Sports car over $50k-$100k winner: Mercedes Benz A45 AMG - 2015 Australia's Best Cars

By NRMA Motoring on 25 February 2016
2015 Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG

Winner: Mercedes-Benz A 45 AMG
Second: BMW M235i
Third: Holden Insignia VXR

Mercedes-Benz A 45 AMG

Back-to-back wins in any category is a tough assignment let alone in this ultra-competitive premium sports car class, but that's exactly what this pocket rocket ship has achieved.

A big factor is that the A 45 AMG has an impressive set of performance statistics, and for model year 2016 these have been enhanced. Out of a 2.0L engine, Mercedes has produced a maximum 280kW of power - up 15kW - and an extra 25Nm of torque to bring it up to 475Nm. That makes it one of the most powerful 2.0L engines going, and with a claimed 0-100km/h time of just 4.2 seconds, that's good enough to almost match its larger cousins in Mercedes' AMG performance stable.

Part of the secret lies in how the power is transferred to the pavement, and in the A 45 AMG a 7spd dual-clutch transmission and Mercedes' 4MATIC all-wheel-drive perform that task effectively. A kerb weight of just 1480kg helps, and those performance types that have a green twinge will appreciate the 7.3L/100km and emissions of just 171g/km, near best-in-class scores.

Mercedes' Dynamic Select system allows the A 45's characteristics to be changed at the touch of a button, controlling key features such as engine, transmission, suspension, steering and air-conditioning to meet driver preference. Best of all, when you select Sports or Individual modes, the exhaust assumes a life of its own and delivers a purposeful crackle and pop on upshifts and downshifts. It's under these circumstances that the A 45 does its best work. Using the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters produces rapid-fire gear changes and keeps the engine's torque at its most usable. And if there was an award for the best-sounding sports car, then the A 45 would be right up there.


When you have to come back to reality and the daily grind of the city commute, using the Comfort setting on Dynamic Select alters the dampers to a softer mode to provide a more compliant and less hard-edged ride, an improvement over its predecessor.

Hip-hugging Recaro seats earned top marks from the judges, as did the sporty interior treatment with carbon-fibre finishes, contrasting red stitching and red seatbelts creating the right ambience without being over the top.

A large eight-inch colour display screen takes centre stage in the dash. If you do want to make a statement, then the optional AMG Aerodynamics Package with roof-mounted rear spoiler and larger front splitter would be money well spent.

Standard features aren't critical in this class, but it's worth nothing the A 45's impressive list, including a 12-speaker high-end sound system, electric front seats with memory, panoramic sunroof, full LED lighting and HDD navigation.

In a category that was once the domain of larger-capacity sports cars, the emergence of smaller, more nimble and affordable premium hot hatches continues to grow. Mercedes A 45 AMG typifies the best on offer. Certainly it's brash, in your face and has a hard edge. But its ability to tailor on-road dynamics to suit mundane everyday scenarios without affecting performance will continue to win fans.

Second: BMW M235i


BMW has split the model lines of its sedans and coupes/convertibles, and the 135i is now the 235i, but still with that brilliant twin-turbo 6cyl engine.

Purists love this little hatch, and for good reason: with a near 50/50 weight distribution and the engine mounted longitudinally driving through the rear wheels, it's classic BMW. It matches the 235i's handling characteristics perfectly to delivering a ride and handling package that is best in class.

The elastic nature of the engine's power delivery, where torque is available from such low engine revs plus its inherent willingness to rev smoothly, means you don't have to be frenetically using the paddle shifters, searching for the next gear over winding sections of road. It's a unique experience.

Inside, the leather-trimmed front seats are supportive in all the right areas, all the major controls fall easily to hand and the term 'fits like a glove' is an apt description from a driver's perspective. Not quite as overt as the A45 AMG in terms of interior styling, ergonomically it rates just as highly as our winner.

In more mundane areas such as running and repair costs, insurance, dealer network and warranty, the M235i doesn't fare well but it's in good company there, and the overall performance numbers will quickly dull any pain in the hip pocket nerve.

Third: Holden Insignia VXR


At first glance a Holden finalist in a class dominated by European sports cars appears out of place - until you look closer.

Holden recently re-launched the Opel range from Europe as its own in Australia. The Insignia was designed, engineered and built in Russelsheim Germany, although its 239kW 2.8L V6 engine was built in Australia. The VXR is matched to a 6spd automatic and has all-wheel-drive.

The VXR Insignia introduces a number of firsts for the Holden brand. Adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning are standard, while adaptive headlights, heated Recaro sports seats and 20-inch alloy wheels highlight an extensive standard features list.

From a driver's perspective, though, the VXR was a mixed bag, with below-average scores for seating comfort and support. On-road scores also trailed the other finalists, notably in performance where the engine lacked the urgency and finesse of the two other finalists. The VXR's three performance settings, which allow drivers to alter vehicle dynamics and suspension tune, were also off the pace apart from ride quality where it was equal best in class.

There are many value-for-money areas where Insignia is best in class, so enjoy it as a grand tourer rather than as an outright sports car.

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