Hot hatch thermometer hits furnace temperatures for this range-topping A-Class

The new Mercedes-AMG A45 S 4Matic+ looks like a significant landmark in the evolution of the hot hatchback.

Depending on how public opinion continues to view outlandish and excessive performance cars like this over the next decade, it may even turn out to be a high-water mark of a sort. With 416bhp on tap from its new turbocharged four-cylinder engine, this is nothing less than the most powerful series-production example of its performance breed there has ever been. It is, in short, the very hottest hot hatchback in the world.

AMG Aerodynamics package brings the rear spoiler, extra diffuser blades and canards on the front bumper. It guarantees that the car won’t be mistaken for an A35.

The new A45 S is more powerful and expensive even than the rarest, hottest and priciest cult ‘fast 4x4s’ of the past 20 years: the Subaru Impreza STI and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo. It joins the Mercedes-AMG showroom range at the same time as the new CLA 45 S, which is almost mechanically identical and allows you to choose a very similar driving experience wrapped up in the body of either a four-door coupé or a four-door shooting brake.

All body derivatives are priced similarly, the A45 S opening up from £50,570 in the UK. And that means, of course, the car very boldly takes the hot hatchback into direct value comparisons where it perhaps ought to fear to tread, against sports cars such as the Alpine A110, Porsche 718 Cayman and BMW M2 Competition. But then it also promises outright performance to make those comparisons surprisingly tough to call: 0-60mph in less than 4.0sec and nearly 170mph flat out.

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So the next few pages should tell you whether a four-wheel-drive A-Class really can go that fast, out of the brochure and on real-world Tarmac; and, perhaps more important, whether the new A45 can transcend the limitations that typically bind hot hatchbacks and offer the driver appeal to rival the mid-engined sports cars and rear-driven muscle coupés that £50,000 would otherwise buy.

The A-Class range at a glance

Based on Mercedes’ high-volume hatchback, the A45 S crowns a broad range that includes diesel, petrol and plug-in hybrid options. However, the A45 S is far more customised than its range-mates, not least because of its entirely new, AMG-built engine.

Price £56,570 Power 416bhp Torque 369lb ft 0-60mph 4.1sec 30-70mph in fourth 6.2sec Fuel economy 31.1mpg CO2 emissions 192g/km 70-0mph 49.8m