It's 5pm on a Sunday evening in the Victorian alpine region. The golden sunlight is glistening in through the snow gums, falling softly on to the black road. Rounding the bend, the 381hp, 475Nm A45 AMG engine begins to snarl and growl as the right foot is eased into the carpet.
'What a sound!' I begin to think as the revs build. All from a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, who would've thought? A quick flick up on the aluminium paddle and the fun continues again all the way up to a touch over 6000rpm. Bang! The exhaust explodes on the upshift as you begin to listen to this sweet mechanical gearbox sound, and changing gear like a transformer shifting state when going from second to third.
I arrive at the top of the mountain expecting the firework theatrics to cause all of Victoria Police to be waiting for me. "No fun for you!" (Soup Nazi). Thankfully, no-one but the cold mountain air and a few rabbits are around to greet me. Surely this amount of enjoyment can't be legal, but it is. For $78,000, I managed to secure myself a 2017.5 A45 AMG Yellow Night Edition with 26km on the clock and Dunlop Sportmaxx TT tyres.
Ever since 2014, when I watched Chris Harris drive the original gen-one A45 around the track on YouTube, I wanted one of these machines. Four years later, and if I'm frank, after I stretched the wallet a little bit, I can finally say I own one. I'll start firstly with trying to address your question of why I bought the A45.
To answer this, I believe it's best found in reviewing its closest rivals, the VW Golf R, Ford Focus RS, Audi RS3 and BMW M2. I shall try to keep my thoughts on these other cars brief to my own experiences, as this is a review on the A45, an honest owner's review. I test-drove the Golf R Gen 7/7.5 (friends' and dealer vehicles), Ford Focus RS (dealer), BMW M2 (dealer), but not the Audi RS3.
To start with the Golf, the rumble of the exhaust sounds mean and muscular, the seats are super comfortable, and the interior is slick and ergonomic. However, it felt compromised by its main target buyer. It's 'IMHO' families looking for a fun second car to complement their family SUV, and in this I say it's the perfect car for the job. But it has led to the suspension feeling spongy (better on the 7.5), and if you rev it, it won't rev standing still past 4000rpm... And I thought this was a hot hatch?
The Golf R has lost its fun factor. It's grown up a lot since its university raspy six-cylinder R32 days. It scored its first job at one of the Big Four and wears a suit to work. You bump into it like an old friend at the pub you haven't seen in a few years. Sharing old stories about chasing girls, spray-painting brake calipers and rocking obnoxiously loud exhausts because it was fun. You shake hands and say goodbye, hoping to see them again one day.
The Ford Focus RS was a real standout, catching me totally unaware. The dealer one I test-drove was black and had the wheel upgrade. My god, shifting that thing was an experience. The acceleration feels faster than the A45, and before you know it, you have taken second and the 80km/h speed limit is a thing of the past.
I hear a curse and upset grumble underneath the breath of the salesman sitting next to me as he cries "Mate keep it under 80!". This thing is on, it is definitely on. It feels very 'focused', pardon the pun, twitchy almost, ready to race and take on anyone. The RS would bring a knife to a gun fight and win. The shifter, although in a great position, was clunky with no feel.
The major downside of the RS, though, and you know it's coming, was the refinement. The interior went totally amiss, feeling rubbery and with cheap plastics. If VW can build a car with similar performance and price to the Ford Focus RS, why does it not have the same level of comfort? The infotainment looked like something out of an ’80s Atari game console; the game Pong has more resolution. Crap. I won't go into the recall on the head gasket debacle, but I felt the reliability probably wasn't there either.
Next I drove the BMW M2, and to be honest I believe this may have been the best car out of them all, including the A45. I still think about that 3.0-litre turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine. Revving that machine was like nothing else. It was so free-spinning, just magical like only a six-cylinder could be. Its analogue rev counter ripped up and down like a Formula 1 car.
It was comfortable, with nice looks and sophisticated. However, whoever considers this a sports car for under $100,000 is kidding themselves. Every one I looked at brand new was minimum $105K. It was too expensive for me, and if do have one gripe, it's that the interior hasn't changed since my 1995 525i that I owned. But a superb machine nonetheless.
The RS3, well, I never drove one. The interior was top-notch with those diamond leather seats, #drool. The salesman down at Brighton Audi was rude and told me I couldn't afford one (probably true) and gave me a bad vibe. Having said that, I have tracked and owned a number of Audis and they have all been great cars. However, sitting in the white RS3 sedan, I longed for the AMG down the road.
The A45 is the one for me. All the others have certain individual points that were perhaps better than the A45. But overall, the A45 covers them all off with poise and composure. I chose the Yellow Night Edition over a matt-silver version without the optional aerodynamic package. It looked great, but the Yellow Night interior with its yellow stitching and black exterior highlights was utterly lush. I love the fact that at night when unlocking the vehicle, the lights flash orange and then a deep electric blue comes on, fading into a white running light. So trick.
It's the little details in the AMG series that AMG should be really proud of. The infotainment system is gorgeous, regardless of the 'iPad' look. As you switch modes, the graphics are refined and unique. The touchpoints around the cabin are crisp and feel expensive. The aluminium is cold to touch and the leather is tight. You get plastic paddles in the RS3, yet beautifully crafted aluminium ones in the AMG that have a distinct thud when changing. Ciao bella.
On driving the AMG spiritedly, it grips and grips. It's not old-school Porsche 944 S2 feedback through the wheel, but it's very good. The AWD 4MATIC system for me feels kinda front-wheel drive when entering the turn, with a feeling that it may begin to understeer at times if pushed a bit too much. However, it may just be my lack of driver ability.
Get it right, though, and the cliche 'on rails' comes to fruition. As the AWD lines you up on the exit to the turn, pick up the throttle and prepare the jump to light speed. The suspension and brakes are just right, allowing you to build your confidence as you pick up the pace. It truly is a remarkable machine when being pushed.
Quickly on the downsides, it's expensive at $28,000 on top of a Focus RS and V-dub R (could buy a Fiat Abarth as well), its fuel consumption is probably worse than the Apollo space rocket during a launch sequence (which I assume the others are just as bad), and for some unknown reason the exhaust pipe tips are fake. The seating position is snug – I am 5ft 11in and 90kg – making my thigh get a cramp on long drives over three hours.
I've driven a touch over 4000km, including a one-way trip to Sydney, and have averaged 9.9L/100km over the life of the vehicle. During highway driving, the best I saw was 7.3L/100km. Driving hard, look at 15–16L/100km.
It's practical, the reverse camera is great, auto park is a useless feature that I've never used, and safety features I can attest to involved in the driver-assist package all work as advertised. Servicing is approximately $550 the first year, $1100 in the second and third years. The huge sunroof is lovely for summer drives.
I hope you enjoyed the review – see you on the twisties!