It’s hard to argue with the numbers the new Mercedes-AMG A45 S throws at you. Figures like 416bhp (peak power) and 3.9 seconds (the 0-62mph time). The A45 S accelerates faster than a lot of supercars of yesteryear, for Pete’s sake, despite being a family-friendly hatchback with seating for five.
However, the old one was also good at extracting silly power outputs from a 2.0-litre engine and being monstrously fast in a straight line, but that wasn’t enough to make it an AMG great. The first A45, while not a bad car, didn’t excel in any other area. The new one needs to be more than just a rocket with a so-so interior and a big price tag.
Before even getting in, the signs are good. Our test car being an A45 S Plus, it has the AMG Aerodynamic package, complete with a pleasantly daft rear wing and some angry looking canards on the front bumper. They go nicely with the Panamericana grille, which gives the A45 a clear visual differentiation from the cheaper, slower AMG A35.
The Plus also bundles in adaptive dampers, a panoramic roof, LED headlights and 19-inch wheels while sprucing up the (much improved) cabin with leather electric seats and a Burmester sound system. But you don’t care about any of that, do you? You want to know how it goes.
And the answer is…like it’s had a jet stuffed up its arse. The electronics can - very briefly - get overwhelmed during launch control starts, but once you’re away, speed builds very quickly indeed. It’s an unusual engine; AMG has deliberately made it feel more N/A-like with peak torque of 369lb ft coming in at a relatively high 5000-5250rpm and peak power arriving at 6750rpm, but there is still a decent helping of turbo lag.
The twin-scroll turbocharger has been given roller bearings to help responsiveness, but there’s only so much measures like these can do when a power figure as large as this is being extracted from such a small engine. The 7200rpm redline, meanwhile, sounds great on paper, but a soft limiter hampers the high-rev fun.
Keep the engine speeds lower, and it’s a mighty effective, hugely exciting unit. It even makes a decent (possibly slightly augmented) noise. For an inline-four, at least.
Changing gears is something you’re best off doing by yourself during fast driving. If left to do the cog-swapping itself, the new eight-speed dual-clutch transmission is a little over-active and has a thing about keeping the engine speed needlessly high for road use. Also, second gear is unbelievably short.
The all-wheel drive system is an odd one. It’s fully variable, with two electronically-controlled differentials at the rear axle - one for each wheel. In tighter corners under heavy throttle, it sometimes lobs a load of torque to the back, pushing the A45 into weird, fake-feeling oversteer moments. During these times, it’s reminiscent of the Ford Focus RS, a car I never really got on with.
In faster, sweeping corners, though, the system’s behaviour is more natural. It’ll generally be neutral, giving a cheeky kick at the rear when pushed to its limits. Traction, whatever the weather, simply isn’t a problem, and yes, if you have a suitable place to clown around, there is Drift mode to use. During our brief go, we could get the back end sliding around, but it takes some encouragement, with the car having a habit of shoving all the torque to the front just as the rears get going.
The steering feels consistent and has a nice weight to it, but the damping? That we do have to take issue with. On the road, Sport Plus or Race Mode was always our preference, but even with the three-stage adaptive dampers turned down to their slackest setting, the A45 S is absurdly firm. It may corner with barely a hint of body roll, but we’d happily have a bit more lean if that meant an increase in suspension finesse.
As it is, the A45 S nervously bounces you around on bumpier backgrounds and soon becomes a chore to drive on longer cruises. The road noise that smashes through the cabin is obscene, too. One of these on smaller wheels and passive dampers might be the answer - we’ll see if we can get behind the wheel of an S specced version in due course.
In this Plus configuration, it’s £57,165, the one and only option being the £595 ‘Denim Blue’ finish. Enough, in other words, for a very well-specced BMW M2 which, while slower, has another litre of displacement and two extra cylinders. And crucially, it’s more fun and nails its brief more successfully than the A45.
Make no mistake, the A45 defecates all over its predecessor. It’s a better car in almost every respect as well as a more entertaining one. Its blend of ludicrous pace and ability will no doubt attract many, but for the price, it’s still not quite there.