The original A45 could hardly be accused of lacking focus or performance, but this ‘entry-level’ AMG product now cements its place as the most powerful compact hatchback on sale, with 376hp.
However, being top dog comes at a cost, literally, in the form of a big price tag. At £40,000, expectations are set high.
What are its rivals?
With the Audi RS3 currently off the market while it undergoes a facelift, the closest rivals to the AMG A45 cost almost £10,000 less.
The £31,000 Volkswagen Golf R is proving popular, through a combination of pace and pricing. It too packs a 4WD system, but can’t match the rabid pace of the A45. Ford’s Focus RS is impossible to ignore, but badge snobbery may put some people off – despite a bargain cost of £29,995.
Honda’s front-wheel-drive Civic Type R also cuts under the £30,000 mark, but might not be the best investment for those who want to don’t want to attract attention. And the rear-wheel-drive BMW M140i has a six-cylinder engine and premium badge, if not quite the same pace as the Mercedes. It starts at nearly £32,000.
Which engine does it use?
Proving that this isn’t just a hotted-up A-Class, but a genuine AMG product, the A45 features a hand-built 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine. The ‘one man, one engine’ philosophy means each unit comes with a signed plaque on the engine cover, letting you know who put it together.
With 376hp and 350lb ft of torque, this is a serious motor. The 0-62mph sprint takes a scant 4.2 seconds, and top speed is limited to 155mph. A 4Matic AWD system has the job of channelling all that power to the wheels through a seven-speed, dual-clutch ‘AMG Speedshift’ gearbox, with steering-wheel-mounted paddles.
What’s it like to drive?
Fast. Very fast. In fact, almost incomprehensibly fast the first time you give it full throttle in Sport or Sport+ mode. There’s some minor turbo lag, but then the A45 unleashes everything in a way that’ll have you clinging to the AMG GT supercar steering wheel. It pulls all the way through the rev range, and feels every bit as rapid as the stats say it is. Such is the brutal ferocity of the way the A45 accelerates, you’ll be left in no doubt this isn’t just a normal hot hatch.
Gearshifts are rapid, whether the transmission is left in automatic or by using the manual paddles. Upshifts feature a pleasing crackle from the sports exhaust, while downshifts get a cheeky blip of the throttle, too. The noise made by the A45 is addictive, but can be muted by selecting Comfort mode.
The ride is firm, but not uncomfortably harsh, and improves as the speed rises. There’s a feeling of infinite grip, matched with impressive traction from the AWD system. And while the steering lacks feel, it does at least weight-up accurately. Braking is as impressive, as you would imagine from a set-up that features big calipers and drilled discs.
Fuel economy and running costs
Despite having the performance of a 1990’s supercar, the A45 doesn’t have the matching thirst. Official combined fuel economy is rated as 40.9mpg, with CO2 emissions of 162g/km for cars wearing 18-inch wheels.
In the real world, that translates to around 30mpg when cruising, but will drop further when you’re making use of all 376hp. There’s only so much a standard stop-start system can do.
Band G road tax (VED) means £185 a year, although be careful if you specify 19-inch wheels, as this pushes the A45 into the £220 Band H due to increased CO2 emissions.
Is it practical?
Being based on a regular C-segment family hatchback means the AMG A45 benefits from the same five doors and usable boot as the normal A-Class. It’s perfectly capable of being used every day, especially with AMG mode in the Comfort setting.
There’s 341 litres of luggage space in the boot, increased to 1,157 litres with the rear seats folded down. Rear-seat space is adequate, although passengers may feel slightly claustrophobic on account of the high-backed bucket seats in the front and the A45’s shallow window line. They might also complain if you unleash the full potential of the AMG engine without warning…
What about safety?
Beneath all the wings and spoilers, this is still a Mercedes, so safety hasn’t been forgotten in the quest for speed.
The basic A-Class gained the full five stars in Euro NCAP tests, so it’s already starting from the best possible place. Add in a three-stage ESP system, collision prevention warning, brake assist and fatigue awareness, and the A45 racks up many points in the safety stakes.
Also, as a Mercedes-AMG buyer, you’ll have the chance to attend the AMG Driving Academy, giving you one-to-one tuition in how best to handle your new car.
Which version should I go for?
There’s only one version, so it’s a question of how far into the options list you want to go.
As standard there’s cruise control, dual-zone climate control, DAB radio, LED headlights and taillights, auto-dimming mirrors, even illuminated AMG-branded door sills. You’ll also find a standard 8-inch media display, with satellite navigation, which looks like an iPad but isn’t. You’ll undoubtedly learn this after several stabs at it, literally, until realising you need to use the rotary controller instead. Don’t forget the high-back bucket seats, which will make you feel like you’re in a BTCC racer, and do very much fit the price tag.
The sports exhaust adds £510, while that huge rear spoiler costs an eye-watering £1,530. We would avoid the carbon fibre wing mirror covers, as they add on £1,230! There is a genuine risk of specifying a hatchback that costs the best part of £50,000 here.
Should I buy one?
The Mercedes-AMG A45 is a staggering car to drive, with explosive performance and extraordinary levels of grip and traction. Driving cross-country, it could easily surprise and embarrass supercars costing several times more.
Cost is perhaps the biggest barrier as, on a purely objective level, a Focus RS or Golf R can do 90% of what the A45 offers for £10,000 less. But for some there will be the overriding allure of owning a genuine AMG product, even if it doesn’t feature a high-capacity V8 engine.
So, if you can afford it and want the ultimate performance hatchback, the AMG A45 is certainly one to consider.
The A45 isn’t the first quick A-Class. Back in 1998, AMG decided the best way to make the original elk-worrying A-Class quicker was by adding a second engine. By slotting one 1.9-litre engine under the bonnet, and another one in the boot, the 250hp 4WD A38 was born. McLaren-Mercedes F1 driver Mika Häkkinen seemed suitably thrilled by the idea, it appears.