By Paul Gover.
Hot hatches have been battling since the Volkswagen GTI hit in the 1970s, but there has never been anything that could punch quite like the Mercedes-AMG A45 S.
It is truly extreme, with performance that would have matched a Porsche less than five years ago and a price-tag creeping far too close to $100,000.
It’s the flagship of Benz’s updated and massively improved A-Class family of baby cars, making it much more refined than the first-generation model with the same badge on the back.
The next-gen A45 is more compliant and enjoyable for more of the time, not as bang-crash or immature as the car that went before it, and the cabin improvements alone step it up and away.
It’s all very nicely crafted and well equipped, right down to the ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice-recognition system that can control a bundle of adjustments that would normally need a switch or knob.
There is a brilliant Burmeister sound system, four USB charging ports and a wireless charging pad, a giant panorama of instrument and infotainment displays, four cupholders, reasonable boot space and enough room in the back for kids. A heads-up display would be good, but the A45 misses out.
Mechanically, the car has an eight-speed DSG gearbox and all-wheel drive with the ability to move the grip around to the axle that needs the most help, and there is a big rear wing, oversized 18-inch alloys and a four-barrel exhaust.
But the crew at AMG has turned the dial around to 13 for the engine of the A45, which is said to be the most powerful four-cylinder in the world.
It makes a truly wicked 310 kiloWatts, with 500 Newton-metres of torque, although it takes premium unleaded and can get as thirsty as a V8 if you spend a lot of time with the right foot on the floor.
The people who will buy the A45 S are quite likely to remember the Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo that were rapid on the road and starred in the World Rally Championship, but this belter Benz is newer and better and faster.
It’s quite likely to lure people who would otherwise consider a Mercedes-AMG C63, partly because it’s cheaper, partly because it’s easier around town, and partly because it’s easier to access more of the go for more of the time.
The A45 is a genuine jack-rabbit from the lights, capable of sprinting to 100km/h in a supercar sprint time of 3.9 seconds, and Benz says it will run out to 280km/h if you have the space and the points and time for a no-frills vacation behind bars.
So it ticks all the boxes for a hot hatch.
But there is an elephant in the garage, in the form of the AMG A35.
The 45 feels far sharper from the get-go, but the 35 is priced from $69,300 and has more than enough go for most people. It’s also more relaxed when you’re not in the mood or not feeling the need.
When you feel the need, the speed of the A45 is truly memorable and it makes the baby Benz far more than just another hot hatch.
Mercedes-AMG A45 S
Price: from $93,600
Transmission: 8-speed DSG, all-wheel drive
Position: hot hatch
Plus: cracking performance, added refinement
Minus: very expensive for a hot hatch
THE TICK: yes