Those who subscribe to the idea that a driver’s car must first and foremost possess good steering will be pleased to hear that the A45 S makes a strong start. This set-up, which uses speed-dependent gearing, isn’t immune to deflection or the odd flicker of torque steer, but it develops convincing weight and prizes accuracy.

As you’ll find with AMG’s more serious, rear-driven models, there’s also a communicative vein of feel that makes it easy to guide and place the car with satisfying conviction on tight, twisting roads. By the standards of today’s hatchbacks, with their electrically assisted racks, this set-up ranks as one of the best, although fractionally more self-centring action would make it unquestionably the class of the field.

Eight-speed dual-clutch automatic is so much better than the seven-speed box fitted to lesser 35 models. Shifts are far slicker and I didn’t find myself inadvertently banging into the limiter quite as much

The next step in your journey of A45 S discovery is to find that roadholding is every bit as jowl-tuggingly adhesive as you would expect, given this car’s ability to cleverly apportion drive between its 245-section tyres. Aggressively turn in to corners and there is but a tiny slither of latency before the tall body responds, and even this chink in the armour is exposed only during extreme direction changes. Most of the time, the centre of gravity feels low, the car’s composure largely unflappable, with grip and traction the dominant forces.

But what about Drift mode, which throws as much of the engine’s torque to the rear outside wheel as possible? Despite the marketing campaigns, the way this – and all of the more aggressive settings for the AMG Dynamics chassis electronics – mostly manifests is not with armfuls of opposite lock but with an awesome level of neutrality. Through corners, the rear axle can snag the inside brake and push drive to the outside, which essentially eliminates understeer on the road but can sometimes result in glimmers of rotation that require only an opening of steering angle. Of more significance is that, even when driven within the limits of grip, the A45 S feels more involving, serious and sophisticated on the move than any hatchback counterparts, be they driven by both axles or only the front.

As with so many good driver’s cars, there’s more than one way to drive and enjoy an A45 S on a track. The car offers uncompromising grip, composure and high-speed stability when you go looking for outright speed but it can also be driven in a more expressive and ostentatious style if that fits your mood.

The car’s torque-vectoring four-wheel drive system feels more natural than the one in the old Ford Focus RS. Rather than seeming to pitch the car into bends as the Ford can sometimes do, the A45’s driveline allows for lots of mid-corner stability, confidence and feel. In most driving modes, it gently but effectively neutralises the car’s attitude under power.

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Drift mode isn’t like disengaging the front driveshafts, but it does allow you to accelerate the chassis into oversteer around a tighter bend quite simply and then to maintain a longish slide so long as you keep positive steering angle applied.

Comfort and isolation

Before you’ve even cast an eye over the improbably big numbers on the spec sheet, both the look and sound of the A45 S suggest it might not brook much compromise for everyday driving. And there’s some truth in this.

The heated AMG Performance seats bring a degree of supercar glamour to this hottest of hatches. They are firm but widely adjustable and supremely supportive, providing comfort over long distances. Large wheels, firm springs and firm suspension mounts mean road roar is inevitable, however, and anybody acclimatised to Volkswagen’s Golf R will find the A45 S a noisy, somewhat busy cruiser.

But as we’ve discovered, this AMG is not a Golf R rival, and when you consider the fearsome performance and more hardcore character of the A45 S, you realise relative usability is one of the car’s greatest strengths. With the dampers in Comfort, the ride remains resilient but rarely if ever is it punishing – even at town speeds, which is where the old A45 tripped up – and day-to-day, the car demonstrates the softer side of its split personality.

With the A45 S, you get a dose of normality that owners of the Renault Mégane RS Trophy and 718 Cayman must occasionally long for. The A45 S further impresses with the fine-tuning of its driving controls. Natural pedal and steering response at everyday speeds contributes to the overall ease of use.

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