The mk7 Golf GTI will bow out with a slightly conflicted special edition
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What’s this, then? It’s the facelifted Mercedes-AMG A45, now packing 376bhp and thus officially the hottest hot hatch in the world. Haven’t you already driven it? We have, a few months back in Germany. But now we’ve driven it in the UK. That’s nice for you.
It’s vital consumer research. Some cars – particularly German cars of a sporting bent – can feel entirely splendid on impeccable Teutonic tarmac, but rather fall apart when faced with a British road of potholes and divots and rage. The pre-facelift A45 was just such a specimen, our unique roads bringing out the worst foibles of the four-wheel drive hot hatch, namely an unyielding ride magnified by lumpy powertrain reactions. I should know. A couple of years back, I ran an A45 for six months, and while never feeling anything less than bullet-quick, it never felt at home in the UK as, say, the rather more pliant Golf R. But our German spin in the facelifted A45 suggested it might now be a more rounded proposition, a car better suited to our nation of (a) hot hatch enthusiasts and (b) potholes. And is it? It is. It’s too easy to herald a facelifted car as a great leap forward on its predecessor, even if the tweaks are only minor. But the A45 really feels like a car transformed, far closer to the hot hatch its impressive spec sheet always promised. The combination of boosty turbo engine, a slightly hesitant double-clutch gearbox and indecisive four-wheel drive system made the old car a less-than-natural thing to drive fast on a bad road, but the new one feels far easier to grab by the scruff and exploit all that potential.
Power’s up by 21bhp, but interestingly that extra shove hasn’t made the A45 feel laggier. Rather, it actually seems a little more responsive at low revs, perhaps partly a function of shorter gear ratios. 0-62mph now comes up in 4.2 seconds, a drop of nearly half a second on the old A45 AMG. It feels it. This is a heinously fast hot hatch, with a thudding 350lb ft of torque (18lb ft more than the old car) available pretty much anywhere you want it. It’s a cliché to note that a hot hatch boasts pace to embarrass proper sports cars, but honestly, this thing’s got the chops to leave most supercars with a red face. It’s no exaggeration to say the A45 makes the Golf R feel like an economical turbodiesel. But the A45 was never short on pace. Is it a bit nicer to drive now? You still wouldn’t describe the A45 as possessing a cossetting ride – thank our test car’s 19-inch wheels for that – but on the new, optional adaptive dampers, it now feels better able to deal with the worst Britain has to offer, absorbing bumps rather than facebutting them. The A45’s four-wheel drive system – which sends power to the front wheels in normal driving, shoving it rearwards when needed – seems better resolved now, too, juggling subtly between front and back rather than crudely see-sawing the power. Grip levels are vast, the A45 shunning significant understeer or oversteer in favour of sticking really stickily to the road. It all adds up to a hot hatch that gives you all the speed, all the time. So it’s all good, then? Much better it may be, but the A45 remains far from the most feelsome of hot hatches, still keeping you at arm’s length from its most intimate oily workings. And at a starting price of £39,995, it remains a very long way from cheap. But, at last, the A45 has the road manners to match up to its impressive set of statistics. Bruisingly quick whatever the conditions, this the hot hatch the A45 should have been all along.