Rarely have I seen a car get so much attention than the new Mercedes Benz AMG A45S AMG. And for good reasons. It is the most powerful two-litre four cylinder in a production car, and a clever four wheel drive system makes this package very appealing. A price tag of over 80’000 € with a few options will get your feets cold though. After a short experience with the first generation a few years ago, it was time to see what this second generation top-of-the-line Mercedes Benz A-Class was all about. Text: Mickael B. Photos: Thomas Z.

Mercedes-Benz AMG A45S W177 Rear
Mercedes-Benz AMG A45S (W177)

The mighty Golf R was the king of hot hatches

I didn’t keep a very fond memory of the first generation A45 AMG I drove. Maybe I didn’t spend enough time to experience it at its full potential, but all I remember was understeer, and a sound which was too fake. Too much pops, bangs and “ratatatatat”. The exterior was good looking but not tremendous, and the interior finish was on a good level but nothing compared to what you got in an Audi RS3 and a whole world apart from this generation. Plus, it was already the most expensive car of the hot hatch lot, and was missing some fun factor.

With 380 horsepower, it had a ludicrous amount of ponies, which meant it was tricky to put them on the ground, and when it did, it was always overloading the front wheels, thanks to a traditional Haldex architecture which could only distribute up to 50% of the torque to the rear. In practice, it meant you would end up hitting a wall, and that the mighty Golf R was still the king of hot hatches, in my opinion (Link here). The BMW M140i was a less sensible option on paper, although being the only option if you wanted a rear-wheel drive or six cylinder hatchback, but it turned out to be more comfortable actually. But, the Volkswaagen was just more exploitable, more usable, and more fun in the end, specially if you got it with the manual gearbox.

Mercedes-Benz AMG A45S W177 M139 Engine
Mercedes-Benz AMG A45S (W177) M139 Engine

The new Mercedes Benz A-Class is a great looking hatchback. The best one there is?

My hopes for this second generation of Mercedes Benz AMG A45S were high. Excellent impressions of the already very appealing A35 AMG (see our review here: link) had opened my appetite for its big sister. The A35 and more generally this new generation of A-Class proved that Stuttgart’s oldest car manufacturer had not only improved their best selling model, but taken a huge leap forward. The chassis, transmission, gearbox, interior finish and features had been saluted by everyone who had the chance of getting their hands on one of these. It’s not difficult to see why.

First, aesthetically, the new A-Class is a great looking hatchback. Maybe, even the best looking one there is, specially when you compare it to its rivals like the new 1 Series BMW, or VW Golf 8. The A35 adds a few more sportiness elements, with bigger air intakes, and dual AMG exhaust, but it’s the A45 which really makes it stand out, thanks to its Pan Americana grille, even wider air intakes, wide arches, 19 inch wheels and quad rear exhaust. If you get the aerodynamic package, available on both the A35 and the A45 here in Switzerland, you will get a few air diffusers on the front, and a big spoiler on the back to ensure everybody know you just don’t have your neighbor’s diesel A200.

Ventilated seats on an A-Class? Yes. Welcome to 2020.

On the interior though, both the A35 and the A45 are the same. In some countries you can’t get the lightweight bucket sports seats with the less powerful AMG A-Class, but in most countries they remain available as optional extras. I love the new AMG leather and microfiber steering wheel with the driving mode selector switch, the same you can find on now all cars coming out with Affalterbach’s most famous manufacturer badge. There have been some debate if this was good that a 200’000+ € Mercedes-Benz AMG GT63S should really have the same steering wheel than a 45’000 € AMG A-Class, but in my opinion this does not really matter, as I fully agree with the approach for keeping the same visual identity throughout the AMG range, both on the exterior side with quad exhausts, Pan Americana grille, and on the inside with the unmistakable AMG steering wheel.

Next items that I really loved in this new W177 A45S AMG were the lightweight bucket seats which offer amazing lateral grip while still keeping a good comfort level, and the two 10+ inch wide screens, which you get as standard in all A-Class now. These two screens were introduced in the W222 S-Class back in 2014 and seeing them on the entry level Mercedes a few years later is fairly impressive. Oh and did I mention that the A-Class has ventilated seats as an optional extra? Yes. Ventilated seats. On an A-Class. Welcome to 2020. I really hope the next gen gets the massage seats! The cabin of the W177 is simply the best I have seen in any recent hatchbacks, miles ahead of any of its rivals.

Mercedes-Benz AMG A45S W177 Interior
Mercedes-Benz AMG A45S (W177)

More power than an Audi R8 4.2 or an E39 M5. Impressive.

While the aesthetical differences both from outside and inside between the A45 and the A35 can be considered minor, under the skin, the A45, especially in this S version has nothing to do with its smaller sister. The A35 is not a real AMG. Only the A45 follows the tradition of one man, one engine famous to Affalterbach’s manufacturer. Both engines from the 35 and the 45 might have the same capacity but that’s about where their similarities stop. The A45S engine, codename M139 develops 421 horsepower. More than an Audi R8 4.2. More than an E39 M5. In an A-Class. Let that sink in.

The engine is mounted transversally but 180 degrees from the A35, with the intake up front for better cooling and turbo far back. Talking about the turbocharger, this turbine takes 160000+ rpms to throw a 2.1 bar boost pressure down the cylinder shafts, which have received a nano coating patented by Mercedes-Benz in Formula One. Impressive. To transmit all this power and torque – 500 Nm of it – the Mercedes Benz AMG A45S uses (finally!) a dual clutch DCT eight speed gearbox. The power is distributed through a specific set-up of Mercedes-Benz now well known 4Matic Plus all wheel drive transmission. The A45S still uses a – similar to Haldex – system to split power between front and back, but has a pair of clutches on the rear axle to be able to split additionally between right and left rear wheels. Sounds familiar? You would be right, as this configuration has been used in the last generation Ford Focus RS.

Mercedes-Benz AMG A45S W177 Front
Mercedes-Benz AMG A45S (W177)

It’s so complicated it makes me want to read its user manual

Now all this sounds very promising, but how is it once you get behind the steering wheel and drive it? Press the start engine button with one of the paddles pressed and you’ll activate Mercedes Benz Emotion Start, a way to turn on your A45S with some pops and bangs, which might sound ridiculous, but at least will remind you you’re not driving a standard A-Class, if the AMG logo on the steering wheel did not give you a hint of that already. Press the gear lever behind the steering wheel to switch to Drive, and off you go. As you drive along in Comfort mode through town and highway, the A45S makes it very easy, thanks to a plethora of driving assistances, heads-up display, cameras, and a general cockpit which is absolutely thrilling to live in.

If you’re a nerdy geek though. There are so many displays, and ways to configure them, that anyone above the age of 50 should not consider this car. It’s that complicated that I would actually like to read the user manual to understand how much possibilities they are. That’s how bad it is. Because I’ve never, ever wanted to read a user manual, apart from this one. The steering is one of the strong points of this car. It has a great weight, it’s precise and gives you just the right amount of feedback you’d want not to be too hard and not to be too direct specially while driving on your daily commute.  Only negative item I noticed at that point were the Michelin Sport 4 tires, which, although they are fantastic and offer huge performance on all weather conditions, can prove to be a little bit too noisy.

Mercedes-Benz AMG A45S W177 Rims
Mercedes-Benz AMG A45S (W177) Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres and 6 piston caliper brakes

If there’s one critical option to tick it’s the adaptive dampers.

There are a lot of driving modes in this Mercedes Benz AMG A45S. Slippery for snow or rain, Individual, so that you can pick your favorite settings from the different elements (engine response, gearbox, suspension, exhaust), Comfort, Sport, Sport+, and Race. Sport and Sport+ are the ones I would recommend using once you get on the open. While driving on backcountry Swiss roads, the A45S never proved to be uncomfortable, even with the sport bucket seats and the suspension set at its firmest setting, thanks to the adaptive dampers. That’s the critical option which you should strongly consider if buying an A45S. It really helps the car in giving the additional ride comfort that was missing on the previous generation and which is so practical for your day to day driving, while providing the same firmer setting once you want to feel more of the road.

Even if the car is heavy, weighing over 1600 kg, the body roll is very well controlled, and the steering seems very well suited for a hot hatchback. Then there’s the way it accelerates. I remember a few years ago when I tested the Mark 7 Golf R which was under 5 seconds to 100 km/h I thought we had already reached an incredible performance level, with super-hatchbacks which followed a few years later like the Audi RS3. The new gearbox is as well part of the party trick of this new AMG A45S. We’ve seen improvements with Mercedes gearbox in the past few years, and the positive trend seems to continue, thanks to this dual-clutch eight speed offering great comfort in automatic mode, fast transitions while you upshift. On the downshift though, I’d wish it was slightly quicker.

Mercedes-Benz AMG A45S W177 Doors Open
Mercedes-Benz AMG A45S (W177)

This car is basically faster than most mid-engine supercars from the 2000s.

The new A45S AMG just inaugurated a new class, from a whole new generation of hatchbacks. Put the car in race mode. Left foot on the brake, right foot on the accelerator. Race start activated, the car activates its launch control program. The engine maintains its revs around 4500 rpm at peak torque. Take your left foot off the brake, and you get the whole load of the 500 Nm of torque coming at you at once, and with these sports bucket seats, you have no way to escape them. Torque and power are so overwhelming even for this four wheel drive system that you will have a light tail-wagging while getting off the line. In a hatchback. 4 seconds later and you’re already over 100 km/h. Welcome to the hyper-hatch!

This car is basically faster than most mid-engine supercars from the beginning of the millennium. It’s almost as fast as the not so old (2015) AMG GTS. It’s as fast to 100 miles per hour (160 km/h) than a base 992 Carrera. Let’s just reflect on that for a while. Sh**. Sometimes I really hope technology should maybe evolve slower, and this is one instance. Electric cars have made high performance affordable thanks to the Tesla Model 3, but petrol engines have not said their last word. Thanks to more gears, marvels from the latest generation turbos, and more and more effective four-wheel drive transmissions, even small hatchbacks like this can now put down levels of performance unprecedented for. Anyday. Anytime. In any weather conditions. With your two kids in the back, your wife upfront, and the – compressed – groceries in the boot of your A-Class Mercedes Benz.

Mercedes-Benz AMG A45S W177 Turbo 4Matic+
Mercedes-Benz AMG A45S (W177)

AMG Torque control? A way to wrap turns quicker than you should.

Then there is the way this thing corners. The 4Matic Plus transmission, although bearing the same name as the one in the E63, is slightly different. Mercedes Benz still says that it can fully distribute power and torque from front to rear (up to 100% to the rear, and 50% to the front) but as well between left and right tyre on the rear axle thanks to the AMG Torque Control. Although, you cannot lock completely and deactivate the rear axle as you can in the E63, and that’s a pity. The behavior of the Mercedes Benz AMG A45S, specially as you push it through corners, is quite surprising at first. Thanks to its rear wheel drive predominant drivetrain and to the torque vectoring, the car tends to wrap turns, lowering torque on the inside rear wheel and increasing it on the outside to twist the car faster than it would normally.

What’s the result? Something that all last-generation Ford Focus RS owners know too well, and that you need time to process as this seems very artificial at first. Is it really artificial though? I believe the issue is that we’re just not used to it, just as rear-steering wheels on the latest Renault Megane RS, Porsche 911s or Ferrari 812, but given the number of cars going for these solutions nowadays to increase performance driving behavior, it’s just a matter of time before we find it completely normal. It provides a new level of cornering performance for modern cars, which is really helpful since their straight line performance is increasing so much, year after year.

Mercedes-Benz AMG A45S W177 Air vents
Mercedes-Benz AMG A45S (W177) Interior Vents

To understeer or not to understeer. That is the question.

Now, the tricky question. The one everybody’s been wanting to ask since this car came around. Is there understeer? I’m not gonna lie to you. Yes, there is. Not to the point though that Chris Harris made it sound like at first on his famous instagram post about this car. But there is some, specially if you get in a corner too fast, and keep overloading the front wheels. It’s miles away from RS3 understeer level though, and nothing compared to the first generation A45. Enter a turn at the right speed, and then push it, you’ll have the rear wheels helping to twist the car and you’ll end up being able to accelerate much sooner in the corner than any other hatchback. The behavior’s closer to a Subaru Impreza or a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo than a city compact car. Just as those Japanese rally racers, this car’s good with brute force.

Very good with it, in fact. If you’re in the right driving mode (Sport Plus or Race), with the ESP at least just even partially deactivated, you’ll even find some genuine power oversteer, something we’ve been used on AMG cars, but new in the A-Class. The only thing disturbing is that to maintain this oversteer, which you can increase even further thanks to the car’s Drift mode, you will need to keep your right foot down – as normal – but the steering wheel in the turn rather than counter-steering. In fact, as soon as you start giving it some opposite lock, AMG Torque Control’s will do its thing: react instantaneously, thinking you want to go in the other direction slowing down the inside rear wheel and stopping the oversteer. Not artificial did I say previously? Okay, maybe a little bit.

Mercedes-Benz AMG A45S W177 Trunk
Mercedes-Benz AMG A45S (W177)

It’s one of the best sounding 4 cylinders there is

Then there’s the sound. Yes, it is augmented. No it’s not virtual like on the F10 BMW M5. Here, a microphone in the exhaust pipes streams the live sound inside the cabin for increased driving pleasure while leaving your neighbors alone. Good compromise? I think so. Even with the exhaust valve system opened in Sport Plus or Race, the engine is pretty tamed, thanks to the new OPF filters and noise limit EU regulations. If you’ve driven a previous generation A45 AMG especially, prepare to be very disappointed. That aside, it is in my opinion one of the best sounding 4 cylinders, if not the best, moreover when you compare it to Porsche’s 2 liter engine from the 718 Cayman and Boxster, and even offering better sound than what I experienced with the 5 cylinders MY2020 Audi RS3, even from outside.

The gearbox helps with some slight pops on upshift, but you can imagine with the level of boost this car has, you’re gonna hear a lot of air, and that is true, although there is no Group B turbo whistle inspired sound. Let’s wait and see what aftermarket solutions will come up for this car, specially Akrapovic which did already very good work on the less powerful A35 AMG. After hearing so much turbos, you look down, see how fast you’re going, become aware that you need to slow down, and luckily, the Mercedes Benz AMG A45 S has very good brakes, with 6 pistons upfront instead of 4 on the A35, and as you have in the back. They offer very good braking performance, which is needed given how fast this car is, and they did not fade during our whole test drive, but please note we weren’t on a race-track.

It has the kind of soul you’d expect if Porsche made a hatchback

Is it fun though? This is THE tough question for me. The one that I’ve been wondering since over two weeks how I was gonna answer it. The A45S is on such a new level of performance for a hatchback, on an other planet which I’ve never experienced before that it makes it really difficult to answer this question. It’s just so fast for a car this size, it’s difficult to experience its limits. And that’s my issue. I have fun when I get tyres squealing. Throw a Golf R or an Audi S1 at a corner and as you lose traction, you’ll get a playful, predictable behavior – and you don’t need great speed to achieve it. The Mercedes Benz AMG A45S is so much more efficient, that you’d need tremendous speed or be an absolute idiot to start reaching its limits, specially thanks to that clever torque vectoring. Given it has a drift mode, you could just do this all the time, but it would be illegal on the road.

All this efficiency makes it very surprising and pleasant at first, but in the end you’re wishing it would be a little bit more crazy, a little bit more fun. The A45S is an easily rewarding and highly enjoyable ride, but I believe it probably takes more to enjoy it at its fullest than the road legal limits. It’s not the kind of car you can hoon around and expect to giggle about. The level of grip and sheer performance are just unseen, and in a way, it has the kind of soul you’d expect if Porsche made a hatchback, but it does not have the fun attribute you’d want in a hatchback. And I think this exactly illustrates my point. I don’t believe this new A-Class AMG is a hatchback anymore.

Mercedes-Benz AMG A45S W177 Front
Mercedes-Benz AMG A45S (W177)

The Mercedes Benz AMG A45S is an exceptional all-rounder car

The A45 S introduces us to hyper-hatches. A new level of car that has more in common with supercars, yet offers practicality like a standard 5 door commuter, and drools with geeky assistances. Would I buy one? To be honest, I’m seriously considering it, given the W177 Mercedes Benz AMG A45S makes a truly exceptional all rounder car. It might not be as extreme as the Megane Trophy-R, might not be as comfortable as an Audi RS3, might not be as fun and as involving as an M2 Competition, but it’s one of the most complete value propositions I’ve seen in the past years. A pricey one, that said. You’d have to spend over 100’000 € for a fully optioned one. But it’s a proposition that changes the game of what we think was achievable for hatchbacks, one that pushes the physics boundaries and the way we drive. And for that alone, we need to be thankful to Mercedes Benz AMG.

For more information on the Mercedes-Benz AMG A45S, please visit your local Mercedes-Benz website.

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