/ 11 November 2023

Merc’s A45 S offers thrills and spills

Merc A45
A driver’s car: The ride quality of the Mercedes-AMG A45 S is on the firm side but it packs huge performance.

The hot-hatch segment has seen a significant decline over the years and to still have something like the formidable Mercedes-AMG A45 S devouring the streets, despite the electrification threat, is a wonder to behold. 

And to think that the legacy that started in 2013 rests entirely on this car’s shoulders.  

The first-generation model placed the A45 at the pinnacle of the greatest hot hatches. It competed with the likes of the BMW M135i (later renamed the M140i) and the excellent Audi RS3 Sportback during a time when 265kW and 450Nm from a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine were considered remarkable.

Merc’s A45 wasn’t just another hot hatch — it set emotions ablaze with its theatrics — yet it had its flaws, such as harsh ride quality and cramped rear seat space. 

Mercedes-AMG aimed to right these wrongs, and it succeeded when it introduced the second-generation A45 in 2019. 

For the 2023 model year, it has been given a mid-cycle refresh, including subtle exterior tweaks, but it still extracts colossal oomph from the M139 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo petrol powerplant, with the reworked driving dynamics. 

Inside, the overall build quality is top-notch, complemented by a chunky multi-functional steering wheel, aluminium accents, sports seats and a digital dashboard. This is made up of two screens — 10 inch and 25 inch — with controls that are intuitive to use, thanks to the increased processing performance. 

What about space, you ask? Well, the new A45 S hasn’t forfeited its practicality and it retains its generous interior proportions, ensuring ample room for all passengers. Furthermore, the capacious 370-litre boot space was able to gulp up our luggage and equipment with ease. 

The A45 S is a comprehensively sorted compact hot hatch that still wields the same M139 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine as its predecessor. Power is still rated at 310kW and 500Nm, sent to all fours via a refined AMG 8-speed DCT plus a 4Matic+ system. 

Top-notch: The Mercedes-AMG A45 S’s interior is spacious and the build quality is excellent. Photo: Justin Leighton

The A45 S executes its tasks with a level of finesse that is truly noteworthy and it’s that kind of car that compels drivers to at least try to unleash its full potential. 

Unexpectedly, it emerged as a formidable contender among high-end supercars at this year’s Cannonball Run charity event in Joburg in August, demonstrating its exceptional agility and top-tier performance — attributes long associated with the world of hot hatches.

Yet, it’s not just about all-out speed. Dial it into the comfort mode and it transforms into a mild-mannered machine. Sure, the ride quality leans towards the firm side but that’s to be expected from a car of this calibre. 

When it comes to handling the A45 S has a mind of its own, as experienced during our speed run in a controlled environment at the Cannonball Run. 

An unexpected twist in the road caused a heart-in-mouth moment with the front tyres teetering on the fringes of grip. Thankfully, the brilliant 4Matic+ system and other typically over-intrusive safety systems intervened, correcting the course of the A45.  

While it feels over-engineered on many fronts, it’s also a driver’s car, and you don’t have to go full throttle to enjoy it. For those who seek more, it responds with an immediacy we don’t often encounter with turbocharged cars and that nets it serious points in our book. 

Priced at R1 397 793, the Mercedes-AMG A45 S isn’t anywhere close to being an affordable hot hatch, yet if you view it through the performance car lens you will understand what it’s all about. It comes with all the amenities of a modern-day Mercedes-Benz, and blistering performance to boot — and did I mention the soundtrack? 

Before you commit to the A45 S, it would be wise to cast your gaze upon its formidable rivals. The VW Golf 8 R might be the least powerful of the bunch but it offers a fantastic drive while the Audi RS3 Sportback is a stunning combination of performance and elegance. 

The new BMW M2, on the other hand, occupies a space not defined by hot-hatch norms and ups the ante with a rear-wheel configuration for enthusiastic driver enjoyment.