It’s another one of those shootouts that CarSifu is fixated on of late.
And this being football season, we bring on an equally keen competition on the tarmac that has a decidedly European flavour.
In the latest line-up, we have the Mercedes-AMG A 45, Audi TTS and Volkswagen Golf R. Each a powerful car in its own right.
But like most things in the real, imperfect world, each has its own strengths and weaknesses that one has to be aware of.
We draw them out and you decide which car is right for you after weighing the pros and cons of each.
Ultimately when selecting a hot hatch, it’s about the emotional connection and how much fun you can wring out of it. The more the better.
So let’s get down to the business of driving, shall we?
Mercedes-AMG A 45
The current Mercedes-Benz A Class which appeared in 2012, discarded the mini-MPV styling of the previous generations for a low slung and muscular appearance which had not only given the car better looks but also vastly improved driving dynamics.
With the introduction of the A 45, Mercedes-Benz’s AMG motorsports division-souped up variant the following year, the A Class’ foray into the compact hot hatch scene has been a success with a growing fan base.
Its high-performance 2.0-litre turbo engine delivered a whopping 360bhp and 450Nm of torque and combined with a quick-shifting dual-clutch transmission, 4Matic all-wheel drive system and sports suspension, the “baby” Merc has turned into a missile for the road and track.
While many have thought that the prodigious performance squeezed out from the little car’s engine was already bordering engineering limits, AMG has managed to raise the output to 381bhp and 475Nm of torque, and lend credence to Mercedes-Benz’s claim of having the world’s most powerful compact car.
The new face-lifted A 45 can do the 0-100kph sprint in a blistering 4.2 seconds, down from its predecessor’s 4.6 seconds.
Just floor the throttle and power snaps in immediately like angry lightning with the racy exhaust roar filling up the cabin as you get pushed into the bucket seats.
The 4Matic all-wheel drive system ensures little wheelspin so all power gets to the four tyres where it’s intended to propel the A 45 forward and nothing else.
Drive the A 45 sanely and the car does its best to deliver a driving experience that is as smooth and civilised as the larger Mercedes-Benz passenger models.
In this instance, all-wheel drive system disengages seamlessly and the A 45 becomes a front wheel-drive car for better fuel economy.
Exterior-wise, the new A 45’s lower grille has been redesigned along with the tail lamps, while headlights are now the high performance LED type from the bi-xenon which gives broader coverage and daylight-like colour temperature for better visibility.
Inside, the aluminium and carbon-fibre trimming as well as red stitching are retained for the motorsports feel.
The front Recaro bucket seats with adjustable side bolster kept us tightly bolted in with little room to slide sideways.
The A 45 also gets a Dynamic Select dial near the gear selector for quick selection of Comfort, Sport, Sport+, Individual and Race programmed driving modes.
While the new AMG Ride Control Sports suspension with adaptive damping features Comfort and Dynamic selection, the Comfort mode still offers a rather stiff ride which can only be appreciated by motorsports fans.
However, the stiff ride redeems itself by keeping bodyroll to a minimum as we hammered the A 45 around sharp corners at fast paced driving.
The meaty steering wheel gives good tactile feel when you make rapid steering manoeuvres.
The Collision Prevention Assist Plus seems to come in handy in view of the A 45’s gung ho attitude for excessive speed at every available opportunity.
This updated feature which comes with radar-supported proximity warning and braking assistance can execute autonomous partial braking to reduce the risk of the A 45 rear-ending slower moving vehicles.
Also, the Attention Assist drowsiness detection system’s operations now covers a wider driving speed from 60 to 200kph and uses a five-stage bar display to visualise the driver’s current attention level.
One thing for sure, this “baby” Merc is no pushover and punches well above its weight.
Audi TTS quattro
The Audi TTS Coupe is the faster, more powerful option of the TT variant. And over RM100K more as well priced at RM392,900 while the TT costs RM286,900 (all prices on-the-road without insurance).
One could argue that the less expensive TT is just as good an option. After all, it’s hard to tell the TT and TTS apart. The TTS is easily distinguished by the ‘S’ on a field of red on the badge (of course!), an aluminium grille, and the quad tailpipes in the rear.
You may think adding more horsepower and torque to the TT is just to draw in the battle-hardened GT types but at this pricepoint, they have a lot more powerful and aggressive looking options from competitors as well. So why settle for the Audi TTS? In a word, class.
Yes, the boffins at Ingolstadt tuned the turbocharged, direct injection 2.0-litre TFSI engine to produce 286hp and 380Nm of torque from as low as 1,800rpm.
Yet they maintained the overall aesthetic design of the TT without adding overtly aggressive elements.
The added power of the TTS (the TT outputs 230hp and 370Nm of torque) is another good example of how more power does not necessarily equate to more aggression. The TTS does not call attention to itself with rumbling loud exhaust notes.
The six-speed S Tronic transmission makes for fast gear shifts and flooring the throttle produces a refined, airy tone, coughing ever so politely when it redlines.
It doesn’t shock you but it is nevertheless exhilarating and exciting.
The minimal yet outstanding design of the interior is so uncluttered and fuss free.
It takes its design cues from aircraft such as the turbine-inspired air vents for the deluxe automatic air-conditioning system.
Another giveaway is the wondrous Audi virtual cockpit - a 12.3-inch instrument display panel which is the only display unit you will find. And it’s the only one you need.
The Alcantara/leather sport seats with diamond-patterned stitching and the embossed ‘S’ logo not only looks luxurious but hugs you tight and comfortably. And don’t be fooled by its outwardly discreet appearance, the cabin inside is spacious even for those with a towering disposition.
The TTS also features the luxury sound system by Bang & Olufsen - a 14-channel amplifier with 12 loudspeakers.
Sure, there are other cars who can outrun the TTS on a straight line but this car simply lives for the corners. With Dynamic mode engaged on the Audi drive select system, it charges through the bends with ease and aplomb. The grip and precision of the steering is just breath-taking.
If you look closely at the TTS, its symmetry of sensual proportion, dimension and balance comes together harmoniously.
It also works in tandem with the drivetrain which makes it a very desirable and ideal performance coupe indeed.
VW Golf R
Is this Volkswagen a beast of a car? If you had only driven the Golf R, you may be inclined to think so.
But in this instance, it’s pitted against the Mercedes AMG A 45 and Audi TTS challengers, so it’s up against some serious rabble-rousers.
The Golf R’s 2.0-litre turbocharged engine makes 276hp and 380Nm of torque that are sent to both axles.
The sprint from zero to the century mark is accomplished in 5s and top speed is capped at 250kph.
By any measure, it’s robust performance from the nearly 1.5-tonne car, which is the middle-weight contender between the heavier Merc and lighter Audi.
The Golf R looks about as understated as the less potent Golf GTI but gets nicer kit to justify the higher asking price of RM291,888, a premium of RM60,000 above the latter.
It is lowered, uses 19-inch wheels and comes fitted with quad exhaust pipes. It is also garnished with sportier bumpers, adaptive bi-xenon headlamps and smoked LED tail lights.
The interior reinforces the sporty styling cues as seen in the flat-bottomed leather steering wheel with paddle shifters, R-stamped leather sports seats and dark headliners and carbon fibre-like inserts.
This five-door hatch also comes with the Tech Pack, offering a long list of desirable features such as panoramic sunroof, keyless entry and start, cruise control, rear view camera, automatic headlights as well as front/rear parking sensors.
Not only does the interior look suitably premium, it offers enough space all round to fit five people comfortably with more than enough motivation to get them to their destinations quickly.
The Golf R is designed for maximum fun on the road and yet can double up as a daily runabout at a moment’s notice by reason of its high practicality.
This versatility is down mainly to the adaptive chassis control and available drive modes: Comfort, Normal, Race, Eco and Individual. That way, you will have a number of self-explanatory profiles that modulate the driving behaviour and allow the car to be beastly (think Race) when you want it to or potter around amiably in anything but Race.
The 4MOTION all-wheel drive system, along with the electronic differential lock, provide the traction and stability safety net while allowing the driver to enjoy the precise and sportier steering that the Golf R affords.
There’s no time wasted in wheelspin the moment you step on the accelerator as power is despatched to the wheels without muss or fuss. While a firm ride is expected of any hot hatch, it’s not unduly comfortable even when driven sportily.
With a car like this, you will want to spend quite a bit of time in Race to exploit its full potential. It’s in this setting that the Golf R shows itself at its most engaging.
And that rich throaty rumble should keep you coming back for more.
While all three cars offer exhilarating performance, driving dynamics and unconventional looks, there are still areas which certain models hold an edge over the others.
The Golf R offers the most interior space, seats five comfortably and a ride that is not too jarring compared with the TTS and A 45 but is the “slowest” of the trio with a 0-100kph run of 5 seconds.
Featuring a more subdued exterior, the Golf R is also the cheapest at RM291,888 and can double up easily as a daily car without being too flashy or noisy.
But if you are in the market for over-the-top styling, the Tony Stark-flavoured RM392,900 TTS outshines the A 45 and Golf R with its sexy two-door coupe-ish appearance.
However, this chic looks come with the drawbacks of cramped seats and limited head room for back passengers.
This shouldn’t be an issue as the TTS’ prospective buyers will most likely be driving without rear passengers and be more inclined towards the car’s futuristic features such as an immersive full-LED instrument panel which can also display satellite navigation.
Utilising the same all-wheel drive powertrain as the Golf R, the smaller TTS is faster than the Golf R with a 0-100kph sprint of 4.7 seconds and its low slung body begets good handling and agility that is similar to the A 45’s.
For outright handling and pure performance, the A 45 is the undisputed champ in this comparo with a supercar-like 0-100kph dash time of 4.2 seconds that easily leaves the Golf R and TTS trailing in its wake.
While it’s still a decent daily car with the convenience of four doors and room for four persons, the A 45’s bodykit might seem too extreme or too aftermarket for those unfamiliar with AMG’s motorsports styling.
With a price of RM348,888 which is between the Golf R and TTS, the A 45’s 381bhp engine has 95bhp more than the two cars’ and whips up the best amount of bang for the buck.
Like politicians, performance car junkies are always in favour of more power. — Team review by HONG BOON HOW, GEORGE WONG and RIZAL JOHAN; Photos by SAMUEL ONG