Words & photos - Daniel Bevis
There are hot hatches, and there are hot hatches. And then there's the A45 AMG.
This is a car that effectively rebalances the logical equation of the genre, ignoring the age-old approach of taking a practical small family car and making it fast, and instead approaching from the angle of making an extraordinarily fast car and then wrapping it up in a hatchback. The result is something really quite mind-boggling.
If you're an aficionado of the archetypal hot hatches of the 1980s and '90s, as I am, then the numbers you're used to will be relatively modest. The 205 GTI 1.9 offered 126bhp; it was 137bhp for the MkII Golf GTI 16v, 133bhp for the Renault 19 16v, 132bhp for the Escort RS Turbo... obviously technology marches on and the numbers have swollen over the years, but even in a modern context the A45's headline figure of 360bhp is utterly deranged. That's as much as a TVR Cerbera, or a Morgan Aeromax. Hell, it's only 10bhp shy of the original Lamborghini Countach.
You don't just get oodles of horsepower for your money, either. (Oh, and it is quite a lot of money - in the spec you see here, we're talking £45,745.) In addition to that manic, handbuilt, turbocharged AMG four-pot, you get a seven-speed SMG paddle-shift 'box, four-wheel drive, absurdly large brakes, bucket seats, launch control, a full aero package with spoilers and canards, and a top speed that's electronically limited (!) to 168mph. Best of all, though, is to tick the option box for the AMG sports exhaust: something you really ought to add to your bucket list is driving one of these through a tunnel, windows down, enjoying the artillery-fire bangs on full-bore upshifts. Trust me. It's hilarious.
What Mercedes-Benz have done, then, is to circumvent the oh-it's-practical-and-it's-fast tradition entirely by solely focusing on building something that's incredibly entertaining and involving to drive, while stuffing in enough power to make the scenery go all blurry pretty much all of the time. The fact that you can fit your kids in the back is merely an incidental benefit.