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Owner Review

2015 Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG review

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2015 Mercedes A45 (Pre-facelift) review

The A45, once a king of ‘hyper hatches’, has been on the market for almost 6 years. Much has changed since then – the facelifted Audi RS3 in 2017, the Ford Focus RS in 2016, and even Mercedes’ own upcoming W177 A35 and A45. The competition has brought not only even more engine performance to the table, but also improvements in technology and luxury. Yet despite these changes, the pre-facelift A45 is still able to hold its weight against these newer giants. Let’s delve into the details to see why I still love my A45.

Background

I bought this 2015 A45 second-hand from a dealership, at a very low mileage of 2800kms. Fortunately, the previous owner was a car collector who helped run the car in. Given the low mileage, the car was still new, inside and out.

My previous car was an automatic 2014 Subaru STI hatchback (shared with my own mother, who didn’t want manual). While handling was superb, the power department was sorely lacking due to a detuned spec, since Subaru doesn’t make strong automatic transmissions - for shame. The A45 seemed like a natural evolution from the STI as another turbo 4 with all-wheel drive.

Exterior design

The pre-facelift A45 harkens back to Mercedes’ former design language – an era of cars returning to aggressive lines and edges, which was exemplified by the C63. The W176 was a radical departure the previous W169 design, which really was a sore reminder of Mercedes’ disastrous marriage with Chrysler.

My A45 is fitted with the optional aerodynamic pack, which includes little spoilers on the front bumper, and a rear wing that would normally be suited for a JDM racer. Whether or not these bits of aero are actually useful is questionable, however styling-wise it makes the car really stand out amongst all the other compact Euros on the road. Many of my (millennial) friends have commented that they enjoy the look, as it adds to the ‘sportiness’ of the car. Lol.

The headlights are fitted with bi-xenons, with LEDs for daytime running lights (DRLs). Visibility is great at night, however, the individual LEDs make the lights look outdated compared to modern LED DRLs found on most cars now.

The rear diffuser on the pre-facelift is bland. If I could be bothered, I would retrofit the facelifted diffuser, which has a significantly more aggressive appearance.

I have changed out the original wheels for facelift black AMG wheels, found on most AMGs from 2016 onwards. The original wheels on the car were silver, which made it a nightmare to maintain due to brake dust that accumulated so quickly. Plus, the new styling helped add to some of the aggressive styling.

Interior

The interior of the A45 has elicited a wide range of responses from my friends. This has varied from impressive and luxurious, to over-the-top and gaudy. At the time of purchase, I felt the interior looked great, predominantly due to the Recaro bucket seats that come standard in Australia. Fast forward to 2019, and the infotainment system feels and looks quite dated, even against Audi’s virtual cockpit and especially due to the new MBUX system in the new A Class.

The flat-bottomed steering wheel has a nice chunkiness to it. The alcantara is a nice-touch when brand new, but quickly turns into a disgusting mess after a few thousand kms. The gear-shifter paddles are constructed from solid aluminium, which is nice to touch when cool, but horrible if it’s been sitting in the sun.

One last note: the leather in the A45 is Artico leather, Mercedes’ own fake leather. Great for animals, not so great for suppleness. Despite this, it has held up very well over time in my car, over the course of 37,000kms. I would note that early 2013 models had issues with seats deforming very quickly, which was covered under warranty at the time.

In the boot, available space is… limited to say the least. This is to be expected from a compact hatchback, but there are many times where I wish the rear opening was wider. This is rectified in the new W177 A Class, where the taillights have now been split into two to allow a wider opening. Despite these sizing challenges, I have successfully used the A45 on numerous occasions to help friends move house.

Drivetrain

The M133 2.0-litre inline four was (and still is) a great engine. Power in the pre-facelift was rated at 265kW and 450Nm, which was bumped up to 280kW and 475Nm on the facelift. On a MAHA dynamometer, my A45 pulled roughly 280kW and 458Nm peak torque at the engine. This equated to 223kW at the wheels. AMG tuned the A45 to be incredibly linear, mimicking a naturally-aspirated engine.

The transmission is a 7-speed dual-clutch, in-house designed by Mercedes. The pre-facelift has slightly taller gear ratios compared to the facelift, which partly explains its slower 0-100km/h times. When pushing on the throttle at high RPMs, the car shifts extremely quickly, whether upshifting or downshifting. Mercedes has also included a nifty function to jump to the lowest gear when you hold onto the downshift paddle. This means you can suddenly jump down from 6th to 3rd gear on the highway with a single press, rather than frantically jamming it multiple times.

Around the city at low speeds, the car is rarely jerky from a standstill when driven in Comfort mode. The problem is that at lower RPMs, the box is slow to respond to manual gear changes as it spends a long time figuring out how to obey your commands. On hills and steep slopes, the box sometimes has difficulty engaging first gear quickly, which leads to a soul-crushing few seconds of clutch grinding. Sometimes a stick-shift really is better.

Exhaust

The A45 has a typical exhaust note of many inline-4s, as seen on the Golf R, Audi S3, Mistubishi Evo and Honda Civic Type-R. Unlike the latter 2 JDM examples, the exhaust note is significantly more refined without sounding like a cannon strapped on. What defines the A45 from all others though, is the crackles and pops that AMG has tuned into the exhaust system from stock. In Sport and Manual mode, you will get magnificent sounds when letting your foot off the throttle, and terrific *cracks* when you upshift on full throttle. The only shame is that the exhaust is completely beaten by the Audi RS3, both in note and decibels. Whenever I hear one on the road, I always tell my beating heart to be still…

Handling

The A45 initially came with Pirelli P-Zero tyres, which held well in the dry, but had somewhat sketchy handling in the wet - as well as poor longevity. They were replaced at the 18000km mark by Michelin Pilot Sport 4S’s, which have lasted extremely well. The only difference is that steering feedback feels relatively muted compared to the P-Zeros mid-corner, which reduces confidence slightly.

Thankfully, the car did not come equipped with the optional performance suspension, as it would have shattered my spine on Sydney’s atrocious roads. Around corners, the car remains very planted, and the electro-mechanical steering provides enough feedback to know what’s going on beneath you. The unfortunate thing with the A Class is that it was designed as a front-wheel drive car first – the engine hangs off the front axle and weight distribution is heavily biased towards the front (61/39). This isn’t helped by the Haldex-type 4MATIC drivetrain, as the rear wheels only engage in certain scenarios. As a result, experience with driving a FWD car will help you drive the A45 quickly around bends.

Compared to the auto STI, the Scooby has a relatively more rear-biased drivetrain, with a permanent power distribution of 45/55 between front and rear. This creates a noticeable difference between the two cars around bends, with the STI having a slightly stronger sensation of being pushed from behind, unlike the A45 where you feel the front wheels pulling you out. Whether or not this is a good thing is ultimately up to preference, as both cars will hold their own on a tight circuit.

Maintenance

Throughout the last two and a half years of ownership, the car has been simple to maintain and service. The first three years was under capped pricing, which helped to keep maintenance in check. However, outside of the warranty period, things such as changing differential oils, gearbox fluid etc. will be quite costly at the dealership.

When it comes to brakes, they have oddly lasted me extremely long – at over 37,000 kms, the wear indicator has not been triggered yet. I will be upgrading to aftermarket brake pads in due time, as this will help drastically reduce brake dust.

Conclusion

The A45 still makes for a great car to drive – it is still brilliant both in terms of power delivery and handling. The only downside is that technology has suddenly improved so drastically in the last 6 years, with new infotainment systems and aesthetics that leave the old W176 in the dust. Despite this, the drivetrain and package ensures that I still have a huge smile on my face every time I drive.