Is AMG the ultimate automotive skunkworks? Back in the day, perhaps. Now, exactly 45 years after the outfit was founded by just two men in a big shed, it's a 1000 employee-strong pillar of the Mercedes empire, the one whose signature eight-cylinder engines emit the most famously thunderous noise in the business. It's even part of the Mercedes F1 team, underlining its strategic importance to the company.
All of which makes the confirmation of its smallest, most affordable model ever, the A45 AMG - which we first told you about last year - equal parts exciting and, for purists, a tad worrying. Rest easy, V8 fans. In a ridiculously early anniversary preview, TG.com has seen the new car, and although it's powered by a heavily revised version of the 2.0-litre turbo four that lesser A classes will use, AMG's big guns assured us that the A45 will a) have the highest specific output of ANY car, eclipsing even the McLaren 12C, which points to around 330bhp b) more than 300lb ft of torques and c) will sound ruddy marvellous, despite its cylinder deficit. Over to Fritz Eichler, AMG's head of powertrain. ‘The sound our cars make is hugely important, we know that. Which is why I've said to my guys, "I want this thing to sound like a Rory Gallagher guitar solo".' This is our sort of analogy.
With the Golf R, Audi RS3 and BMW 1 M Coupe firmly in its sights, the A45 AMG uses a Haldex-style all-wheel drive set-up with a multi-plate clutch. AMG's head of development Tobias Moers confirmed that the variable torque split is 60/40 front-to-rear, with similar overall weight distribution. ‘OK, you can't exactly drift it, but believe me it has a very positive front end. It does not know the meaning of understeer... Can you get it sideways? Yes, in Sweden!' Moers says.
Weighing under 1500kg and using a new seven-speed dual shift gearbox - ‘there's no need for a manual gearbox, it's just a romantic notion,' Moers says bluntly - he also confirmed that AMG has been involved with the A-class's chassis set-up pretty much since day one. The suspension - McPherson struts upfront with a multi-link rear - has bespoke springs and dampers, completely revised kinematic properties, and a bigger anti-roll bar. The brakes are Brembos, with 350mm discs upfront, and four caliper pistons.
It also looks effing fantastic. We saw two versions, one in a surprisingly effective mustard yellow, the other in full GT3 semi-race car spec, complete with stripes, huge roof spoiler, roll cage and junked rear seats. All A45's will get AMG's all-new ‘performance' seats, and the interior trim and overall quality are both better than its rivals'. There's even a carbon fibre/Alcantara blend across the dash and on the doors. This is a Mercedes with an almost Italianate flair.
The A45 is due to land at next year's Geneva show, with UK deliveries starting in the autumn. So brace yourself for a lengthy wait. Alternatively, start saving. AMG says the price will be ‘attractive' - with an RS3 starting at £39,995, we reckon between £35k and £40k. Named after the Coventry ring road it may be, but prepare to want an AMG with half the cylinders it should have.