How expensive can the humble hot hatchback become before the concept loses all meaning for drivers of typical means? Renault recently let its ambition run rampant with a version of the Mégane RS that, in its most pulverisingly hardcore, carbonfibre-wheeled form, costs more than £72,000. It’s an awe-inspiring asking price, and too much, because if most of us wanted an impractical machine that prioritised involvement for that sort of money, we’d have the new Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 or a lightly used Lotus Exige Sport 410. And it wouldn’t require much head-scratching to come to that realisation.
But now Mercedes-AMG is having a go. Its effort is called the A45 S, and all £50,570 of it (£56,570 for the option-laden Plus driven here) is being chased across the sort of patchily damp, unevenly cambered B-roads we all know and love. Fast? Freakishly so – genuinely supercar-baiting. Expensive? Evidently, but had you bought a Delta S4 Stradale from Lancia in 1985, it would have cost you £55,000, translating to £167,000 today, so along with the RS Trophy-R, we’re hardly talking unprecedented sums. And unlike in those cars, you do at least get a second-row bench behind the deep buckets in the AMG.
Very much like the Lancia, there’s a whiff of homologation about this new Mercedes, even though – with no A-Class motorsport activity since the previous generation competed in the BTCC – it’s nothing of the sort. Compared with the £38,000 A35, designed to go up against the Volkswagen Golf R et al, the A45 S is a different animal: broader wings, wider tracks, brackets welded in to stiffen the sleek, snouty body and a truly world-class powertrain with recording-breaking specific output. This car even has canards, ridiculously, and four 82mm tail-pipes to visually balance out the huge – and optional – rear wing.
The Nissan GT-R also has a wing, not least because it can hit 196mph. Road test editor Matt Saunders has brought one along because it poses an enviable conundrum for the would-be A45 S buyer.
When the R35-generation GT-R arrived in 2007, Nissan perpetrated a memorable strategy balls-up by underpricing it to an almost comical degree. It cost £56,000, undercutting rivals in performance and pedigree by light years, and the bargain price solidified Godzilla’s reputation as one of the great giant-slayers.
2019 GT-R Prestige, £68,000: Considering the GT-R is now priced from £83,955, this 1960-mile example looks inexpensive. Alongside the visual tweaks, third-phase cars made 563bhp and received stiffer bodies to go with softer damping settings. There’s also improved NVH and interior upgrades.
2018 GT-R Track Edition, £89,995: The Track Edition shadows the Nismo, sharing its seam-welded shell, wider track and hollow anti-roll bars. This one has been fettled by Litchfield to make 630bhp. Arguably representing an R35 sweet spot, it’s still good value.
This article was originally published on 29 February 2020. We’re revisiting some of Autocar’s most popular features to provide engaging content in these challenging times.