A Star | Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG

BY Joel Tam

The A45 is Merc's entry-level AMG model. But there's nothing basic about this premium hot hatch at all.

Mercedes has produced the most powerful 2.0-litre-powered hatchback. The A45 pumps out 360 bhp and 450 Nm of torque from a turbocharged powerplant. That's quite a lot of juice. Which explains the need for its 4MATIC all-wheel drive system that helps it to effectively put all that power down onto the tarmac. More on how it drives later.

Let's take a look at this not-so-subtle Edition One-specced A45. With it's rear wing, side canards and matt black livery, this little car looks fast without even moving, if a little ostentatious. That said, without the Edition One add-ons, the A45 could pass off as a regular A-Class with a Sport kit. Only upon closer inspection, will you notice the "TURBO AMG" badges, the AMG radiator grille, and perhaps the larger front splitter and black exterior trimmings. One of the main differences though, is the lightweight 19-inch black AMG alloys and the bright red AMG calipers that peak through them. All of it fits nicely and work well to make the A45 look a tad bit more special, without overdoing it.

Take a peak inside, and the 'upgrades' are a bit more distinctive. The leather AMG seats by Recaro are exceptional. Electrically controlled and comfy to be cradled in, the seats exude quality and sportiness altogether. The carbon-fibre-look dashboard looks a bit like a decal wrap though. But once you run your fingers over it, you'll realize the soft material is of top quality. The AMG DRIVE UNIT is one main feature that separates this from the regular A-Class models. Surrounded in satin aluminum housing and wrapped in leather, it's more intuitive to use that the van-styled stalk Mercedes uses on most of their cars.

But the A45 is not merely about added style. The test of every AMG is the drive. That's where I'm happy to say that it passes with flying colours. Start the engine and it booms into life with an angry growl. Floor the throttle and the car will go, go, go and go! The A45 is blisteringly quick. Even in Comfort mode, this hot hatch will zip around effortlessly. Set it in the more aggressive Sport mode, and the car will feel like it's popped a couple of steroid pills. Sport mode also wakes the exhaust system up and shifts will be accompanied by growls and barking on the overruns.

It isn't laggy either. Despite requiring a large turbocharger to produce all that power, the car is surprisingly linear in it's power delivery - no doubt thanks to the turbine's twin-scroll setup. The AMG SPEEDSHIFT twin-clutch 'box is super quick too, shifting aggressively every time you work the paddle-shifters.

Turn sharp into a series of corners and the flat-cornering A45 will stick to any given line. The speed-sensitive steering is heavy and responses are keen too, giving you confidence even as you build up more speed as each twist and turn is negotiated. However, exhilarating as it might be, you kinda feel like it was all executed rather clinically. The element of fun is somehow missing. The A45 is lacking the unruliness of it's bigger C63 sibling, and reminds me more of an Audi RS5 (Not the new RS4, which is a quite a different animal now).

But just when you think that this baby AMG is tapering off in it's appeal, it reminds you of another trick up its sleeve - Race Start. Essentially a launch control function, Race Start allows the driver to look like a drag-race hero if anyone foolishly assumes the A45 to be a regular A-Class. Simply pull up to the traffic lights, er, I meant, track circuit starting line, and put the car into Drive while holding on the brakes. Next, switch the stability control to Sport mode, and set the transmission to Manual mode. Then pull back both paddle-shifters simultaneously until the display reads ‘Race start available’. The instructions will then guide you to pull the right paddle to confirm, depress the throttle and finally release the brake when you’re ready to rocket off. It may seem complicated at first, but after a few attempts, you'll want to do it over and over again. It's not particularly dramatic too, the car just grips and fires away while the gearbox automatically shifts up for you.

Mercedes claims a 0-100 km/h time of 4.6 seconds for the A45. We reckon it's quicker than that. But again, quicker may not mean more fun. It's closest rival, the M135i is a more engaging drive, however, the BMW loses out in almost every other aspect - the Merc is just better built and better equipped.

With adaptive brake lights, Collision Prevention Assist, a tyre pressure monitoring system and Harman Kardon sound system, the A45 is hard to beat as a package. Although you could spend a lot less and have as much fun in a Volkswagen Golf GTI, or top up a bit more for a Porsche Cayman! However, if you have $300K to splurge on a hot hatch that seats five, I would readily recommend the A45 AMG - it is truly an A-star car.