Mercedes-AMG A45 S 2023 review
Big hitting AMG A45 S hyper-hatch gets the mildest of facelifts but still packs a heavyweight punch
It may not look like it but this is the facelifted AMG A45 S. Honestly. The press pack is staring me in the face telling me about the new headlights, the AMG-specific grille, and how the badge above said grille is no longer a three-pointed star but the Affalterbach coat of arms. The AMG Performance steering wheel is new too and there’s been a serious upload of new software, but the hardware remains untouched.
This means the A45 S continues to be powered by the M139 turbocharged 2-litre engine, which is still the most powerful four-cylinder production engine in the world, with a specific output of 209bhp per litre. Its unchanged 415bhp peak beats the Audi RS3’s five-cylinder by 21bhp, yet both generate 369lb ft of torque for their four-wheel-drive systems to manage, the A45’s 4Matic+ providing a dual-clutch pack on the rear axle to allow for the de rigueur Drift mode.
Alongside the RS3s, Golf Rs and Civic Type Rs of the hyperhatch world, the A45 S has always delivered the biggest performance punch, along with a look that gets close in terms of in-your-face aggressiveness to the Honda’s. Front-end dive planes, a prominent splitter, deeper sides sills, a rear diffuser and a roof-mounted spoiler are the AMG’s signature uniform, along with a set of 19-inch black alloy wheels. It doesn’t do subtle.
For all its punch the engine isn’t the dominant force you might expect, because the whole package is so well strung together. The engine and exhaust sound have been toned down and the latest particulate filter results in a flatter-than-anticipated soundtrack when you leave the drive mode in Comfort; if you weren’t sitting in a winged-back seat and gripping that new steering wheel you might not even realise you’re driving an AMG. Thankfully, where Sport settings once were best left to the circuit or ultra-smooth road surfaces, today their calibration provides a far greater operating window, and the A45 S is no different.
Engaging Sport tightens the dampers, loosens the engine’s shackles, tenses up the gearchanges, opens the exhaust and starts to relax the stability and traction systems, although the steering remains untouched. And the A45 feels much closer to its maker’s intentions as a result, its engine more alert and response times more befitting of a 400-plus bhp hatchback, the opportunity to crash into the hard rev limiter in lower gears more forthcoming. The additional tightness through the body dials in more confidence, the firmer damper rate complementing the set-up without crashy results. It’s the A45 as expected: sharp, decisive and blisteringly quick.
Happy to be bullied into a corner or placed with a sports car-like deftness at the apex, the rewards are the same either way: grip from the Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyres seemingly unbreakable at the front, the rear mobile on command but with an ability to remain calm under immense pressure, with clean transitions from grip to low-level slip. As with its predecessor, with each passing mile thoughts of mid-nineties and early noughties Japanese Group A road warriors flood your imagination; you can’t help but wonder if AMG’s R&D centre has a handful of RA Imprezas and Mitsubishi Evos under dust sheets having served their time as inspiration for the A45.
Where a Golf R starts to feel numb the harder you push, an A45 bubbles with a next level of enthusiasm, and where the latest RS3 relies on its oh-so-clever RS differential to bring fun, the A45 feels more organic, the more natural at wanting to leave a corner with a quarter turn of corrective lock as you feed in the throttle as the nose locks in on the apex. It uses its tech in a more natural way, blending it with a clarity rivals can’t match.
When you want more from that explosive engine, Sport+ and Race deliver the feral responses to the throttle, but both introduce a chassis setting that’s too much for the road, so you’re thankful for the Individual mode. Looser traction and stability settings arrive here too and allow more freedom from the rear axle, but this only highlights the lack of meaningful steering feedback, which leaves you to place a lot of faith in the tyres’ performance as opposed to providing the detail to make clearer decisions. It’s an oversight on AMG’s part to overlook such a performance parameter.
As the hot hatch as we know it continues to fade away, the A45 S remains a blazing advertisement for the sector. It’s bold and brash, and uncouth for many. At £63,285 it’s also far too expensive: that sum could buy a previous-generation M2 Competition (manual or auto) and leave you with £20,000 to spend on rear tyres. But the call of a new hyperhatch is stronger for some, and for those who don’t like the Civic Type R’s looks, the A45 S is waiting under its wing.
Price and rivals
£63,285 is big money regardless of the car, more so when it’s one that’s based on a humble hatchback, but the world’s most powerful four-cylinder production engine and the brain power of AMG doesn’t come cheap, so neither does the new A45 S.
Alongside the best in class £49,090 Honda Civic Type R, the AMG will be hard to justify for many, unless they want or need an auto gearbox and four-wheel. If you do, the A45 S has the £44,170 VW Golf R covered – the £53,600 RS3 runs it close but not close enough to bloody its nose, not that you can buy a new RS3 at the moment. If you do want a manual gearbox, rear wheel drive sports car and only need two doors, there’s always the new £64,890 BMW M2.
2023 Mercedes-AMG A45 S specs
|Engine||In-line 4-cyl, 1991cc, turbocharged|
|Power||415bhp @ 6750rpm|
|Torque||369lb ft @ 5000-5250rpm|