The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 4.1
Reasons to buy
- Aggressive looks in the right spec
- Incredible grip in all conditions
- Ballistic performance from a 2.0-litre
At a glance
- How good does it look? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- What's the interior like? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How practical is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- What's it like to drive? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How powerful is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How much will it cost me? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How reliable is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How safe is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How much equipment do I get? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- Why buy? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
How good does it look?
The standard A-Class is one of the most striking looking family cars money can buy, and the healthy dose of aggression added to this flagship version makes it even more desirable. The aggressive body kit, subtle aerodynamic upgrades, bright LED head lights and stylish 18-inch alloy wheels are smart, but its only the two-bar grille, quad exhausts and small 'AMG' badges that set this car apart from the sportiest 'AMG Line' versions from the standard range. No, if you are the kind of person who wants to ensure that all your neighbours know that you bought the flagship, you need to invest in both the 'Night' and 'Aerodynamic' packs. Combined, this adds a huge rear wing, a lower front-splitter and lots of shiny black extra details sprout from the body work for added menace and make the A-Class look like a mini touring car. Of course you could instead, opt for one of the eye-catching colours, like the bright Elbaite green or the F1-inspired matte grey. Either way, you'll get a car that is guaranteed to turn heads wherever you go, without losing the upmarket image of the normal A-Class models, and you can choose how lairy you want it to be depending on your taste.
What's the interior like?
Unlike several hot hatches we could name, the A45 backs up its aggressive exterior with a cabin that looks and feels just as special. This is an interior that will make you feel good every time you get in. Most of the materials used are of a really high quality, and key touch points like the flat-bottomed steering wheel, gear selector and shift paddles are made of proper metal or wrapped in expensive Alcantara. The top half of the dash is covered in leather, and you get a faux carbon fibre material for the centre console. The only slight black mark for quality is the rather hard plastics used lower down the cabin, and there are some panel gaps that you wouldn't find in an Audi RS3 for example. Still, the standard bucket seats are fantastic, comfortable and supportive in equal measure, and the only styling misstep is the lurid red painted air vent nozzles which are unique to the AMG. Using the infotainment system is a little less intuitive than it would be in rivals from BMW and Audi, too. The driving position is nice and low to the floor, but the pedals are offset to the right. Rear visibility isn’t great, either, with small windows and large pillars causing sizeable blind spots.
How practical is it?
Front-seat occupants are well catered for in the A45, because there’s a decent amount of headroom, and there’s enough legroom to stop you feeling cramped. It’s not nearly so good in the back, where there’s (just) enough room for two (three people would feel very intimate indeed as the centre seat is almost impossibly narrow). Foot space beneath the front seats isn’t great, and the sides of the roof slope down at the rear, making it claustrophobic in the back. Hot hatches like the VW Golf R and Seat Leon Cupra are both easier to get in and out of and will be more comfortable for passengers on long journeys. This problem is made worse by the small windows and the rear seats being set higher than those in the front. The boot is a reasonable size at 341 litres, which expands to 1,157 litres with the seats folded flat.
What's it like to drive?
The standard A-Class is far from class-leading in this area, but the A45 is a different breed. It's pretty firm on rough roads, especially on standard AMG springs, and if you hit a speed bump or pothole at low speed, you'll know about it due to the shortage of suspension travel. However, the trade-off for this firmness is stunning body control, and the A45 corners in a way that would embarrass some sports cars, with virtually no body lean and tenacious levels of grip. The steering is not as quick or as hyperactive to self-centre as in some other cars in this class, and it can feel numb as a result, lacking the instant interaction that some buyers crave. It does, however, mean the A45 is really easy to drive on the motorway, as it'll sit straight and true without needing constant course corrections from the driver. The Mercedes is one of the heaviest hot hatches around, and while it has more than enough power to overcome this bulk, the handling is affected. You need to gently tap the brakes on the entry to corners to get the nose turned in effectively and stop it washing wide, but once you do the rear axle swings nicely around in a neat, predictable fashion. As an option you can add adaptive dampers that increase the ride comfort when you're not in the mood to be jostled around, and you can even specify a differential, although we honestly think that the standard car has so much grip that you really don't need it.
How powerful is it?
The 2.0-litre turbocharged engine in the A45 is the most powerful of its kind. It produces a staggering 376bhp, and combined with the AMG's standard 4Matic four-wheel-drive system, it rockets the car from 0-62mph in just 4.2 seconds. That makes this Mercedes officially the hottest of all hot hatches, and if you pay extra to remove the limiter, it'll go on to hit 168mph, too. It feels every bit as fast as the numbers suggest, with incredible mid-range clout. What's more, the engine spins up so frantically that it's easy to bounce into the limiter if you don't change gear quick enough. The seven-speed DCT automatic gearbox was improved in 2015, so it now has quicker reactions and shorter ratios to help you extract the most from the ballistic engine. It still gets caught out when you need to drop a couple of gears in quick succession, but every change is accompanied by an angry bark from the exhausts. Settle down, though, and refinement is decent apart from the odd squeak of wind noise. The tall top ratio means the engine feels relaxed and eases into a quiet motorway cruise. Few hot hatches manage to combine such ferocious performance with long distance civility so successfully.
How much will it cost me?
It's no exaggeration to say that if you are in the market for an A45 AMG then you are probably not the average hot hatch buyer. This car costs roughly the same as a Porsche Boxster, and its running costs are likely to be similarly exotic. Despite strong resale values and surprisingly frugal cruising economy (we frequently saw over 30mpg on a motorway run), it will cost a huge amount to insure, tax (especially as it breaches the barrier for paying the top rate of VED under the new 2017/18 rule changes) and fuel if you decide to drive it hard. The servicing costs are actually fairly affordable, but replacing the tyres, brakes and other high performance parts over the course of its life will be a costly business. Buying one on finance will also cost a couple of hundred pounds more than with a mainstream rival, too. The official economy figure is actually over 40mpg, but we doubt that you'll ever manage this figure. Despite the high price, though, we'd argue that it's better value than one of its key high-performance rivals, the Audi RS3 Sportback.
How reliable is it?
The quality of the A-Class’ interior will make you feel like the car will run and run while all around are falling apart. However, recent reliability surveys don’t reflect that, because Merc’s cars have not performed particularly well. For instance, Warranty Direct’s reliability ratings see a number of Mercedes models in the bottom 10. The good news is that these are models from a few years ago, and newer cars appear to be better built. We can but wait and see. The A45 of course uses an engine and transmission that is under a lot of stress due to its incredible performance and relatively small size, but so far, few reliability issues have surfaced, with the 'handbuilt' AMG touch seeming to work its magic. The A45 has also been around for a couple of years now, and the improvements to the gearbox software show signs that the company has ironed out any issues that surfaced since the car was launched in 2012.
How safe is it?
Safety is something at which the A-Class excels. It has no fewer than seven airbags and has already attained the maximum five-star rating in Euro NCAP’s crash tests, helped by its pedestrian-friendly pop-up bonnet. Stability control and a driver-fatigue sensor are present and correct, as are Isofix child seat mounting points. In addition, the A-Class has Collision Prevention Assist Plus as standard. This warns the driver if the car in front is too close or slowing rapidly, and can even activate the brakes to help avoid a collision. Mercedes is one of the most active manufacturers when it comes to pushing the boundaries for safety kit, and the A-Class feels like a terrific example of that, even without the latest autonomous systems.
How much equipment do I get?
Apart from the obvious upgrades to the styling and performance of the A-Class, the A45 AMG shares the same generous levels of standard equipment as the rest of the range. It comes with dual-zone air-conditioning, a reversing camera, parking sensors, man-made leather seats which are wonderfully comfortable and supportive, an 8.0-inch infotainment screen, sat-nav, and air-vents painted bright red, along with red seat belts. Those last two are just so that you can always remember you're driving the fast one, but are a nice touch all the same. Strangely, it's also the only A-Class to get DAB digital radio as standard, but there are still plenty of options awaiting the cash of the over-zealous buyer. The Premium Pack includes LED headlights, heated front seats, electric folding mirrors and park assist. Other packages include proper leather seats, wild styling upgrades, or one that includes a limited-slip differential, the raising of the electronic speed limiter from 155mph to 168mph, and a spot of driver training. If we were only allowed a couple of extras, we'd say the adaptive dampers and sports exhaust were both worthy investments, and the aerodynamic pack looks great, even if it is a bit overpriced.
If you want to own one of the fastest, meanest and most aggressive hot hatches ever created, and money is no object, then this is the car for you. Like all the best cars to wear the AMG badge, it combines style and luxury with savage performance to intoxicating effect. Compared to blue-collar heroes like the Ford Focus RS, ii looks expensive, but it also feels expensive. So, if you can stomach the cost, the A45 AMG is now the real deal.