Sometimes it's hard to pick a winner. Not because you're sitting on the fence, but because two things can be equally as good in different ways. Is a Swedish massage better than a sports massage? That just depends on whether you're looking for relaxing or restorative, but both are great. Skiing versus the sea? Bond verses Bourne? Yes please, to all. And so it is with the Audi RS3 and the Mercedes-AMG A45 S. When it comes to super-hatches, these two prove there are two ways to skin the kitty. Each one has the same objective qualities: power, speed, handling, all-wheel drive, and, of course, the prerequisite lift-up tailgate to shove the shopping through. And for both, you'll need to fork out in excess of £50,000.
The RS3 is the less ostentatious. Rather like the well-dressed muscle of SO14, the Royal Protection Squad, it doesn't shout (too much) but you can tell from the bulges in its suit it's been working out. And then there's the muscle in its nose. That five-cylinder turbo might sound delectable and debonair but it's a deadly force: 400hp and 369 lb ft of shove deals out 0-62mph in 3.8 seconds, and, depending on the options you add, it won't stop accelerating until you reach 180mph. Yet it can also be calm, quiet and soft, with the every-day amiability of a top-flight butler. Boring? No, because it has learned new tricks that make it the most entertaining RS3 yet.
As entertaining as the A45 S, then? Well, that's the burning question. While the A45 S isn't as shouty as something like the old Honda Civic Type R, with more aero addendum than its rival it's not as discrete. It's like the tattooed ex-squaddie who's seen too much action and now works the nightclub doors. Pull up alongside the A45 S at a set of lights and the message is clear: don't mess with me, or else. It's such a different proposition to drive, too. There's nothing smooth or sophisticated about it. The ride is tauter and the road surface is amplified far more through the steering wheel and cabin, like it's part-touring car. The engine, too, is snarling and it's animated by the rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire every time you lift off or between each shift. And those shifts can be punchy, bordering on brutal. So different but still brilliant - and objectively very similar: 421hp, 369 lb ft of torque, 3.9 seconds to 62mph and just shy of 170mph.
The only way to split them is with the heart, not the head. That's why you need to watch this video, which gives you the sights and sounds to go with the facts. Only then can you be expected to make up your mind.