Test Drive: The 2016 Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG

A tiny engine that packs a punch hurtles this compact to the next generation

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When Mercedes-Benz re-introduced the A-Class in 2012, the radical redesign was presented as the "heartbeat of a generation." This double entendre referred to the brand’s new generation of design as well as its new target consumer market. Since then we’ve seen their favor among a younger, more creative audience grow. This success, in part, is due to a tighter relationship between Head of Design, Gordon Wagener and Head of Marketing, Dr Jens Theimer. "[For the brand] there always was a challenge that marketing was not completely aligned with the positioning of the product. When I came [to Mercedes-Benz]

that was one of my major changes. I sat with Head of Design Gordon Wagener and we said, ‘Let’s align those two main touch-points’—the cars, because product substance is 80% of the perception, but also all the other touch-points of the brand—and let’s make a big picture,” Theimer says. Now, only three years later, we’ve seen a complete rebirth of the Mercedes-Benz product and marketing portfolio. So it’s time to iterate once again, starting with a light refresh of the A-Class. We were recently invited to drive the updated model in Dresden, Germany ahead of its launch (not coming to the US, alas) later this month. Given our druthers, we spent the day in the super-fun, AMG-built A45 and ignored the other five engine options.

The most noticeable updates are to the car’s performance. In terms of the ratio between size and power, the new engine developed for the A45 is the most powerful engine in the world. It’s only 2.0 liters, but delivers 381 horsepower. The transmission has been updated for faster shifting and is easily configured for different driving modes ranging from “comfort” to “race.” And there’s now a dedicated button for controlling the exhaust note. These improvements combine to offer a thrilling driving experience that exceeds expectations for such an entry-level model. For those in the US who might be disappointed that this model will not be imported, rest assured its engine and other innovations will surely be coming to the CLA and GLA models, as they’re built on the same platform.

From a design perspective, the refreshed A-Class is a nuanced change. The nose and tail have more integrated, flowing geometries that strengthen the sporty look. On the inside there are a greater number of choices for color, material and finish for the seats and trim. The multimedia screen is now a larger, eight-inch diameter and supports both MirrorLink and Apple CarPlay.

Though CarPlay availability won’t be included until the early 2017 deliveries, we did get a chance to demo it in the A-Class. Upon plugging in the iPhone to a Lightning connector in the center armrest the car’s screen switches to the CarPlay menu. The extremely simplified interface is controlled from the same dial used for the Mercedes-native applications, however there’s a much greater dependence on voice command. When you navigate to Messages, for example, Siri immediately asks you who you want to send a message to. From there the process is pretty much eye-free. Besides the native and third party apps you have on your phone that are CarPlay-enabled, there’s full Siri integration from a press of the button on the steering wheel. During our visit, this was particularly helpful to find out conversions from metric to imperial: “Hey Siri, how fast is 220 kilometers per hour?”

Pricing for 2016 has not yet been announced, however we expect the range to be similar to the 2015 models which start around €23,700 for the entry level and scale up to the fully loaded AMG at €51,1000.

Images by Josh Rubin