I have a sharp tongue for making fun of Mercedes Benz. I was born near BMWs, so this is a natural consequence.
When we talk about the duel between inhouse tunners of such manufacturers, AMG and ///M, the jokes reached a whole new level. In general, I used to love making fun of the automatic gearboxes and lack of feel in the old days’ AMGs. By 2008, however, things took a turn.
It was when I was acquainted with the C63 AMG. For the first time I could say that I had a good time driving a Benz. A new starting ground for AMG was created. Not only the cars were very powerful, now they had personality and character. A couple of years later, a good friend handled me the keys to his SLS and, although I was not a huge fan of the car’s dynamics, I still remember to this day how emotional the Gullwing mordern reincarnation felt.
The curious thing about AMG since 2008 is that each new product shows that improving is mandatory. If in the early 2000’s and through the 90’s words such as “precision”, “feel”, “responsiveness” and “emotion” were absent from AMG’s engineers vocabulary, nowadays the manufacturer has gone a different path. If BMW used to make fun of the Benz’s 6.2 V8 naturally aspirated with its highly emotional 5.0 V10, in the turbocharger era, there is no denying that AMG has the nod with its 5.5 V8 twin turbo.
Call it downsizing, efficiency… whatever you want it, when Mercedes AMG announced its newest entry product, equipped with a small turbocharged 4 cylinder engine, you had to be a little skeptical. The brand notoriously known for its big displacement engines is now entering Honda and VW territory? When you threw in the equation the infamous A Class name, you had the perfect recipe for disaster. Luckily, I was so wrong.
ENGINE AND GEARBOX
The A45 AMG comes with a 2.0, 4 cylinder, turbocharged engine. VW and Audi have played in this territory for as long as I can remember. Some lunatic at AMG must have thought that it would be cool to have the most powerful 4 cylinder engine in the world to ever leave a line of production. The resuts are incredible – around 355 Hp and 45,8 Kgfm of torque.
Back in the day, let’s say 5 years ago, this was kind of the aftermarket tunner’s erotic dream – having such a small engine with so much power and no reliability issues. Nowadays, this means a normal and regular production car onboard the A45 AMG. It drives as if it was a normal Mercedes, until you put the pedal to the metal.
Mercedes AMG says that the gearbox is an automated double clutch called AMG Speedshift DCT. You can opt between 3 driving modes: (i) the “eco-boring”; (ii) Sport, for those with some intimacy with the manual gear changes; and (iii) the Manual per se. For the first time in an AMG, manual gear changes are genuinely good, the paddles behind the wheel have the smallest lag I have ever seen in these cars. In the SLS, for instance, your better chance at performing was leaving the gearbox to work on its own and refrain from making any inputs yourself.
During upshifts the gearbox is quite fast on the driver’s commands. During downshifts, some German engineer must have woken up in a bad mood – the paddle will only respond once revs go below 4000 rpm. I am not going to say that it is on the same level of the BMW’s DCT or Porsche’s PDK, but it is good. It does not compromise the experience.
CHASSIS, TRACTION AND SUSPENSION
AMG never hid the fact their cars were a bit heavy, however, the inhouse tunner is really trying to improve this aspect (BMW, are you listenning?). When you put in the equation: all wheel drive + double clutch gearbox + AMG, you would expect another “fat” ass. Curiously, Mercedes says that the A45 AMG weights about 1.5 tons. In modern days of all electronics you can get, a car below 1.6 ton deserves a huge praise; and the A45 is agile and very nimble on its feet.
But that is not all. Mercedes has done an impressive job with the A45’s suspension and chassi. The car I drove came with 19″ wheels (optional). Leaving your A45 AMG in “comfort” setting will result in a car that handles irregularities on the road really well. Bumps that would made your Mini Cooper cry for its mom will be taken with a lot of refinement by the Benz.
If you decide to spicy things up a bit and select the more agressive driving modes, the suspension will become stiffer, but not bordering impractical. Together will AWD, the A45 finds astonishing grip under all conditons. You can certainly note that this car is the result of miles of development at the Nurburgring, something you would usually expect from a BMW. The car really entertains those in search for the b-road adrenaline.
As I left the driveway in comfort mode, everything was so Mercedes-ish, very comfortable and silent. The suspension gave hints that it was a sport car, since it was a little more shaky than in an usual Benz. Gear changes very subtle and gentle. Light steering. Really versatile. Firm seats, but comfotable. Interior fit and finish really sporty, with carbon fibre applications.
As soon as the first open space cleared up, sport mode turned on…
Without thinking, my right foot went down, the instruments jumped. The A45 sky rocketed through the first 3 gears. I was trying to find hints of turbo lag in such a small engine, but was not able to find any. Grip and more grip… traction… traction a little more. I wish I could say it reminded me of a Subaru, but it is nothing like it at all. The car is very well put together – gearbox, steering, suspension and chassi all talk really well to each other. It is such an efficient manner to cut through traffic, going from point A to B, so competent and efficient! At each upshift I hear bursts coming from the exhaust… really agressive, but a bit artificial (as it is indeed). These bursts actually make up for a very good substitute for the V8 growl from the bigger brothers.
Launch control time (race start) is so damn cool. The A45’s jump is really stupid. Hard to explain with words. It is among the greatest feelings you can get from a launch control. It is so strong that you feel the wheels will jump out of the car and leave the rest behind.
Let’s see how this baby corners. My friend is at the steering wheel first and I see him point to the left and feed some throttle. The car stays put in the corner line. At that point I thought that he must had lift off a bit. A couple of minutes later, it was my time to do the same. As I approached the corner, I was waiting for the electronic babysitters to jump in and tell how much of a bad boy I was, but nothing showed. The car is so perfectly balanced.
I really had to put an effort to make the A45 understeer. The car is really neutral in most daily conditions. Definitely worth of the go-kart trophy. My friend told me this – when pushing its boundaries, the A45 will understeer, but in the roads where I tested it, the only thing I could focus on was how precisely the car took the turns. It is really that sharp. Who would have thought an AMG could behave like this?
Although it was a brief test, it was enough to surprise me. If future AMGs will follow this path, competitors need to move their asses. Long gone are the days when we could make fun of AMGs lack of precision. If the A45 AMG’s gearbox will be the pattern from now on, the experience will be much more involving. I can only wonder how much good this gearbox would have been in the SLS.
The A45 AMG is likely to be the most competent hot hatch I have ever driven. This “little thing” is fast for standards above its own category. It is seriously quick not only compared to other hatches. It will give serious sport cars a run for their money. Until about 100 mph, it will hold its own against competitors that cost the double of the price.
AWD is a must nowadays. I cannot see a car such as the A45 AMG as a RWD, for instance. It is sad, but not all of us (including me) are super heroes behind the wheel, with pilot sharp reflexes and skills. This brings me to a comparison which some of you who know the car may relate to – the A45 AMG is like a scale down version of the Nissan GTR.
Maybe this is the only deffect I can find in the car. It does everything so well with the help of traction and electronics that there is no denying that the driver is kind of left out of the equation. Just brake, point and turn. Not to say that the A45 AMG is not a driver’s car, but I guess that for the idiots like me the combination of rear wheel drive and a manual gearbox still sounds for tempting (cof… cof… BMW 1M…). You will not behave like an idiot behind the wheel of an A45 AMG, you will be fast, but I bet you will not laugh your ass as much as you would onboard a BMW.
Aside from the above, I still feel the steering wheel could be a little less light. Other than this, it is hard to find problems with the A45 AMG. It is that good.
In much aspects it is really close in proposal to the discontinued BMW 1M and the Audi RS3. The BMW is a different atmosfere in terms of experience. Compared to the Audi, it is as if the Benz picked up all that was wrong with the RS3 and made it better and faster.