2020 Mercedes-AMG A 45 S review (video)

Yes, this is the most powerful hot hatch currently on the market. But is there more to the 2020 Mercedes-AMG A 45 S than sheer power? Surely it offers other, perhaps more rational and useable attributes? Let’s take a look.

As you’ve probably assumed, the A 45 S is the flagship A-Class. It’s based on the latest MFA2 platform like all other A-series models, accommodating both front- and all-wheel drive. However, unlike the regular A-Class this has had a heap of enhancements and major revisions done to it by the team over at AMG.

Obviously the main highlight is the installation of a heavily-boosted 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder engine. It generates a record-breaking 310kW and 500Nm. These sorts of figures are usually only seen in high-performance six- and even eight-cylinder engines. It’s nuts. All of that is sent through a fully variable all-wheel drive system called 4Matic+.

Now, you do need to fork out quite a bit of dosh for such bragging rights. Prices start from $94,900 (excluding on-roads), making it the most expensive hatchback on the market as well. But that’s also an attractive bragging right, isn’t it?

2020 Mercedes-AMG A 45 S – THE SPECS

Engine: 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder
Output: 310kW@6750rpm / 500Nm@5000-5250rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch auto
Drive type: All-wheel drive
Wheels: F & R: 19×8.5, 245/35
ANCAP: Five stars
Tare weight: 1629kg
Power-to-weight: 5.25:1 (kg:kW)
Official fuel economy: 8.9L/100km
Economy during test: 12.5L/100km
Fuel capacity/Type: 51L/98 RON

Power efficiency: 34.83kW:L/100km
0-60km/h: 2.09 seconds*
0-100km/h: 4.04 seconds*
0-200km/h: 13.89 seconds*
60-110km/h: 2.55 seconds*
1/4 mile: 12.18 seconds at 187.5km/h*
Max acceleration: 1.104g
100-0km/h braking: 2.84 seconds at 36.44 metres*
Max deceleration: -1.114g
Decibel at idle (/Sport mode): 46/51*
Peak decibel at 60-100km/h: 91*
Priced from: $94,900

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* Figures as tested by PerformanceDrive on the day. Factory claims may be different

2020 Mercedes-AMG A 45 S – THE PACKAGE

Mercedes-Benz interior designers should be called interior decorators, really, as this cabin is a work of art. It blends high-tech gadgets and classy elegance, beautifully. Check out the oval grab handles on the doors, and the wrap-over dash, along with the exquisite circular climate vents that feel like they’re cradled in hydraulics. It’s all very glamorous and inspiring, especially for this end of the market.

Well, the price of the A 45 S is high but we mean for the small, practical hatchback segment. However, there are some areas that we think deserve further refining. Those grab handles, for one. The inner sections are lined in very basic black plastic. We get it, this is good for durability, especially for such a high-traffic fixture. But even a light coating of rubber could improve the feel.

We also think the B-pillar deserves some kind of fabric lining, because as standard it’s just one huge, echoey plastic panel. When you release the seatbelt buckle it often retracts up and bashes into the panel, giving off the sound of a wine bottle being thrown into an empty wheelie bin. It’s not nice.

In other areas though the attention to detail is very high. The curved dash features a textured rubber finish, perhaps suitable for the passenger to cling onto during intense acceleration. Down below, the metallic climate control switches feel very exotic indeed, and the tiny glass buttons on the steering wheel and metal volume wheels operate with the delicacy of a precision instrument.

Passenger space is decent in the front, with a wide door opening providing easy access and exit. The seat height isn’t unnecessarily low either, and the relatively mild side bolsters on the front seats mean you can plonk yourself straight in without needing to line yourself up first. AMG does offer racier bucket seat options. And to be honest, we think if you’re a keen driver or interested in attending track days, it’s probably an option worth ticking as these standard items provide limited lateral support.

In our opinion the rear seat can be a bit cramped if the front passengers are above average height. Headroom is only satisfactory for this class, too. We love that Mercedes has brought across a pair of those intricate climate vents for the rear passengers, but we’re not sure why they’re painted black. There’s also a flip-out phone container and a pair of USB-C charging ports down below for added convenience.

Surprisingly, the boot measures the same 370L volume as all other A-Class models. Even the front-wheel drive models. That’s a great effort. If you flip down the rear seats it opens up to 1210L. This is a totally respectable capacity for a vehicle of this stature, and its intended purpose. There’s also a 12V socket in the boot wall and some handy netted pockets on the sides.

Overall, this is just as practical as any other hatchback in this class. When you factor that in with the bonkers, V8-like power, it becomes immediately evident that Mercedes does indeed have a sense of humour.

2020 Mercedes-AMG A 45 S – THE DRIVE

Let’s start with the engine. You might think it’s just a boosted version of the AMG A 35 2.0L turbo, or even just an enhanced build-up of the A 250 2.0L turbo. You’d be very wrong. This is completely different. It even comes with its own engine code, M139, and has been built under AMG’s ‘one man, one engine’ philosophy. Compared with the M260 engine found in the A 35, this uses a low compression ratio 9.0.1 instead of 10.5:1.

Take a look under the bonnet and you’ll see the exhaust manifold is positioned at the back. That’s because the engine configuration is rotated around 180 degrees in comparison to the A 35. Doing this allows for optimised air flow around the front end. Mercedes-AMG also says there are shorter distances and fewer diversions for ducting for both the intake and exhaust sides. We can’t help but wonder why not just apply this configuration to the A 35 then?

A massive turbocharger is applied (obviously), which features roller bearings for both the compressor and turbine sides, just like those on the top-spec AMG GT 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8. The twin-scroll unit spools up to 2.1 bar of pressure (30.5psi), managed via an electronically-controlled wastegate for maximum precision and response. The snail is cooled by both water and oil to optimise efficiency and durability.

Other measures that help to provide that epic power and torque include a two-stage injection system, with direct piezo injectors for the chambers and additional injectors for the intake manifold (port), while a clever variable Camtronic valvetrain system offers multiple camshaft profiles for the exhaust valves. Cleverly, there are short and long valve opening durations available, depending on the demands. In layman’s terms, it means great response low down and relentless top-end power.

Speaking of top end. This engine is a proper screamer if you want it to be. Take a listen to our 0-100 video below. If you squint your ears – somehow – it sounds like an actual race car. There’s that distinctive high-rev bellow. The redline cutoff is 7200rpm, which is huge in this day and age, and peak power is achieved at 6750pm. Peak torque is spread quite narrowly, between 5000-5250pm. But this, as AMG describes, is similar to a naturally aspirated sports car engine. Even so, it feels like there is a huge chunk of that 500Nm available from all parts of the rev range.

We couldn’t really detect any sort of concerning turbo-lag on test. During low revs the engine pulls hard and strong, quickly building momentum without struggle. That’s no doubt thanks to all of that engine tech. Even applying full throttle in D in the Comfort mode, it shows minimal delay. The transmission kicks back a couple of gears and the car immediately catapults forward like a determined predator.

Across the usual sprints on a private road we clocked a best 0-100km/h in just 4.04 seconds. We couldn’t quite match AMG’s claim of 3.9 seconds. However, with less fuel in the tank and on a cooler day, we see no reason to be suspicious of the 3.9 claim. In fact, with more testing we think it might even dip down to 3.8 or even 3.7. We also clocked 0-200km/h in an astonishing 13.89 seconds, and the 1/4 mile in 12.18 seconds at 187.5km/h.

According to our database of performance test results, these times place it in a very similar league to cars such as the Audi RS 5 Sportback (3.78, 13.81, 12.06@189.9), BMW M850i Gran Coupe (3.95, 13.08, 12.06@192.8), and Porsche Panamera GTS Sport Turismo (4.07, 14.39, 12.19@187.1). All of these cars are well over $100k. To be able to keep up with them in a little hatchback is a very cool accomplishment in our books.

It might be difficult to believe, but the handling of the new A 45 S is, in my opinion, even more impressive than that power and speed. I have driven the previous A45 around Sydney Motorsport Park (not as an official review test), and, frankly, the handling was pretty conservative and lacking a bit in emotion and excitement.

This is a completely different bag of pills. It does fun things you just wouldn’t expect it to do, like push the rear around corners almost like a rear-wheel drive. In the Sport or Sport+ driving modes, the suspension tightens up but remains playful and absorbent. There’s also some body roll, and dip and pitch under hard braking and throttle. Such characteristics allow you to manipulate how the vehicle tracks around a corner.

For example, if you’d prefer to throw it in and then apply loads of power just before the apex, it will cheerfully support that. And even kick the tail out slightly. If you’d rather take a slow-in, fast-out approach, it can facilitate that too and commit with the focus of a much sharper-edge car. It is super versatile and adaptable. And, above all, lots of fun.

Much of this is thanks to the new, fully variable 4Matic+ all-wheel drive system. It incorporates AMG Torque Control for the rear axle, which is kind of like a limited-slip differential. There’s even a Drift mode that apportions more engine torque to the rear axle so you can properly hang the tail out and slide using power.

You don’t have to worry about configuring loads of settings on the dash. Just use the little dial on the steering wheel to play around with the main modes while on the go, and it will sort everything out.

This isn’t a particularly light weight vehicle, with a tare mass of 1629kg. That translates to a power-to-weight ratio of 5.25kg:1kW, or about the same as a base Porsche 911. But considering the level of mechanical wizardry and the on-board luxury and advanced safety tech, some of the weight is justified. It certainly doesn’t feel heavy on the road. The massive power obviously means there is no hesitation pulling from corner to corner, either.

In normal conditions, it’s amazing how docile and obedient it can be. Aside from the common dual-clutch transmission complexities, slightly hesitating during very low speeds and stopping and starting, your grandmother could drive this and not suspect a thing. The suspension is sporty but very acceptable in Comfort mode, easily soaking up country roads and dips and bumps, while the engine behaves just like a normal 2.0L turbo; it’s not overly noisy or crackly, and there’s no applicable turbo-lag to worry about.

Fuel economy isn’t brilliant. The official average rating is 8.9L/100km, and the combined emissions rating is 202g/km. There are some six-cylinder engines out there that do better than this. For example, the 285kW/500Nm BMW M340i is rated at 7.7.L/100km and 177g/km, respectively. During our week, this example returned an average consumption of 12.5L/100km across about 600km of driving. But you can probably ignore our figure as we were having too much fun with the throttle.

2020 Mercedes-AMG A 45 S – THE VIDEOS

2020 Mercedes-AMG A 45 S – THE VERDICT

Mercedes-Benz could really boast about this car. It could have a bunch of marketing campaigns that push hard on the fact this is the most powerful hatch in the world and all of that. But like the company itself, it doesn’t really make a huge deal about such things. It could even go on about how it invented the car, applying badges and logos all around its vehicles saying something like, ‘Mercedes-Benz. Established cars in 1886.’

But it doesn’t, and we really like that. That’s a similar philosophy we get from this car. In this specification, with the grey paint and no crazy spoilers, it is unassuming and modest. The driving experience can also be very casual and civilised, providing good comfort and satisfying luxury. Yet, above all this, it has the potential to conquer mountain roads and race tracks like much higher calibre machinery. In that sense it is a superb hot hatch; an all-rounder with exceptional dynamic abilities.

PROS:
– Handling versatility is just as if not more impressive than the engine
– The engine power and incredible acceleration, obviously
– Complying ride quality
– Very snazzy interior design
– Just as practical as regular A-Class (aside from fuel economy)

CONS:
– Fancy interior is a bit delicate and lacking in quality in some areas
– Touch-pad controller can be touchy/frustrating
– 1629kg makes it heaviest of main rivals

As always, if you’re thinking about buying a new car don’t forget to click here to speak with our car buying specialists.

Brett is the editor and founder of PerformanceDrive. He's obsessed with driving, having played with Matchbox cars until he was tall enough to drive a real one. After initially working as a mechanic, Brett earned a degree in journalism and entered media as an editorial assistant at Top Gear Australia magazine. He then worked at CarAdvice. His dream is to live next door to the Nurburgring in Germany.