We were big fans of the Mercedes-AMG A 45 S before it was updated – and we still are. While some subtle styling changes and improvements to the in-car tech have been introduced, the same outlandish personality remains. That AMG has managed to deliver a car with stunning speed, yet so much involvement, and combined this with a sensible five-door body is astonishing. The A 45 S remains one of the best Mercedes models you can buy.
Mercedes has given its A-Class a little nip and tuck for 2023. We’ve already sampled the changes to the standard family hatch, but now it’s the turn of the AMG models. Both the A 35 and A 45 S receive a little attention, but it’s the hotter of the two cars that we’re trying here.
We reckon that Mercedes struck a great balance between subtlety and menace the first time around, so it’s a good thing that changes to the A 45’s looks are minimal.
The headlights have revised LED internals and flank a grille that has been reshaped. Look closely and you’ll see that the traditional three-pointed star above the grille has been replaced by the AMG logo. There are revised lights at the back, too.
The interior tweaks mirror those in the rest of the A-Class range. The key change comes with an improved version of the MBUX infotainment system. It’s very slick, with quick loading times and razor-sharp graphics. It also introduces some new menu structures that will appeal to keen drivers, because it’s now much easier to switch between the drive modes and customise each one to your specific taste.
Better still is the fact that a small round dial on the right-hand spoke of the steering wheel lets you switch between drive modes on the fly, while the one on the left allows you to configure specific features, such as the exhaust note, damper modes and gearbox. The buttons don’t just look cool, they’re also incredibly intuitive – unlike the slightly fiddly touch-sensitive switches for the stereo and cruise control.
The upgrades to the A 45 don’t alter anything from a mechanical point of view, so it hasn’t got any hotter. But then, it’s not as if it needed to; there are many sports cars that can’t match its staggering pace.
The 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine pumps out 415bhp and 500Nm. Engage launch control and it’ll crack the 0-62mph sprint in just 3.9 seconds.
But there’s far more to the A 45 S’s character than straight-line speed. First, there’s the engine itself. While some four-cylinder motors sound a little flat and charmless, this unit is eager and angry. Full-bore upshifts (the gearbox is at its best flat out, but occasionally clunky when driving calmly) are accompanied by a pop from the four tailpipes in the exhaust’s more loutish mode. Some engine-noise augmentation is piped through the speakers, but it’s subtle enough to feel authentic.
The A 45 is just as quick around the corners, too. Grip is phenomenal, and on a dry road you’ll have to work extremely hard to breach its limits. Turn-in is razor sharp, and four-wheel-drive traction lets you get on the throttle very early. In fact, the only time that you’re likely to hear the tyres protest is under heavy braking, when the hugely powerful brakes slow the car, but keep it nice and stable.
If all that sounds like it could produce something a little one-dimensional, then you’d be wrong. There are plenty of hot hatches that are almost as quick point to point, but it’s much rarer to find one that can also deliver an engrossing level of interaction. The A 45 is one of very few cars that does so while making the driver feel like they’re making the difference.
Everything starts with the car’s basic controls. The steering, though fairly light, feels wonderfully precise and loads up naturally through the corners, giving you enough feedback to trust the front axle. It’s a fast set-up, but it’s well matched to the chassis.
The damping is also superb. There’s enough forgiveness in the settings to allow the A 45 to flow with the road, but enough control to keep the body in check at higher speed. Because it’s not so stiff, you can both feel the suspension load up through corners, and use the steering and throttle to adjust the car’s attitude mid-corner. In short, it’s a huge amount of fun.
That suspension tuning also brings benefits elsewhere. When you’d just like to relax, the AMG is really quite comfortable. Even in its firmest setting it’s not harsh, mainly because the springs and dampers isolate the most aggressive bumps from the cabin. The only downside when it comes to refinement is road noise, which is quite noticeable from those fat tyres.
Prices for the revised Mercedes-AMG A 45 S start from £63,285 – and we’d be the first to admit that that is strong money for a hot hatchback. But in terms of what this car can offer – huge speed, feel and practicality – there are very few cars costing similar money that can provide so much.