A few words in the Mercedes-Benz literature that accompanies the Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG tell you much about the thinking behind this car: the target audience is drivers aged between 30 and mid-40s. A great deal younger than your typical AMG buyer, or any other super-saloon buyer, in other words.

The A45 – the most powerful hot hatchback yet built, and with currently the most powerful four-cylinder engine in production – is meant to open up AMG to a host of potential fans who have hitherto been denied access to the high-priced, usually V8-powered cars from Mercedes’ sporting arm. It’ll also add extra gravitas to styling kits and trim levels featuring AMG badging.

It's unusual for a firm with Mercedes-Benz's historical heft not to be able to point to a forebear, but the 40-year-old hot hatch concept is a novel one for the three-pointed star.

The previous A-class, in seldom-seen A200 Turbo format, was blessed with a butch-sounding 193bhp from its 2.0-litre petrol engine, yet the elk-tester found it was patently unsuited to the business of boisterous driving. Consequently the smallest model that AMG previously fiddled with was probably the Mercedes-Benz SLK.

So not only is the A45 a different kind of AMG product, but it’s also a different kind of hot hatch. It's got part-time four-wheel drive system. It's also expensive. And with 355bhp, it’s a powerful hot hatch.

During the course of this review, we’ll find out if it’s also a compelling hot hatch. It will have to be if it is to justify its five-figure premium over a Renault Mégane 265 Cup, our current favourite hot hatch.

Top 5 Hot hatches

  • Renault Mégane Renaultsport
    The Renaultsport 265 is the hot version of Renault's Focus-rivalling hatchback

    Renault Mégane Renaultsport

    1
  • Volkswagen Golf R
    The new Golf R is faster than any production Volkswagen before it

    Volkswagen Golf R

    2
  • This four-cylinder Focus feels lighter at the front than its five-pot predecessor

    Ford Focus ST

    3
  • Seat Leon Cupra
    The new Leon Cupra is offered with a choice of 261bhp or 276bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engines

    Seat Leon Cupra

    4
  • M135i is not a full-blooded M car, rather 'powered by M'

    BMW M135i

    5

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