of the hot hatch food chain. Audi's M RS3 (see p32) enjoyed a brief moment in the sun, but the updated A45 shades it to the tune of 10kW, 10Nm and 0.1sec from 0-100km/h, the Mercedes completing the sprint in a barely believable 4.2sec thanks to its Race Start program.
Top speed is limited to 250km/h, or 270km/h with the optional Driver's Package, and high-speed in-gear acceleration is improved thanks to AMG shortening the top four ratios in the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox.
Such improvements are, of course, irrelevant in Australia unless you head to the racetrack, but plenty of owners will and that's where we find ourselves, the EuroSpeedway Lausitz in Eastern Germany the host for the updated A45's international launch.
Initially, the relationship is a cool one. With racing legend and AMG ambassador Bernd Schneider setting the pace in an AMG GT, I struggle to connect with the A45. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but there's too much understeer, unfamiliar handling traits, inappropriate gear ratios and the general experience is one of disconnect.
Back in the pits I ask Schneider for a few laps riding shotgun and what follows is an eye-opening demonstration of the A45's abilities – if you drive it correctly. "This car requires a different technique and its own rhythm," says the German ace.
"To make it shine, you must be very hard on the brakes and dial in really radical steering angles."
Thus enlightened, the afternoon offers a much more satisfying experience. Braking is an A45 strong suit, its four-piston front calipers biting large 350mm discs and putting the tenacious grip of the 235/35 R19 tyres to good use. So that's braking nailed, but what about these radical steering angles?
With arms crossed mid-corner the throttle pedal remains deeply mashed into the footwell as the engine reaches max torque. In a conventional rear-driver such as the AMG GT this technique would have you pointing the way you came before you could say "uncontrollable spin", but in the A45 AMG it pulls you into the corner
Grip and grunt; improved ride and handling
Still a fairly frenetic experience
with vigour and then thrusts you out past the apex. That’s the effect of all-wheel drive and torque vectoring, which shuffles the power to the appropriate wheel at the appropriate moment and leaves the driver looking like a hero.
There's no denying the technique is slightly unconventional. While hugging apexes remains essential, steady throttle while adding more and more steering lock delivers the required effect. It sounds cruel, and a front-wheel drive A-Class driven in this manner would probably shred its tyres in 10 laps, but the A45 hangs in there thanks to the delicate and pragmatic torque distribution.
Our circuit cars came fully loaded with the Dynamic Plus pack, which adds Ride Control two-stage adaptive dampers, Race mode with reduced ESP intervention, quicker shifts and a more responsive throttle as well as a mechanical front limited-slip differential. The former two features will be standard on Australian cars, but the diff will be optional.
To be honest, without a standard car for comparison, the differences are difficult to detect, though shift lights or a head-up display would help stop the driver running into the rev limiter at inopportune moments while changing gear in manual mode.
Leaving the track for public roads, the adaptive dampers have improved but not transformed the ride, the A45 AMG struggling with patchwork surfaces. Those 19-inch wheels certainly must shoulder some of the blame, though through dips and crests the rebound damping is harsher than expected. Other minor gripes centre around certain aspects of the Dynamic Select drive mode system, such as the coasting function only activating in Eco mode and the inability to separate engine and transmission modes – ie, a sharp throttle with a more relaxed gearshift.
The interior has had a slight refresh and has been brought up to speed in terms of connectivity, infotainment and ergonomics. The most notable changes have been the addition of the Dynamic Select controller and button for the adaptive dampers. On the outside the tweaks have been even more subtle, though the choice between introvert and extrovert remains thanks to the optional aerodynamic kit.
All in all, the A45 is likely to remain a bit of a Marmite car. Those that fell for the previous car's charms are likely to fall further under its spell, while those unconvinced by AMG's super-hatch are unlikely to be swayed by the updates.
In 280kW form the A45 is now once again top of the (exhaust) pops; its turbo engine is more brutal than ever before in terms of grunt and acoustic presence, the brakes are sensational and it sticks to the road as if it's driven through superglue.
Whether the improvements have been sufficient to give it the edge over the equally impressive hatchback offering from Ingolstadt, well, that's a question for a forthcoming issue. M