Is it fast?
Yes, just a bit. Actually, it’s the most powerful hot hatch on the market, with 355bhp from a 2.0-litre turbocharged four pot. So much power from such a small engine also means it’s got one of the highest specific outputs of any production engine, at 178bhp/litre. 62mph comes up in 4.6 seconds, and top speed is an electronically-nannied 155mph, or 168mph if you tick the box for the optional Driver’s Pack.
Is it sexy?
We reckon so. Looks are always subjective, but the A45 is arguably a more handsome looker than the slightly frowny BMW M135i, its main rival. A snouty front end and long bonnet give way to a curvy glasshouse and a neatly-curtailed rump. The basic shape is attractive, and the AMG add-ons give it plenty of presence. And if it’s not aggressive enough for you in standard form, there are various options to choose from, including a beefier aero package with pointy little fins, and a carbonfibre trim package.
What’s it like to drive?
Bloomin’ good fun. The all-wheel-drive A45 is set up as a front-driver with additional help from the rear wheels when needed – up to 50% of the car’s power, to be precise. That might sound a little disappointing on paper but it works well in practise: imagine the dexterity of a furious front-driver, without the scrabble or steering tug. Floor it out of a tight bend and the power imperceptibly gets sent to the rear if needs be, allowing for grippy, fuss-free, slingshot acceleration. It isn’t quite as mobile or as tweakable as some of its rivals on the limit, but the sheer power, combined with its accessibility, make it a real blast to drive quickly. Ride quality, usually an A-Class bugbear, feels fine here – the result, we suspect, of improved damping.
And pace it most certainly has. The engine’s pokey enough low down, but there’s a bit of lag before the turbo really gets into its swing, at which point you can surf on a big, busty wave of boost right up to the red line. It feeds in progressively, though, without the whizz-bang wallop you might expect, and the effect is a car which feels stable and planted, yet also devilishly quick. The seven-speed DCT gearbox, meanwhile, is good but not great – it changes reasonably quickly but occasionally misses downshifts, which can frustrate. Upshifts, though, are accompanied by a deeply satisfying snuffle from the exhaust, which eagerly pops and crackles on the over-run. Sadly, that’s about it for aural interest, though; the engine note itself, while not inaudible, leaves us wanting more.
How about the inside?
It’s a mixed bag in here, actually. There’s much to celebrate, but a few details rankle. The infotainment screen, for example, which is shared with other A-Class models, is supposed to look like a tablet. In reality it just looks a bit… well…tacked on. And the red plastic rings around the vents feel a bit naff, too. But the rest generally seems well screwed-together and delightfully tactile, if – as you might expect – not quite as weighty as bigger Mercs.
Will my mates rate it?
Almost certainly. The Merc badge reeks of old-school prestige, while the A45′s fresh looks will win it many friends. And that’s before we’ve started on the huge power or the monumental grip. In short, the only way they won’t like it is if they still think Mercs are for the more middle-aged among us, in which case it’s your duty to re-educate them.
Can I afford it?
Ooh. Now, here’s the catch. The basic A45 AMG retails at a whopping £37,845. So not only is it the most powerful hot hatch – it’s also the most expensive. And that’s before you add any of the natty options, like metallic paint (another £570), performance suspension (£765), the aforementioned aerodynamic package (£1530) or the carbonfibre exterior trim package (a wince-inducing £2550).
Increasing the top speed to 168mph, will cost you an additional £1940. In other words, it wouldn’t be hard to spec up an A45 to well over £50k. Which is, frankly, a lot of money for a car of this size. The big question, though, will be whether the basic car is worth seven grand more than a stock M135i – and frankly, the jury’s still out on that one.
Show me three used alternatives
So you want a big-power, four-wheel-drive hatchback, eh? Look no further. With 330bhp this Impreza‘s almost as potent as the Merc, and what’s more it’s got a proper, full-time four-wheel-drive system with an adjustable central diff. Plus, all the rally cred the Impreza badge carries with it. OK, so the interior’s as naff as your dad’s record collection, but the Scooby’s exceptionally good value for all this power.
With 300bhp, an RS like this one might be down on power over the Merc, but it delivers plenty enough of a wallop as is. And if it isn’t enough you can always add a tuner upgrade pack like those from Mountune or Graham Goode for an easy 350bhp. With that grabby front diff and Revoknuckle suspension helping to get that power down, you’ll find the RS every bit as exhilarating to drive. Who needs badge snobbery anyway?
Or if what you really want is a more traditional AMG experience – that is to say, rear-drive and a socking great V8 – how’s about this E55? It packs over 100bhp more than the A45, not to mention a sleeper appeal the mini-Merc can’t match. And, of course, it’s less than half the price. Just make sure you buy yourself some stocks in Shell, too.Mercedes A45 AMG Review: A Super Hatch For The Super-Rich Youth,