There’s only one place to start with the new Mercedes-AMG A 45 S: the engine. It’s still a four-cylinder 2.0-litre turbo but this time around its all-new, not a nut or bolt carried over, and packing a barely believable 415bhp and 500Nm of torque.
It’s the most powerful 2.0-litre engine to find its way into a production car and sees the title of the world’s hottest hatchback return, once again, to Affalterbach. Why so much power in what essentially remains a family hatchback? “Because we can”, Mercedes-AMG engineers proudly claim.
• New Mercedes-AMG A 35 review
But in the pursuit of ultimate performance and outright speed has AMG made sacrifices in key areas – namely useability, handling and engagement – that make a fast hot hatchback a truly great one?
The short answer is no – not one bit. The first thing you notice, however, is the level of relative comfort. The old A 45 was about as comfortable as a tumble down a flight of stairs but this time around the improvements to the suspension, chassis and addition of frequency-selective shock absorbers means the A 45 is considerably more forgiving car to drive slowly. At least that’s how it felt on our test route around Madrid, Spain; a drive on broken UK B-roads will be the ultimate test, however.
The engine, unsurprisingly, is a standout feature. The rate of acceleration is explosive and coupled with the new and more sophisticated four-wheel drive system, which can send 50 per cent of the engine’s power to the rear axle, means not an ounce of power is wasted in wheel spin. Pin the throttle and the A 45 hooks up and spits you towards the horizon at an astonishing pace. Mercedes says it hits 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds, making it faster than the flagship AMG GT sportscar. And it’s a hatchback.
Peak power doesn’t arrive until 6,750rpm so it’s a turbocharged engine that really rewards you for wringing it out. It also makes a hell of a noise thanks to a new sports exhaust, which emits thunderous bangs while you work your way through the rapid eight-speed dual-clutch auto.
You can carry and maintain significant speed through corners thanks to the effectiveness of the four-wheel drive system – the tyres clinging onto the tarmac like a teenager to an iPhone. It’s thanks to a new twin-clutch setup on the rear axle that enables its share of the power (50 per cent) to be sent to either the left or right wheel; there’s always the sensation of the system constantly shuffling power to where it can be most effectively deployed, keeping progress composed and stable at speed, but also adjustable when you want it to be.
• Best hot hatchbacks on sale
If there’s a weak link it’s perhaps the steering. It’s quite light and not brimming with feel; you drive, on occasion, relying on the invisible but vasts amount of grip served up by the four-wheel drive system rather than the accuracy of the steering itself.
Calm things down and the A 45 is a lot more polished and civilised when it comes to banal day-to-day tasks such as a long motorway slog and crawling in traffic. It’s quiet at speed, comfortable and a far more pleasant place to spend time with a cabin that it by far the best-in-class. Fundamentally, the A 45 also remains an A-Class at its core so retains all of the standard model’s useability. The 370-litre boot is a decent size, but space in the back can’t be described as anything other than adequate for adults.
The A 45 certainly moves the hot hatch game on, no question, and it’s difficult not to get caught up in the sheer ferocity of the performance. But there is more to a hot hatch than just outright speed. Would you be having any less fun in a Honda Civic Type R? I’m not entirely sure you would.
And then there’s the question of price. It’s yet to be confirmed but the A 45 is going to cost in excess of £50,000 in the UK. Add on a few options and that figure is going to look more like £60,000. An extortionate sum for a hot hatch, regardless of how good it is.