Nestled within that angry, bloated and flared Mercedes A-Class you see above is the most powerful turbocharged four-cylinder engine... in the world. Welcome to the Mercedes A 45 AMG. And welcome to a new dawn for the hot hatch.
That engine pumps out 360bhp and 450Nm of torque, or 181bhp per litre: a lot, by any standards, let alone those of the ‘hot hatch'. Cars like the Renault 5 Turbo and Peugeot 205 GTI, packing 150ish bhp, used to be known as ‘pocket rockets'. With this hand-built engine - still adhering to AMG's ‘one-man, one-engine' philosophy - things are definitely more ‘Scud missile'. You even get the engineer's signature, all the better for tracing the man responsible for setting off car alarms when this thing is coaxed into life.
AMG's standard modus operandi - lots of power sent to the rear, lots of tyre smoke - has been ditched in favour of a lightweight AMG 4MATIC all-wheel drive system. The A 45's got big sticky rubber on all four corners and is predominately front-wheel-drive but, when it's needed, up to 50 per cent of the power is sent to the rear. It all goes through AMG's seven-speed DCT ‘box - which changes at the same speed as an SLS GT.
So with the help of launch control, the 360bhp, all-wheel-drive A 45 AMG will go from 0-100kph in 4.6 seconds; faster than a BMW M135i and on par with Audi's RS3. Being German, it's wearing a velocity belt that prevents it from going over 250kph.
Mercedes reckons the A 45 carries true AMG DNA, and it certainly looks the part: aggressive lines, a new chin and rear, bigger cooling ducts and a plush interior. Underneath, it sits on AMG springs and is stopped by huge AMG brakes.
Even though the engine is dwarfed by standard AMG V8s and V12s, there's nothing to worry about when it comes to the noise. It has the classic AMG-burble, and on lift-off, it sounds like popcorn is being made in the exhaust. There's an exhaust flap too, so if you're taking it easy and trying to get the claimed 14.1kpl, it'll be nice and quiet. But if you're hard of hearing, or like things on the loud side, you can spec an AMG Performance exhaust to take things up a notch. You should tick this box very much ‘yes'.
Price is yet to be confirmed, but AMG are apparently targeting a younger audience who it hopes will have enough cash to spare when it goes on sale in April. A tad more than the BMW M135i, but crucially, cheaper than an Audi RS3. Which would you have?
Photos: Rowan Horncastle