YOU'RE looking at the fastest hot hatch money can buy.
In acceleration terms Merc's AMG-fettled ultimate A-Class - the A 45 - now trumps all-comers, chiefly meaning its compact Germanic rival the Audi RS3. Its time to 100kmh? 4.2-seconds. Quicker than a Lamborghini Gallardo or Porsche 911 GT3 RS of less than a decade ago. Really bloody fast.
You can call it childish, but we car enthusiasts love the 0-100kmh figure. It's just a wonderful thing to quote. Has been since we were kids in the playground and still is now we're sad and old and driving family SUVs.
We understand then why Mercedes-AMG made a point of shaving 0.4-seconds off the previous A 45's time with this new model. That pesky little RS3 Audi managed 4.3-seconds to hit a ton, so power's up 15kW to 280kW (making it the world's most powerful production four-cylinder), torque's up 25Nm to 475Nm and with gear ratios revised, as if by magic, 4.2-seconds to 100kmh: 0.1-seconds faster than Audi. A happy coincidence. Thumbs up to AMG.
Also new for the 2016 A 45 is aerodynamic fine-tuning and the new AMG Dynamic Select driving modes (as seen on the Merc-AMG GT S and C 63 S beasts), allowing a wide selection of driving dynamics, with the selective damping available through the AMG Ride Control sports suspension making this little bullet reasonably easy to live with in everyday situations.
Heated and electric Recaro sport seats up front are firm old things, but are masterfully moulded for superb grip during playtime. Cabin layout is typically Benz top notch, while red surrounds for the turbine air vents, seat and dash-top red stitching, red seat belts, carbon-look trim and flat-bottom AMG leather steering wheel boost the sporting flavour.
Unlike other A-Class models the A 45 has its gearshifter in the centre console rather than a steering wheel stalk (good), while shift paddles are of course included. Some grumble about Merc's "stuck on" looking dash screen, but personally I'm a fan, though would prefer it be touchscreen as well as controlled through the central dial.
As with all A-Classes rear space is reasonable but not brilliant - it is a compact after all - with those long of leg particularly hard done by, especially against those hard-backed Recaros.
On the road (and track)
Our first sample of the new A 45 was at Victoria's Broadford Motorcycle Complex, a short and technical little circuit with little run-off. Ideal, then, for flinging around a sure-footed all-wheel-drive little powerhouse.
As expected the acceleration is immense, ridiculous even, and the revised gearbox with shorter ratios ensures you fly through the cogs and reach silly speeds as the mighty four-cylinder turbo pulls relentlessly.
Grip and balance are among the finest I've ever sampled, the brakes mighty and (electrically assisted) steering accurate and weighty enough. The all-wheel-drive and near idiot-proof traction control in Sport + mode allows you to travel very quickly indeed, very easily.
So easy in fact, the A45 lacks some of the personality found in mad performance front-drive hatches of today, or even the stunning all-paw VW Golf R. If going fast predictably and non-scarily is your ideal however, the A 45 is king.
On the road it's stiff but not annoyingly so thanks to Ride Control, the selective damping adjustable through the car's Dynamic Select giving you Comfort, Sport, Sport +, Individual and Race settings.
Comfort is pretty good for highway and city use, and when using Individual you can keep suspension softer but leave engine, throttle response and steering at maximum attack mode.
What do you get?
The A 45 is no minimalist stripped-out racer, scoring oodles more desirable kit than its lesser A-Class peers. Tech wise you get 8-inch colour display, sat nav, DAB+ digital radio, Apple CarPlay, Comand online, and safety-wise, lane keep and blind spot assist.
There's Harman Kardon surround sound, Thermotronic dual-zone climate control and a leather dash top, while outside you score 19-inch AMG alloys, performance exhaust and high-performance brakes.
And as you're already spending $77,900, track day enthusiasts should tick the box for the new front axle diff lock at $1990, improving grip during acceleration out of bends.
That Audi RS3 ($78,900) with its turbo five-cylinder is the direct rival, and don't forget BMW's M2 (from $89,990) is arriving in a few months if you fancied coupe over hatch.
Another AMG option worth checking out is the CLA45 AMG, especially in wagon form ($89,510), while all-wheel-drive epicness can also be found in the far cheaper VW Golf R ($52,740).
Sporting, purposeful and far from subtle, especially dressed in Elbaite green, the A 45 is a striking design. If you need even more showmanship, spend another $2000 and get the AMG Aero Package with rear aerofoil, modified front apron and larger front splitter.
At $77,900 the new A 45 ain't cheap, but it is a mesmeric performance machine loaded with technology and the skills to make a hero of anyone on the race track.
Its ease to drive very fast indeed make it a fine choice for the occasional track dayist and weekend warrior who can still enjoy reasonable on-road comfort at other times.
A striking looking speed marvel which may lack the outright personality of other uber hot hatches, but it is just so wonderfully, rapidly talented.
What matters most
What we liked: Gorgeous and desirable design inside and out, massive amount of included kit, ballistic acceleration and sheer ease to drive very fast indeed.
What we'd like to see: A cheaper stripped out version, a bit more personality to match its dynamic brilliance, a manual gearbox offering for the purist.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year unlimited km warranty. Servicing is every year or 20,000km. First three-years capped price servicing available.
Model: 2016 Mercedes-AMG A 45 4MATIC.
Details: Five-door all-wheel drive performance compact hatchback.
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol generating maximum power of 280kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 475Nm @ 2250rpm.
Transmission: AMG Speedshift DCT 7-speed auto.
Consumption: 7.3-litres/100km (combined).
Bottom line: $77,900 before on roads.