A few words in the Mercedes-Benz literature that accompanies the Mercedes-AMG A 45 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 A 45 – the most powerful hot hatchback on sale, 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 A 200 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 A 45 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. However, in 2015 Audi decided to snatch that crown with its RS3, before the AMG division upped the ante by turing up the wick and giving the A 45 an unprecedented 376bhp.

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 the mega Ford Focus RS, and £7000 more than the Volkswagen Golf R, our two current favourite hot hatches.

Save money on your car insurance

Compare quotesCompare insurance quotes

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Explore the Mercedes-AMG range

Driven this week

  • Audi RS4 Avant
    First Drive
    22 January 2018
    We get our hands on the barnstorming Audi RS4 Avant in the UK to see if this fast family estate can take the fight to the Mercedes-AMG C63 Estate
  • BMW X3
    Car review
    19 January 2018
    The stakes have never been higher for BMW’s mid-sized SUV, now the X3 in its third generation. So can it deliver?
  • Nissan Leaf
    First Drive
    19 January 2018
    Better looks, better value, better range, stronger performance and a quiet and relaxing drive make the Nissan Leaf a leading EV contender again
  • Volkswagen Up GTI
    First Drive
    18 January 2018
    Funky, light, enjoyable and even reasonably priced, the Volkswagen Up GTI is a car to be appreciated on its own compelling terms
  • Skoda Fabia 1.0 TSI 110 Redline
    First Drive
    18 January 2018
    Our first flavour of the 1.0 TSI-engined Skoda Fabia on UK roads shows it’s versatile but not all that sporty