Merc’s super-hatch sits between the incredible pace of Audi’s new ultra-TT and the, er, focus of the Focus RS. Which is the superest of the super?
Here’s an interesting little trio of temptations. Two hot hatches and a coupe, all of them capable of reaching 62mph in the time it takes to sneeze.
The coupe is the Audi TT RS, and it’ll nail the sprint in 3.7 seconds. Gauntlet down.
Picking up gauntlets is something the Ford Focus RS is rather keen to do. Its 345bhp doesn’t quite match the TT’s 394bhp for sheer barminess, but its drivetrain achieves new heights in the wild world of all-wheel drive and it happens to cost about £20,000 less.
Sat in the middle, in terms of both money and power, is the Mercedes-AMG A45. It’s been heavily revised during the last year, and it doesn’t sit far behind the TT in terms of acceleration.
So that’s three smallish cars with a total of 12 driven wheels and more than 1100bhp between them. This is war.
The opening salvos take place on wet, slippery mountain roads. And, perhaps surprisingly, they see the Focus RS starting on the back foot.
There may be some faint praise coming here, but the Focus is harder to drive fast than the others. The A45 and TT are always in the right gear, always ready and willing to go faster than they already are. Gathering speed, maintaining speed, squirting out of corners, hauling up inclines – none of it asks any effort of you.
In the Focus, you have to do some work. You actually have to drive it, in other words – and you need to do so well in order to get the best from it. Some would call this a good thing.
In fact, anyone with a soul should call it a good thing. In terms of simply covering ground very fast, however, like it or not the less immersively involving Germans do it better.
And the TT does it best. With all that power, not even the A45 can get away from this sensationally quick Audi.
What’s so remarkable about the TT is that it makes the thick end of 400bhp feel like a cinch to deploy. It’s not wayward, not unruly – you just drive it, as fast as you want, and it only ever feels like it could handle even more power. Which is saying something, because whereas the A45 does its best work in the middle reaches of the rev range, Audi’s fantastic, drama-rich five-pot is all about what happens when the needle swings past 4000rpm.
At present it must sound like we’re headed for a whitewash. There’s a ‘but’ coming, though.
Remember what we were saying about the Focus being harder work to drive? It’s not just in what you have to do to keep the drivetrain singing. On these very British roads, its steering is like an eager puppy – every ridge, every rut and tramline gets its attention like the scent of a recently fled rabbit. But the resultant feel and feedback makes it a wonderful, wonderful thing in corners when you’re in max attack mode – whereas the TT, even though it feels flatter and more direct than either of its rivals here, is too busy minding its p’s and q’s to get excited about what’s happening beneath its front wheels.
And actually, that’s a bit of a passion killer. Which is saying something, because there’s a whole lot of passion to be killed here.
So do you have to choose between the car that makes it easy but less rewarding, or the one that’s like a full-house racer when you want it to be but exhausting the rest of the time? No. Because treading a perfect centre line is the A45.
What you get from Merc-AMG is a combination of poise, grip, roll control and ride comfort which, by not trying to achieve any nth-degree levels of heroism, gets usefully close to equalling the Focus for dynamic involvement and the TT for manners and ease of use. There are no rude shocks anywhere, and the accuracy in its steering is equalled by a degree of weight and feel which, combined with its searing pace, make this the most complete, usable everyday fast car of the three.
In its world of uncompromising performance, the A45 is the compromise candidate. And, as it turns out, the one that doesn’t really ask you to make compromises at all.