This is the Mercedes A250 4Matic Engineered by AMG. It's not the full steak-and-chips Merc super-hatch: that distinction belongs to the 355bhp A45 AMG.
This A250 ‘EbAMG’, as we’ll call it, looks almost identical, keeps its superior's all-wheel drive and gets an AMG chassis tune. But, it's missing one crucial element: power.
CAR magazine's new 2018 Mercedes A-class review
How fast is the Mercedes A250 EbAMG?
It's still a pretty quick hatch. Giving away 147bhp to the A45 AMG puts the 2.0-litre, four-pot turbo of the A250 in a warm-meets-hot hatch no-man’s land. You've got 7bhp more than a Kia Proceed GT, but 19 horses fewer than the excellent new VW Golf GTI.
On-demand all-wheel drive, low-profile 235-section rubber and a seven-speed dual clutch gearbox mean the A250 EbAMG doesn't waste a single nag. From standstill, there's more clutch slip than you might expect, a slight squat from the stiffened suspension, and a mere 6.5sec later, you're past 62mph. That’s 1.9sec slower than the steroidal A45 AMG, which costs £38,190 - £7285 more than the A250 EbAMG.
Eco-friendly long gearing means the A250’s race to three figures isn't quite as frenetic, yet the A250 is only 6mph shy of requiring a 155mph speed limiter. In the dry, it feels as if it'll stay with the more powerful (and unruly) Ford Focus ST and Golf GTI across a B-road. Throw in a typically inclement British forecast and the less brawny Merc would nose ahead of its front-drive rivals like the hare pacesetter at a greyhound race.
Sounds like fun!
The soundtrack isn't up there with the hot-hatch best, actually. The four-pot doesn’t burble; it blares throughout its torque-rich rev band, in a monotone to shame even Michael Owen’s match day commentary.
Mercedes has added a treat for those who chase the redline: a flatulent 'whumph' from the exhaust as the next gear kicks in. Thing is, coming at the climax of a forgettable engine note, it's like putting a Grammy-winning bonus track at the end of an album of B-sides.
What's the A250 EbAMG like to drive?
Grippy, sure-footed, and ruthlessly efficient at applying over 200bhp to the road. The A-class is an agile hatch even in its most basic form: add lower, stiffer suspension, all-wheel drive and wider tyres and you've got a recipe for an unflappable all-weather weapon.
Tip the car into a sweeping bend with the sharp, speed-sensitive variable-ratio steering and it stays resolutely flat, attacks the bend, and slingshots through the curve. No understeer unless you're untidy, no oversteer unless you excite the chassis on corner-entry. Such bite and purchase on the surface inspires immense confidence to drive the thing until your contact lenses vibrate free of your corneas. Which they will.
The limiting factor of how fast you drive the A250 isn't the prodigious grip, nor a lack of appetite from the upgraded brakes. It's the super-stiff ride, exacerbated by tasty 18in alloys. With so little suspension travel available, you're deflected and bounced on the sort of back roads the grippy A250 should relish. Meanwhile, there's plenty of agitated fidgeting and tyre roar back on the main roads.
Every third-gen A-class is a stiff, uncompromising ride. We question the need for an even more hardcore set-up for this halfway-house hot version. Engineered by AMG or not, it's certainly not Tailored for Britain.
How much do I pay?
As standard (including the AMG bodykit, exclusive alloys and paddleshift gearbox, don't forget), the A250 EbAMG costs £30,905. That includes factory-fit sat-nav, supportive heated leather seats, bi-xenon lights and more safety devices than a presidential limo.
But there’s no getting away from the fact that the best car in the hot hatch class of ‘14 is cheaper. A five-door Golf GTI with the DSG gearbox is £28,195. Go easy on the options and you could bag a five-door auto Golf R or BMW M135i for the same outlay as our £33,645 A250 test car. Both with power up at 300bhp to boot...
The seven-speed DCT paddleshifter is a typically tardy affair. It's the only transmission available on the A250 too, so we'll never know if a cheaper, slightly lighter, and more interactive manual gearbox (where the jerkiness of gearchanges is dictated by driver limb coordination) would've been the ideal set-up.
Be sure you like red detailing before you drive an A250. You get red stitching, red seatbelts, red brake calipers, and red trim inserts in the bodykit and headlights. The bloodied chin and bloodshot eyes are appropriate – the frequency with which that lower front splitter scrapes the blacktop is enough to bring tears to anyone’s eyes.
Fun as the generously-specified A250 Engineered by AMG undoubtedly is in isolation, it inhabits a world teeming with ultra-desirable hot hatchback rivals, many offering more power for less money, and several with their own all-wheel drive and dual-clutch garnish.
None of that makes this A250 a bad car, but it isn't our hot hatch of choice. For a dribble over £30k, the BMW M135i or a loaded Golf GTI are the best buys.