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Long-term review

Mercedes-AMG A45 S – long-term review

£56,570/£58,365 as tested?£626 per month
Published: 26 Feb 2021
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SPEC HIGHLIGHTS

  • SPEC

    A45 S

  • ENGINE

    1991cc

  • BHP

    415bhp

  • MPG

    34mpg

  • 0-62

    3.9s

Is the Mercedes A45 better in the dry or wet?

Driving a Mercedes A45 S to the southernmost point of Africa to debunk one of my whimsical theories might sound extreme. But that’s exactly what I did. However – in these Covid times – it was an experiment I was able to conduct through opportunity, rather than ambition. And my hypothesis was simple: the A45 is a way better car in the cold, wet, dank depths of winterly England than somewhere dry, hot and on the other side of the Equator. 

I came to that first conclusion a few months ago when I needed a practical car for a photoshoot, so borrowed Ollie’s punchy Merc as it had an actual boot, rather than the Supra I’ve been driving. And for the three days I was in the custody of it, it did something it never made me do before: smile. I pin this change of emotion down to one thing – the conditions. See, we were shooting the Rolls-Royce Ghost around slippery, wet, mud-covered roads of Exmoor and Devon. This slathering of squelchy brown lubrication on the tarmac made a big difference. It forced the four-wheel drive system to work harder and exaggerate its actions. In fact, it was working so proactively almost as if it was acting in slow motion, so I – the measly, pathetic human – could actually keep up, compute and feel what it was doing. 

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In the wet you’re given some perspective to appreciate the sophisticated smorgasbord of sensors that detect yaw, steering angle and how stabby you are with the throttle as it does some quick maths and distributes the power between the axles. And while cornering, you can physically feel however much of that monstrous 415bhp is being dished up via the front mechanical slip diff, while the rear throws some around using the electronic diff (with a pair of sophisticated clutch packs) – sending up to 100 per cent to either wheel. It was then that I appreciated the extra grip it was giving me. On those mud-covered roads the A45 felt like a mini rally car – like a hot hatch should. Jason Barlow in the Roller behind was effectively threading a superyacht down a canal, whereas I was blasting through the lanes way faster than any car rightly should. It was deeply impressive and fun, as the A45 had a friendly amount of slip to it (without having to dive into that gimmicky Drift Mode) rather than the de facto dry mode of having ALL the grip, ALL the time. When it does that, you have no connection to how that unreal traction is produced as it just happens.

So I left Devon with the A45’s arse and sides completely buttered in Devon’s finest road porridge, but also with more respect and a genuine admiration for the car. For once, we had connected. Then, through luck rather than judgement, a few weeks later I found myself in South Africa with another A45 S. However this one was in an interesting spec, being devoid of a lot of the options that our thoroughly specced £58,365 UK car had. It didn’t have adaptive suspension, dual-zone climate control, head-up display, or bucket seats – so you rode far higher, like you’re in an A220. But it also had Michelin’s Cup 2 Tyres fitted, so when this was combined with the incredibly firm standard ride and the standard sound system that had all the punch and robustness of a YouTube boxer, you were drowned out by endless, aggravating road noise making the £50k-plus price even harder to stomach. 

Over the near 2,000 miles I did in it, me and the car never gelled and – more importantly – I never had a beaming smile plastered across my face. Mainly because of that thing I praised it for earlier: grip. Again, it was down to the conditions. With ambient temperatures in the mid-30 degrees Celsius – and tarmac temps even higher – the performance tyres were like putty that’d been in a pizza oven. It’s so capable in the dry, driving an A45 when traction is abundant means you can’t get anywhere near its exhilarating operating zone without being a wally. If you want to push the limits and see what it was capable of, you need to go so fast and have so much commitment it’s not even worth going there unless you want to be sent to the slammer. And having watched a Netflix series on South African jails, I really didn’t want that to happen. So your only other option is to go on a track day. Which a lot of people don’t want to do. So most of the time, on the road, the A45 just feels emotionally and technically inert because it's so capable at completing the task at hand as you don’t see or feel any fight and bite of the powertrain and chassis that you do when it’s working hard in tricky conditions. And when you’re driving it normally without that strong engine punching, it just becomes a stiff, noisy uncomfortable hot hatch with a crap sound system.

So how did my experiment go?  Well, taking these findings into account, I have to conclude it was nothing short of a success. Next month in Top Gear science, can you use an Aventador SVJ’s exhaust as a Bunsen burner?

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