A-Class performance star bites back

A performance and price advantage ensures Mercedes’ incredibly hot A45 hatchback has regained top-of-the-world status from a rival that bumped it down a peg three months ago.


A BOILING hot hatch stoush between Audi and Mercedes has now seen the star brand regain the upper hand with an updated edition delivering more punch than its rival at a slightly lower price.

The AMG 45, a famously feisty four-wheel-drive version of Benz’s A-Class family shopping basket with a temperament, kapow and soundtrack remarkably echoing those of 1980s’ and ‘90s’ world rally cars, is the smallest Mercedes model to be tuned by the brand’s AMG performance partner.

The 2016 edition now coming to New Zealand has, by dint of updates to its 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, gained enough of a power and torque increase to depose the similarly all-wheel-drive and hunkered Audi RS3 as the category’s king-hitter car, though in the key 0-100kmh chase it still gives away 0.1 seconds against the clock.

In respect to bang for buck, though, the Benz maintains the high ground despite a price increase.

Although a $3200 sticker lift for the racer is the largest attached to the updated A-Class cars, the $97,600 tag it now holds still remains $2600 short of what Audi NZ has been asking for the RS3 since it arrived in September.

What matters more to Benz and AMG, though, is that their beserk brick has been restored as the world’s most powerful hatchback – a title the original A45 held for two years but lost in 2014 when Audi’s second-generation RennSport A3 hit the market.

Audi knew just the man to make their RS3 a better belter: The engineer who brilliantly redeveloped their classic 2.5-litre five-cylinder was the bloke who’d developed the Mercedes’ monster mill.

However, AMG had other in-house talents to swing the pendulum back their way. A healthy 15kW/25Nm power and torque boost takes the A45’s peak output to 280kW and 475Nm – 10kW and 10Nm more than the Audi makes. The new A45’s arrival here means the RS3 held the top rung for just three months.

The engine enhancements allow the wee Benz to smash from zero to 100kmh in 4.2 seconds – 0.4 seconds faster than the outgoing model albeit still 0.1s behind the RS3. Part of the A45’s acceleration improvement is owed to revised gear ratios in the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Apart from elevated price, there’s the need to feed the wee beast a little more frequently as fuel burn also increases, rising from 6.9 litres per 100km to 7.3.

As before the grunt channels through Benz’s 4Matic four-wheel-drive, but now the A45 takes AMG’s version of Dynamic Select which includes an extra setting – race mode.

If that’s not enough to ensure an elevated profile, there’s the new ‘hero’ colour seen here – an eye-searing incandescent metallic green, Elbaite Green in Merc-speak.

 The hotshot and two other updated A-Class models, the A250 Sport 4Matic – originally $64,900, now $67,900 - and A200 petrol that has the most modest price lift, of just $1000, to sit at $55,900 now, are being driven in Australia today by motoring journalists, this writer included. However, the opportunity is on the proviso the attendees do not file stories about how they drive until Friday.

Also on the New Zealand menu are a $48,600 A180, with the same 1.6-litre turbo petrol as the A200, but in a lower state of tune – with 90kW and 200Nm against 115kW and 200Nm – and the sole diesel. The A200d has a 2.1-litre turbo engine making 100kW and 300Nm and costs $55,900, also a $1000 increase. Those outputs are unchanged from the previous cars.

This generation of A-Class said goodbye to quirky mini-MPV looks, a high seating position and safe but uninspiring driving and hello to ground-hugging shapely sports coupe style, an equally low-slung spot at the wheel and a sharpened dynamic side.

Mercedes said in 2013 that it was prepared to risk bidding auf wiedersehen to old fans, but that didn’t seem to happen. The A-Class has maintained status as a core model, though with 72 mainstream models sold in 2015 – plus 34 A45s – it does not come close to threatening the brand’s top-selling passenger model, the C-Class.

Unveiled at the Frankfurt motor show in September, the facelift in visual respect is about subtlety: It delivers small styling changes around the nose and tail, including Mercedes’ diamond-cut grille treatment and new LED high-performance headlamps.

The price increases are substantiated, Mercedes Benz says, by substantial equipment enhancements.

The A-Class has always well outfitted, but only now do all models get Mercedes’ Dynamic Select driving system that adjusts engine, transmission, suspension, steering and air-conditioning according to four modes – Comfort, Sport, Eco and Individual.

The system includes adaptive dampers, allowing 

drivers to choose between a number of settings, including comfort and sport.

Safety systems include drowsiness detection, nine airbags, pre-safe collision preparation, blind spot detection, lane keeping, autonomous braking and an active bonnet. 

Even though the A-Class is the most affordable vehicle in the Mercedes range, it becomes the first member of the three-pointed star line-up to get Apple CarPlay. There is no mention of Android Auto. Other internal revisions are an updated “tubular design” instrument cluster with new graphics and revised dash switches.The A45 also features a Dynamic Plus system to further sharpen dynamics. This includes a locking front differential that aids fast acceleration out of bends. It has 19-inch alloy wheels, AMG heated sports seats, sporty exhaust, sat-nav and adaptive cruise control as standard.

The second most powerful member of the line up, the A250 Sport, also gets a performance increase, gaining 5kW of power, to 160kW, while torque remains at 350Nm, and it’s the only other variant with increased fuel burn, albeit by just 0.1 litres per 100km. Other variants maintain their previous economies.