AMG pops its hot hatchback cherry in singular, inimitable fashion, but do less expensive rivals like the Honda Civic Type R and Golf R deliver greater thrills?

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A few words in the Mercedes-Benz literature that accompanies the Mercedes-AMG A 45 tell you much about the thinking behind this car: the target audience is drivers aged between 30 and mid-40s. A great deal younger than your typical Mercedes-AMG buyer, or any other super-saloon buyer, in other words.

The A 45 – the most powerful hot hatchback on sale, and with currently the most powerful four-cylinder engine in production – is meant to open up AMG to a host of potential fans who have hitherto been denied access to the high-priced, usually V8-powered cars from Mercedes’ sporting arm. It’ll also add extra gravitas to styling kits and trim levels featuring AMG badging.

Despite the Mercedes being heavily turbocharged, there's not too much lag

It's unusual for a firm with Mercedes-Benz's historical heft not to be able to point to a forebear, but the 40-year-old hot hatch concept is a novel one for the three-pointed star.

The previous Mercedes-Benz A-Class, in seldom-seen Mercedes A 200 Turbo format, was blessed with a butch-sounding 193bhp from its 2.0-litre petrol engine, yet the elk-tester found it was patently unsuited to the business of boisterous driving. Consequently the smallest model that AMG previously fiddled with was probably the Mercedes-Benz SLK.

So not only is the A 45 a different kind of AMG product, but it’s also a different kind of hot hatch. It's got part-time four-wheel drive system. It's also expensive. And with 355bhp, it’s a powerful hot hatch. However, in 2015 Audi decided to snatch that crown with the Audi RS3, before the AMG division upped the ante by turing up the wick and giving the A 45 an unprecedented 376bhp.

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During the course of this review, we’ll find out if it’s also a compelling hot hatch. It will have to be if it is to justify its five-figure premium over the mega Ford Focus RS, and £7000 more than the Volkswagen Golf R, our two current favourite hot hatches.


Mercedes-AMG A 45 xenon lights
The A 45 is a sharply styled hatchback

Design first and briefly, then: the Mercedes-AMG A 45 is a fairly subtle uplift to the regular Mercedes Mercedes-Benz A-Class. It’s not that it lacks overt sporting cues; there are the big wheels and deep skirts and the like. It’s just that, even on its cooking models, Mercedes has given the A-Class a certain visual sportiness.

However, no other A-Class has the technological armoury that this one does. There’s a truly impressive 2.0-litre engine, which gains the signature of the technician who assembled it under AMG’s ‘one man, one engine’ mantra.

The Mercedes-Benz's rear spoiler is a fairly discreet affair

The specific power output of 188bhp per litre is a number to be marvelled at, even though it uses a turbocharger.

Its 376bhp goes to all four wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and a 4Matic four-wheel drive system. It is normally front-wheel drive, apportioning power – up to a maximum of 50 percent – to the rear wheels only once the fronts begin to lose traction.

At the front, the A 45 retains the A-Class’s MacPherson strut suspension but is fitted with stiffer steering knuckles and changes to bushings, springs and dampers. At the rear, the multi-link suspension is more heavily revised – including becoming rigidly attached to the body to provide greater precision and stiffness, presumably at the expense of some refinement and isolation.

Braking is by ventilated and cross-drilled disc brakes all round. There’s no ceramic option but you can have the calipers in red, if you're willing to pay for it.

To combat Audi's brazen attempt to shoehorn Mercedes-AMG out of the way, the Stuttgart outfit decided to go over the A 45 with a fine-tooth comb and tweaked not only the 2.0-litre engine, but also made the gear ratios closer and variable dynamic modes - to help you switch from quiet cruiser to racous riot. Outside the A 45 was given a light refresh with small changes made to the front and rear, and the addition of LED headlights. 


Mercedes-AMG A 45 dashboard
The black dials with carbonfibre-effect inserts are one of the A 45's distinguishing features

Not every hatchback’s innards are suited to the standard ‘hot’ makeover. Fortunately for the Mercedes-AMG A 45, the Mercedes Mercedes-Benz A-Class – primed to overthrow the Audi A3 – had ‘sporty’ stamped firmly on it during gestation.

The belly-scrapping driving position, form-fitting seats and fist-filling steering wheel were all features of the more modest A 200 CDI. So AMG’s fettling feels like a progressive tweak rather than a frantic attempt to turn the interior dial to 11.

The Distronic Plus system is another cost option, which seems a little measly

Which isn’t to suggest that every new facet contributes equally to the A 45’s appeal. Too much carbonfibre-effect trim and ruby-ringed air vents leave the normally conservative dashboard looking apologetically red-faced but, where it counts – in where you sit and what you hold – it’s mostly spot on.

The most noticeable addition over the standard Mercedes-Benz A-Class is also the most welcome: as with most other AMGs, the gear selector migrates from its naff steering column stalk to an embossed hunk of hardware located, more naturally, beneath the fall of your left hand.

Mercedes' ‘performance’ seats are slightly more contoured (and all the better for it) as well as being coated in grippy Dinamica microfibre, which ensured decent adhesion to road-tester-issue dark blue denim. As standard, the A 45 gets a flat-bottomed, three-spoke helm to hold, but the options list includes an AMG wheel, trimmed in Alcantara and garnished with chilled-to-the-touch metal paddle shifters.

The A 45 gains all the standard equipment behest on the A-Class AMG 250, including a 8.0in infotainment display, Garmin sat nav, climate control, heated front seats and Mercedes' Parking Pilot system, along with an AMG bodykit - rear spoiler, diffusers and side skirts, sports seats, AMG-tuned suspension and various AMG interior and exterior details.

Although secondary – in our book – to its functional duties, the cabin is obliged to live up to this car’s mighty price and the buyer expectations that inevitably come with it. Subjectively, it does this about as well as could be expected from an architecture also made to work in an entry-level model that's considerably less expensive.

The usual tactile tricks (superior materials, atmospheric ambient lighting, shiny highlights and suggestive stitching) have been weaved into an already admirable level of build quality.


Mercedes-AMG A 45 rear quarter
The A 45's straight-line pace is decidedly attention-grabbing

The A 45 AMG is a very fast hot hatchback. Having spent a good 150 percent of what you might call the going rate for such a car, owners would expect nothing less.

They might reasonably expect this to be the fastest car of its kind ever produced, full stop. In the past, we’ve seen two premium-brand fast hatchbacks smash the prevailing class standard on 0-60mph acceleration: the Audi RS3 (4.5sec to 60mph) and the BMW M140i (4.6sec).

Despite its power, the engine meets Euro 6 emissions regulations

We clocked the Mercedes-Benz at an impressive 4.2sec, set on the same piece of asphalt in similar circumstances, so there's no question about its competitiveness. Underneath it all, this is undoubtedly the new performance king of the class.

The A 45 whistles and growls from 50mph to 100mph almost a second quicker than either the Audi or the BMW. It’s the only hot hatchback we’ve ever figured that hit 150mph inside a standing mile on MIRA’s dead-level horizontal straights.

Between incredible traction, formidable mid-range torque and an unrelenting delivery at high revs, it’s nothing short of a monster and has as much performance as you could ever sanely deploy on the road.

Aside from the occasional refusal of the paddle-shift gearbox to do what it’s told, we have only one other criticism here. Although it’s damned effective at what it does, the four-cylinder engine lacks a little bit of vibrancy, compared with the kind of performance motors available at this price.

Over-dramatised gearchange pops compensate little for the fact that a BMW straight six or a Porsche boxer engine offers so much more character.


Mercedes-AMG A 45 cornering
A touch more delicacy would be appreciated through long, fast bends...

The Mercedes-AMG A 45’s chassis is every inch the finely polished, hardcore marvel required to keep the car hunkered down and haulin’ in the face of all that speed and when tested by a tortured surface. The Mercedes could do with a touch more delicacy and communicative balance through a long, fast bend.

But in dealing with the sort of bumps and blind corners that we Brits are likely to find on the pretty route between where we are and where we need to be, it shows off a combination of taut damping, grip, response and agility that you’ll find once in a blue moon in a hot hatchback.

The way the A 45 AMG stops is monumentally impressive

In places and at speeds where a BMW M140i would begin to run out of body control and circumstances in which you’d seldom find yourself in an Audi RS3 for simple lack of driver reward, the A 45 really begins to shine. The dynamic appeal is a bit one-dimensional, in that it flows more from what punishment the chassis will take than from what it’ll give back.

This is a car to hustle into the apex, hard on the brake pedal, rather than one to hurry through the heart of a corner on the power. The dampers instantly hoover up bumps with lots of commitment and under considerable lateral load.

Meanwhile, the car feels directionally alert but not hyperactive. There’s a slight stability bias about the cornering balance. That makes it almost as quick in the wet as it is in the dry and it allows you to use as much power as you like the minute you start unwinding the steering without fear of oversteer.

It also means, however, that the car’s attitude through a bend isn’t remotely throttle-adjustable – which is the kind of handling enrichment that you can sometimes find in a four-wheel-drive performance car.

Someone high up at Affalterbach clearly thinks that this is how a Mercedes-AMG hot hatchback – a feeder car, perhaps, into something with a more mature repertoire – should handle. For us, it could do with a more rearwards torque bias. But either way, it’s a blast to drive.


Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG
The Mercedes-Benz A 45 AMG features a 355bhp turbocharged engine

The bigger part of these two elements is the buying – because before you even start getting involved with the options list, the Mercedes-AMG A 45 demands a lot of your money even before you worry about the ownership costs.

It’s two-Ford-Fiesta-STs-and-change sort of money. Or a Fiesta ST and a Caterham Seven Supersport, if you’re happy to do a bit of spannering.

Don't go overboard on options; it's well equipped as standard

Residual values for the A 45 aren't bad but you'd hope to get more of your money back after three years. Equivalents like the Volkswagen Golf GTI, or BMW M140i, depreciate to a similar extent.

Our original test car cost more than £50,000, which is faintly ludicrous. Although we returned nearly 30mpg during testing, you have to do a lot of miles at slow motorway speeds before you’ll feel like you’ve recouped your costs over cheaper but thirstier sports hatchbacks. If the A 45 feels special enough to you, it's possible to forgive it.

When it comes to ordering an A 45 AMG, don't go to town on the extras list. As standard the A 45 comes with plenty of kit and any frivolous extras, in particular those with 'carbonfibre' next to them, won't boost residual values or really serve to improve the basic car.



4 star Mercedes-AMG A 45
Blisteringly fast and capable, but its ability doesn’t match its exalted price

The A45 was always going to be a curious confection. Given our experience of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, a savant-style imbalance seemed possible, with a preternatural talent for speed, perhaps, but one padlocked to narrow appeal and dynamic limitation.

It transpires that the A 45 is far more beguiling and well rounded than that. It is the best A-class by some distance. It is also ballistically quick. It isn’t easy to obtain 376bhp from a relatively small 2.0-litre engine and retain driveability — as anyone who has tried a Mitsubishi Evo FQ-360 will know.

The price needs to be reduced to a more affordable level

AMG has, therefore, performed a terrific job on the A 45's engine, which is both flexible and willing. Better still, the A 45's savagery is not some ghastly appendage bolted on like a body kit. Thanks to a deft and tolerant chassis, it is deployable, enjoyable and fitting for the car’s ability.

Whether it fits the huge price that Mercedes charges is another, much thornier issue. There is class-leading power and pace here, and quite possibly the looks and quality to go with it.

This, however, is not the best hot hatch ever made, or even the best on sale as we write. And it would have to be to convince us that spending the extra over a Ford Focus RS or Volkswagen Golf R was advisable. Or that spending a little more to get a Porsche Cayman was not the way to go.

Still, if you must occupy the space between the two, the A 45 is a singular way of doing so.


Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Mercedes-AMG A 45 2013-2018 First drives