Sequels can have their work cut out for them, especially if the first outing was a sure-fire hit. When it arrived on the local scene eight years ago, few would have imagined the Mercedes-Benz A 45 AMG (as it was then known as) to become the market success it eventually became.

It had no precedent, and as such no history, and it cost a pretty penny – at RM349k, it was stratospheric then in the realm of hot hatch territory. But, as it turned out, the line for one grew, and quickly. For good reason – with its bold styling, brash character and impressive turn of speed, the flagship A-Class established a fan base here with those looking for a new rabble rouser, and what a banger it was. The fact that it cost what it did no doubt helped the snob appeal.

Given that there had been nothing quite like it before from the brand, that take-up was simply phenomenal. The facelift arrived three years later, bringing along more power but closely retaining the price tag, continuing the impetus, even if the buzz had quietened somewhat.

Which is where the new one comes in. Big boots to fill, but the thing about establishing a precedence is that it gives you a baseline to improve upon, and in the case of the W177 Mercedes-AMG A 45 S 4Matic+, more tech, power and being even faster should do the trick for many. At RM437,673 (on-the-road without insurance), it does however cost much more than before. Is the follow-up more enthralling than the old one, and worth the higher admission price? We find out.

Sharper, but is it better looking?

The previous-gen W176 A 45 was unreservedly flash, for want of a better term. The base car itself, coming in from the box that was the W169, was decidedly handsome to look at, but the tarting up for the route was something you either loved, or you didn’t. There was nothing shy about the car, especially in its Edition 1 form, with a plethora of AMG-specific additions (from flics and a huge rear wing to red highlights) making for an in-your-face presentation.

Personally, I loved it. After all, if you’re going to have a sonically loud hot hatch, you might as well go loud with the looks. The W176 A 45 facelift best encapsulated that approach, which is why I’m less enamoured of this one from a styling perspective.

While the lines on the W177 are sharper and the shape tauter, it also looks a little bit more generic and doesn’t seem to respond that well to the AMG treatment, at least to my eyes. The differences in the new and old A-Class can be viewed in an earlier gallery post we did on the regular variant, so you can decide if I’m just being a Luddite.

It’s not from a lack of trying with the AMG dress-up attempt, with all the necessary accoutrements to be found, led by an AMG Aerodynamics package with a large front splitter, canards, a rear spoiler, shrouds for the fake rear air vents and a heavily-finned rear diffuser. The 19-inch five-split-spoke matte black unit feels rather ordinary though – multis or something like the seven-split spoke unit available for the car would have worked better.

A whole new world

Move inside however and it’s a completely different ball game. When it appeared in 2018, the interior of the W177 was a leap forward from that of its predecessor in terms of sophistication, led by heavy doses of tech and digitalisation. It’s much the same case with the AMG.

Notably, the 8.0-inch central free-standing screen (and Audio 20 system) of the old car looks a good era removed, visually antiquated by today’s standards. At the rate things are progressing, the dual 10.25-inch displays for instrumentation and infotainment in the current car will no doubt also look dismal in a few years, but for now they – and the cabin layout – give the new A 45 a contemporary veneer.

Standardisation within the model range means that the touchpad for the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) replaces the central console gearshift of the old car, with the ubiquitous column stalk now taking over gear selection. In truth, it doesn’t take away anything in use, because once you’re going it hardly matters an iota, but the AMG E-Select gearlever in the old car provided an analogue, old school feel and, more importantly, differentiation, which was no bad thing.

As for the touchpad, navigating across it feels intuitive enough by hand, but tracking aspects can be fiddly, and in outright speed in accessing functions and sub-menus there really is no beating the direct path, which is access via the touchscreen.

While still on the topic of digitalisation, items like front lumbar adjustment are now accomplished not via an analogue controller on the seats, but via a sub-menu on the MBUX interface. While undeniably slick, it does feel superfluous – still, pay for the tech and you should get features, yes?

Equipment levels on the non-Edition 1 don’t veer far from the limited version (of which there were only 20 units). Aside from the omission of the sunroof, internal changes are cosmetic, and consist of a switch from yellow to red accents on the upholstery and a change to a Dinamica/Nappa leather mix on the steering wheel (on the Edition 1, full Dinamica). Red seat belts also make their way on.

Standard fit items include keyless entry, a head-up display, dual-zone climate control with rear air vents, AMG illuminated door sill scuff plates, 64-colour ambient lighting, a reverse camera and a 12-speaker Burmester audio system. The last is finally sounding proper, with decent body and extension – early iterations of the fabled audio nameplate were less convincing in their tonality and scope.

Finally, a note about the AMG Performance seats – comfort and support levels continue on from that of the old car, and the level of adjustability means ensuring proper fit won’t be an issue. However, the harness cutout on the upper seatback of the demonstrator had a particularly audible anomaly, emitting a distinct plastic creak each time you pushed back a bit firmly on the seat. Small niggle, but it’s there.

It’s a power trip

The quest for more has seen a new powertrain, the M139, take over from the M133. At 2.0 litres, the displacement for the turbocharged four-cylinder engine remains the same, but everything about this one, which is unique to the A 45, is fresh, including the way it’s mounted within the bay.

Tech highlights include an all-aluminium crankcase, forged steel crankshaft, forged aluminium pistons, repositioned injectors as well as two-stage (port and direct) injection as well as larger exhaust valves and additional cooling, in the case of the S version.

The biggest news is of course the bump in power output. The old car started life with 360 hp and 450 Nm, and during its mid-life cycle this was upped to 381 hp and 475 Nm. Progress and the inevitable arms race has seen the new mill increase this to 387 PS (382 hp) at 6,500 rpm and 480 Nm from 4,750 rpm on the standard A 45, and the S 4Matic+ takes it further along to 421 PS (416 hp) at 6,750 rpm and 500 Nm of torque from 5,000 rpm, courtesy of a higher 2.1 bar charge pressure to its turbo.

Paired with an AMG Speedshift DCT 8G eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, fully-variable 4Matic+ all-wheel drive and AMG Torque Control, the 45 S does the 0-100 km/h sprint in just 3.9 seconds, with the inclusion of an AMG Driver’s package giving the car a top speed of 270 km/h. The car also comes with an AMG Dynamic Plus Package, which adds a new Drift Mode as well as larger front brakes with six-piston monoblock callipers, up from the four-pot on the standard A 45.

Bigger, better, faster, more

Despite its now seemingly conservative 360 ponies and 4.6 seconds century sprint time, the initial A 45 was never short of speed – it was fast, and brutally so, despite a sometimes laggy low end response from the seven-speed DCT. For what it was then, it was plenty quick, grippy and always willing to play.

Unfortunately, it was also very much a light switch (off, or flame on), with its general repertoire having very little in between. The best way to describe its character would be feral, a ball of fire with a show-stopping exhaust soundtrack to match.

That the new 45 S shaves off another three-tenths off the W176 facelift’s time (4.2 seconds) says it is faster, and it certainly is, but it is how it performs beyond the simple tenet of pure speed that differentiates it from the old.

The ability to push the speed envelope will be the early – and perhaps only – draw for many, and the 45 S surely won’t disappoint in this regard, but explore further away from a straight line in Sport or Sport+ and you’ll find that things are more controlled, with less understeer, better adjustability and cleaner reaction to input quite obvious. There’s still bags of grip, but essentially, that fire has become honed, making the new car far more engaging to drive, with more parlour tricks up its sleeve.

Away from this, the new car is also far more refined. For one, the ride is comfortable enough for daily use. I am aware that my thresholds for what constitutes as stiff are far higher than the rest of the team, but really, I’m not imagining it. There’s decent compliance to be found on the AMG Ride Control adaptive suspension here, with the secondary ride far better sorted than before.

Additionally, low-speed drivability has improved considerably, with the new mill and eight-speeder content to putter about town in a way the previous engine and seven-speeder never really did. The lump is happy to cruise about at 100 km/h without any urgency, ticking along at 1,600 rpm, and the 8G eight-speed is much improved over the older DCT in both response and feel.

It wasn’t just me that noticed the changes. Such is the clever masking of both ride and tractability that the other half, never a big fan of churlish, fast vehicles, asked if it was cut from the same mould as the old one as we ambled along on errands. I didn’t offer to show her how much better it was.

Things not to like? Well, the steering still has no real feel to it, which takes some of the gloss off, and the AMG exhaust system is a much less audible creature than the old one. Sure, a controllable flap means there are still crackles and pops when you get into Sport+ mode, but noise emission regulations means that the percussion on this one is nowhere as visceral as before. Which is rather sad, because the thug in me absolutely adored that boorish, unapologetic aural tone.

Would you like a ticket, then?

Hilariously fast isn’t the only party piece anymore, because the new Mercedes-AMG A 45 S has significantly more dimension to it. As far as attributes go, it possesses a wider range than the old one – besides being more fun to drive, it is also far more refined and accomplishes more from a driving viewpoint. Add in the comprehensive element of tech and safety (AEB etc) and surely it’s a winner.

It is. That the sequel’s storyline is more compelling than the original is undeniable. Whether it is worth that asked for it is harder to answer. It won’t be due to a lack of want, but the admission price means it’s likely that lightning won’t strike twice, at least not in terms of adoption rates. For those that can though, it really will be quite the show.