FIRST DRIVE | The 2020 Mercedes-AMG A45 S is a quiet improvement
When Chris Harris drops a verdict on a car, you know it is legitimate. The man is a motoring journalist par excellence. From his astounding driving ability to the effortless way in which he articulates all manner of technical nuances, you cannot blame enthusiasts for accepting his word as gospel.
He is easily among the respected elite that is more influential than influencer – and is probably among the few scribes whose thoughts could directly impact sales. Put it like this: a single, honest line from him wields more clout than the gushing superlatives of 5,000 Instagram car spotters combined.
Nearly a year ago, after sampling the Mercedes-AMG A45 S, he came away unimpressed and pulled no punches in a short social media appraisal. In addition to deeming it the most disappointing modern Mercedes-AMG he had driven, he loathed the understeer and simulated drift mode, adding that the brakes on his car lasted half a lap. He also said the ride on-road was choppy with “severe” tyre noise.
Last week we had an opportunity to drive the model at its local launch, where the main circuit of Zwartkops Raceway and its skidpan set the stage. The former car, launched in 2013, was lauded as a game-changer for the brand. Aside from attracting a younger audience to the Mercedes-AMG fold, it affirmed that huge displacements were not crucial to stupendous performance.
At the time, it packed the most powerful two-litre turbocharged production engine in the world. And the new car still holds this title, though stricter European regulations have forced the manufacturer to muzzle its acoustic character. It employs the same engine as the old car, but reworked, now producing 310kW and 500Nm. This is mated to an eight-speed, dual-clutch transmission and power is sent to all corners.
A quick refresh: what were our sentiments towards the old W176 A45? Well, the warmth towards its rambunctious nature was certainly there. In the competition of “vrr-pha” the bombastic belches of the model would startle anyone in earshot.
And its straight-line sprinting abilities (4.2 seconds to 100km/h, claimed) were nothing short of brilliant. But it fell short in the handling department, as evidenced in our 2016 comparative report against the Audi RS3 Sportback and BMW M2 at Red Star Raceway. It might have been the quickest in a drag, but its ponderous chassis made for the slowest lap time in our battle.
Happily, we can report that the new car has the potential to put in a better show in such competitive pursuits. Its revised suspension system, with an independent, four-link set-up at the hind axle, gave an impression of greater fluidity, though the presence of understeer is still detectably part of proceedings.
But owners could probably learn to finesse the most out of it, especially thanks to a rather helpful and in-depth telemetry system. The detail is incredible, mapping steering, braking and gear inputs on a graph that resembled a heart-rate monitor.
At the rear axle is a trick differential with a pair of electronically-controlled clutches. This also facilitates a special drift mode. We tried this out on the soaking skidpan. Booting the throttle, the tail swings out expectedly – before the front grips hard and pulls everything straight with an abruptness that could realign your back. Look, the drift mode is cool, but remember that even with the setting engaged, the A45S is still not completely rear-wheel drive.
The sprinting reputation forged by its predecessor remains firmly intact. Use the launch control correctly and you could dash from a standstill to 100km/h in as little as 3.9 seconds.
Now, to summarise: they trimmed down the acceleration time, made it a smidgen nimbler and equipped it with toys in the form of drift mode and impressive on-board telemetry. For most consumers, this evolution will go down just fine. Others, however, might be wondering if there would be better sense in opting for the cheaper A35 instead, whose strengths are not dramatically far off.
Mercedes-AMG A45 S 4MATIC+: R1,101,000