2020 Mercedes-AMG A45 S Performance Review

We put our resident race driver, Chris Atkinson, in charge of a Mercedes-AMG A45 S to find out what it's like as a track car.

Performance Editor
PROS
  • Exceptional performance from a 2L engine
  • Great use of technology for differentials and transmission
  • Simple and easy to use adjustments between performance settings on the steering wheel.
CONS
  • ABS has too much interference on heavy braking
  • Relatively soft and lazy chassis for high speed track driving
  • Very limited tyre performance for hard track laps

Welcome to our series of track reviews, conducted by our in-house racing driver, Chris Atkinson.

Our track reviews take place against the clock at Queensland Raceway, before Chris drives the car on the public road at road speeds to determine whether it can be used as a daily driver and a weekend track car.

While we evolve this series, we’d love to get your feedback on what you like, what you don’t like and what you’d like to see.

Overall Track Performance

I had very high expectations from the Mercedes-AMG A45 S on the track and I was a little surprised it was not more capable. That being said, it was still very quick and you can definitely have some fun for a few laps.

My feeling is that it was really designed as something exciting on the road and great for zero to 100 times, but missing the depth required to be fully engaging on the track.

Interestingly, I got to drive this on two different days on the track and had two very different experiences. Initially, the car struggled to rotate in the middle of the corner and didn’t allow me to use the traction and power as I would have liked, this was on a slightly warmer day and didn’t produce the times we expected.

The second time out, the car was rotating much better and I could balance it on the throttle exiting the corner, this made for a huge time improvement (59.1sec vs 58.1sec) and the car was much more enjoyable to drive.

Some of this was down to the cooler temperature, but the imbalance front to rear had gone which could be put down to wheel alignment and cambers.

It was also clear that the tyre was a limiting factor and would quickly begin to struggle, given the loads it was being put under.

Overall Road Performance

This is where it comes into its own, quick bursts of acceleration and shorter radius corners suits this car really well. For point and shoot driving the Mercedes-AMG A45 nails it and is supercar fast.

The suspension is well-sorted and the car is exciting to drive without scaring you. For the majority of people and situations, this is as quick a car as you would want on the road, it’s easy to drive and gives you good warning near the limit without biting you.

You can read our full road test of the 2020 Mercedes-AMG A45 S here.

Engine  

They have really got a lot out of this 2.0-litre engine and also made it very user friendly. It matches well with the gearbox and you are able to find the correct gear in every situation.

I am impressed with how little lag it has and how well the throttle follows with what you are asking without any shock or steps.

I did notice that it was lacking a little bit of mid-range power on the track, with a lot of focus having been put on the peak power of the engine.

With eight gears it’s always easy to be in the right gear, but without that, it would have some holes that it might struggle to get out of. There aren’t many cars I have driven on the road that have the punch of this rocket.

Braking

On the road I found the brakes to be really nice with good feel and modulation, especially at slow speeds the pedal had very good control. On the track it was difficult to get the most out of the brakes, I actually felt like I could have braked much later without the interference of the ABS.

It was surprising how early it was activating when I didn’t even feel close to the limit of braking. This actually hurt the entry of the corner as I couldn’t keep the weight over the nose and let the rear rotate as nicely as I would have liked.

Over a three-lap run, there was a small drop off with braking performance but no other issues.

Chassis

With everything else being so good, I felt like the chassis let the car down a little on track. It definitely wasn’t bad, but I think there was a lot left on the table in terms of lap time.

I noticed a clear drop off from the first lap in terms of precision and support. When the ambient temperatures and everything were cold, everything in the car worked a lot better together.

Although it was still fun to drive, as thing heated up everything happened with a little bit less dynamic capability and I couldn’t extract the most from it. Once again it never surprised me and was easy to drive fast, but just missed the last bit to make it exceptional. 

Transmission and Differentials

As I mentioned, the gearbox is well matched to this engine and has a big part to play in the performance of the car.

It was smooth and easy to use on the road and I almost always found myself driving it using the paddles, which for me is a big compliment towards the engagement of the vehicle.

The differentials and slip control worked really well, I never had an issue with traction and was even able to have control over the balance of the car with the throttle from mid-corner to exit. I think Mercedes-AMG has made a good step in this area.  

Suspension

Firstly on the road where this car is most likely to be used, I really liked the suspension. It wasn’t harsh but also offered a good amount of support, the rebound side of the damper was well controlled, which is especially important on bumpy roads.

The car always felt in control and in contact with the road, this gave me the confidence to push and trust there would be no surprises.

On track I felt that for the first lap everything was more together and after that, a lot more movement came into the car. It is hard to place the blame on any one area, but somewhere between the suspension, tyres and bushes, it lost some performance.

Once again it is not an issue on the road, but shows the limitations as an absolute track car.

Steering

The feedback from the steering is reasonably good but lacks some of the subtle details that I would really like. The weighting is good without being too heavy and generally, there are no major issues.

Wheels and Tyres

Although the Michelin Cup 4 S are a good tyre and more than capable on the road, they very quickly find their limit on the track. With that much power and torque under your right foot, there is no issue in getting temperature into the tyres and quickly you will see an expected drop off in times.

It would be interesting to see how the chassis would handle a higher-spec tyre, and see if that is all it needs to take the car to another level on the track.  

Driver Aids (Electronics)

Generally I ran the car in track mode which automatically limits stability control intervention and although the car was moving around a lot, I always felt in control.

On the road I never had any major interference but could imagine that it would be useful in the wet. My biggest complaint was the ABS as mentioned earlier, but this was only at full attack on the track.

Cockpit (Ergonomics)

There are a lot of good points here, I really liked how easy it was to adjust or customise performance settings on the wheel and how clearly the settings were displayed.

The wheel is a good size and I like having the Alcantara cloth, which adds that race car vibe.

The way you can adjust the dash and display to what you like is a big bonus and for me as well as being really nice and clear on the track. The seating left a little to be desired, the car I drove had the standard seats and I am sure the optional sport seats would be much better.

I felt like I wasn’t ‘in the seat’ and was moving around too much, I also found it hard to position myself relative to the dash and felt a little too on top of the car and not in it.   

Lap Time

The race track we use for testing is Queensland Raceway (you can read more about the track and layout here).

It’s worth calling out we took the A45 S to the track on two occasions. The first time was with higher ambient temperatures, while the second time it was a much cooler day that likely better suited the Mercedes-Benz for track use.

There was a clear difference on our two separate days and I feel like the second outing more clearly represented the car’s potential. The car is seriously quick and can be enjoyed on the track for a few laps.

It doesn’t have an issue with doing multiple laps, but if you want to set a time, make sure you nail that first lap.

On our first outing, we consistently set 59.1-second lap times, while during our second outing the times were consistently around a second faster at 58.1 seconds.

Atko’s 3

  1. Make sure you don’t over-commit on the entry, so you can make the most of the power and traction on exit.
  2. Although it moves around, don’t be afraid, it won’t bite.
  3. You are going to win some drag races… enjoy.

CarExpert Performance Reviews are brought to you by former World Rally Championship and current Rallycross driver Chris Atkinson.