IN case you hadn’t noticed, Mercedes-Benz has transformed its strange wedge-shaped and conservative little A-Class into one of the most stylish cars around.
Gone is the unspeakably dull styling and comfort-focused setup of old. Instead the A-Class has been replaced by a car which couldn’t be more different. It’s more exciting, dynamic and sporty and it feels younger. Which is good because with the A-Class and its coupé sibling, the CLA, Mercedes is aiming to attract the kind of wealthy bright young things who would previously only ever have sat inside a Mercedes if their granddad had been driving it.
Now enter the A45 AMG, the scorchingly hot A-Class which has been tuned by Mercedes’ performance arm AMG. And my word, it’s fast. Its official 0-62mph time is just 4.6 seconds. That’s absurdly quick, even by the standards of its worthy competitors. It’s not only the quickest A-Class ever made, it’s also the most powerful hot hatch on sale. Its 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged engine has the most powerful four-cylinder engine in production and delivers a whopping 360bhp.
The previous A-Class was notoriously wobbly and underwhelming to drive – this is the opposite. Firstly, unlike other A-Class models, it has four-wheel drive so it’s fantastically grippy. In normal driving the A45 is front wheel-driven only but, should you need it, the four-wheel drive system can send up to half of the power to the rear wheels. So the moment you let loose on back country roads, the system kicks in to ensure you remain in contact with the asphalt.
The A45 has been tweaked, too, in terms of a vastly upgraded suspension and brakes. This results in a car that delivers blistering performance and excellent handling. But if there is anything that confirms this is a car aimed at younger drivers, it’s how firm the ride is. This is not a car for people with back problems.
As there’s no manual version you can only choose to have eight-speed automatic transmission. But as it’s combined with so much power, it’s not surprising that progress is fast and effortless. On the motorway it’s terrifically easy to sail towards triple figures when you’ve got a clear lane ahead of you and fantastically difficult to resist the temptation not to.
The car’s still at home at slower speeds – I was almost as comfortable crawling through city traffic in its embracing, if firm and sporty, bucket seats, though you’ll want to take it easy over speed bumps. It’s easy to drive, too, and not remotely tiring around town. Although, like so many cars recently, visibility out of the rear is compromised by the exciting external body shape.
It’s a striking car inside, too, with carbon fibre-like dash and trim details and scarlet seatbelts, as well as a stubby flat-bottomed, three-spoke steering wheel and cold, metal paddle shifters and MMI dial in the centre console. I was less convinced by the dials on the instrument cluster which look cheap for this class of car, nor the rather OTT raft of red air vents that are tad closer to gauche than classy.
This car is brilliant fun to drive, there’s no doubt about it. There is quite a lot of road noise though and the motor doesn’t quite deliver the throaty roar you might expect from such a beast of an engine. But the figures look surprisingly frugal for a car with this much chutzpah – you’d have to amble around like a nun to achieve the official average consumption of 40.9mpg. CO2 emissions are also comparatively good at 161g/km.
If you’re considering the A45 AMG, then you need to ask yourself: do you have the spare cash to justify the £15,000 price hike over the other “mortal” A-Class models, and is this A45 AMG worth more of your money over its competitors?
My advice? Test drive all of them. You’ll have a blast.
THE FACTS: MERCEDES-BENZ A45 AMG
0-62MPH: 4.6 secs
TOP SPEED: 155mph
CO2 G/KM: 161g/km
MPG COMBINED: 40.9mpg
DESIGN Four Stars
PERFORMANCE Five Stars
PRACTICALITY Three Stars
VALUE FOR MONEY Two Stars