Mercedes-AMG brings out the big guns for the facelifted A 45 4Matic, giving it enough power and torque to eclipse its closest challenger, the Audi RS 3 Sportback. It's not the phenomenal straight-line performance that astounds, though, but rather the Mercedes' markedly improved handling characteristics. This is a seriously good hot hatch.
In the metal
While the facelifted bits of the AMG car are as subtle as they are in the rest of the A-Class range (the lights, bumpers and front grille have been tweaked, in case you're wondering), there's absolutely nothing of the shrinking violet about the Mercedes-AMG A 45 4Matic when it's wearing full war paint and the whole gamut of its body addenda. Cost options paint bits of it black and add splitters and spoilers, with the end result striking the perfect balance between overt aggression and overblown tastelessness. Go for a bright colour, like Jupiter Red or the excellent new Elbaite Green, and as hot hatches go it looks utterly fantastic from the outside.
The AMG's interior is wonderful too - albeit marred by that infotainment screen that always looks aftermarket to us, as well as some oddball ergonomics - but the beautiful bucket seats, gorgeous part-Alcantara steering wheel and general AMG appointments lift the quality levels up to a higher plane than the other A-Class variants. The rear is about spacious enough for two adults although the Mercedes' boot is smaller than that found on key rivals. Because, naturally, you're picking a 381hp, all-wheel drive mega-hatch for regular shopping trip duties, aren't you? Of course.
This is a huge improvement. The A 45 has always been quick and noisy (in a good way), with loads of grip, but it was never hugely involving. Like the rest of the A-Class line-up, adaptive dampers are an option on the A 45 and you can also equip it with a front axle differential lock as part of a dynamic package. Do so and the whole car comes alive. The steering is quick, consistent and capable of feeding back genuine information about the level of adhesion at all four corners of the car, while the throttle response is stunningly crisp.
And it's this, along with new-found fluidity in the chassis, that means you can adjust the car's line with the right-hand pedal, rather than just sawing at the steering wheel trying to counter chronic understeer as before. The A 45 telegraphs yaw clearly to the driver through the base of the seat and the Mercedes-AMG is vastly more enjoyable to hustle around a race track than it ever has been previously.
The body control is excellent, the brakes are epic, the seven-speed AMG Speedshift transmission never seems to be caught out by paddle shift inputs from the driver and the 4Matic drivetrain doesn't intrude on the experience. For the first time in one of these 2.0-litre AMGs, we found ourselves grinning widely while behind the steering wheel.
Sure, even with the adaptive damping the ride remains on the firmer side of comfortable and unless you're on really good terms with the local Gardaí, you'll be risking the wrath of the authorities if you try to unlock the A 45's full potential on the public road. Yet we can't get over how much more biddable and fundamentally likeable this facelifted AMG is; it has gone from bloody fast and underwhelming, to really bloody fast and hugely appealing.
What you get for your money
The A 45 gets a lot of standard fit equipment, as you'd expect for a price of €60,000 and capable of being jacked up further with some choice options. Being the best means splashing the cash when it comes to hot hatches, apparently.
It's not the power but the poise of the facelifted and renamed Mercedes-AMG A 45 4Matic that makes us give it almost full marks. It's denied greatness because despite being good fun to drive at slower (read: legal) speeds, to really experience its brilliance you'll need to take it on a track. However, it's much better than it was. The 2016MY A 45 is a fantastic piece of work from Affalterbach.