Which is more fun or more practical: Mercedes-Benz AMG A45 vs Suzuki Swift Sport
This is not about luxury, nor about value. It’s just about hot hatch fun and practicality – Mercedes-Benz AMG A45 vs Suzuki Swift Sport.
SURELY THIS CAN’T be fair. Your local Mercedes-Benz dealer will want around $86,000+ORC before they let you drive off in an AMG A45, whereas the Suzuki Swift Sport is yours for around $24,000 which makes these two pretty much the cheapest and most expensive hot hatches on the market. So how can they be compared?
Well, it never fails to amaze me what people cross-shop, and while there’s a lot to be said for say a matchup between say the Audi RS3 and the AMG A45, comparing at opposite ends of the scale is interesting too.
Personally, I looked hard at a Porsche Cayman before buying my 86, rationalising I’d have nearly the same amount of fun but lots of money left over for doing motorsport events, and I only looked at either because Jeep were unable to build me the Wrangler Rubicon I requested and paid for. At the same time, a friend bought a Cayman after seriously looking at a Subaru BRZ. And it is certainly the case that some of the best cars are not necessarily the most expensive. That Wrangler Rubicon I had in mind is nowhere near the most expensive 4WD on the market, but it’s about the best offroad and definitely the most fun. And that raises an interesting, and fairly frequently asked question.
So what extra do you actually get when you pay more for an expensive car?
After all, both of these cars have four wheels, neither are allowed to exceed the speed limit, and both seat five.
But there are many, many differences and you notice them even before you get into the car. Aside from looking more purposeful and expensive, the A45 will literally light up at night, illuminating its surroundings. The keyless entry works on all doors. Once inside you find all four windows are one-touch up and down. The seats are vastly adjustable, have a memory facility and can be heated. The sound system is high quality, there’s split climate controls, and the interior is so beautiful it’ll have photographers eyeing off shots. In the boot there are cargo tiedowns, and there’s two lights so you can see what you’re doing. There’s a modern seven-speed gearbox and more power than you’ll need on public roads. There’s even carpet in the door pockets to stop things sliding and rattling around.
I could go on for many more words listing all the little features that the A45 has which the Swift lacks, or as many again listing features they both have but the A45 does better. You get the idea. The Suzuki looks bland and featureless by comparison, an instant coffee next to a barista-crafted latte with a helping of cake. Behold:
But safety is the same, right? Both are 5-star ANCAP? Well, no. Here at Practical Motoring we do not believe the ANCAP system properly helps differentiate cars on their safety merits, and these two cars perfectly make our point.
Most consumers will just look at the 5-star rating, and even if they look a little beyond they see the Swift manages 35.55 out of 37, and the A45 35.80. But that’s not the full picture either, because the ANCAP ratings don’t fully reward SAT, or Safety Assist Technology. If they did, the A45 would score higher as it has lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, forward and rear parking sensors, plus a reversing camera to name just a few. So it’s grossly unfair that it scores the same as the much less sophisticated Swift. ANCAP, you need to fix this.
All that gives you an idea of what you typically get for your money if you buy a more expensive car. Unfortunately, the emphasis has to be on typically. Some expensive vehicles – and I think here of the Japanese – tend to have a view that if it can be done, it will be done, never considering “should it be done”. That means you end up with luxury features that are either pointless or worse than the basic models. Complicated satnavs, weird heating options nobody would ever use, touchpads, premium materials where you can’t see them…let me tell you this; merely paying more is no guarantee the manufacturer will have put the funds to good use. Just see our RC350 vs RC F review for an example. Even normally rational Mercedes is not immune, building a web browser into its infotainment unit, a feature which is the very definition of ‘gimmick’.
Whether a more expensive car is worth it is your call, but there’s no question the differences are very much in evidence every time you even come near the car, let alone drive it. And now, onto the comparison.
AMG A45 vs Suzuki Swift Sport: practicality
We’re going to leave aside power, performance and luxury because the A45 has the Swift beaten on every possible score. Instead, let’s first look at day-to-day practicality.
The A45 already had my camera bag in the back, but even so it easily swallowed a load of shopping that we had to double-stack in the Suzuki. That’s because it is about 400mm longer at nearly 4.4m, and puts its extra length to good use. But the Swift’s smaller size means it can turn appreciably tighter, and it’s 90mm narrower too, so much easier to manoeuvre…yet the A45 counters with front/rear parking sensors (including LED distance lights) and a great reversing camera. The A45 is also still small enough to slot into tight spaces.
Yet it’s not all advantage Mercedes. The Swift has a storage pocket on the back of the front passenger seat where the A45 has none, it has clever false floor in its boot, and offers a USB and a 12v up front (the A45 has two USBs in its centre console). But after that, I’m struggling to think of Swift advantages.
The fact is that the Swift is pretty well comprehensively beaten on the practicality front because of all those little features it doesn’t have as a function of its price. You may expect that given the cost difference, but it’s certainly not always the case for any two given cars.
As a side note – sportscars derived from mass-appeal hatchbacks are often safer and more practical than those sportscars built on a dedicated platform.
So much for the boring facts of life. Now for the fun, and let’s look at the round-town, suburban, city drive first.
Mercedes-Benz AMG A45 vs Suzuki Swift Sport: driving fun
The AMG is rather bored by the mundane chore of trundling to the shops. It can’t use its power, its traction capabilities are never called upon and it’s rather like cycling down your McMansion driveway to get the post, albeit on a very stylish bicycle. This is to take nothing away from the A45’s abilities – it’s easy, smooth and comfortable – but its not much fun around town even if the exhaust is just noisy enough keep you interested but not loud enough to intrude.
In contrast, the Swift is a delightfully peppy little funster that weighs around 1060kg, a cool half-tonne less than the A45. You feel the difference on the first corner at 30km/h, and every time there’s a direction change you’re reminded again of the virtues of lightweight engineering. The Swift simply handles better at this sort of speed, it’s a bit narrower so you can pick your lines, the engine is powerful enough to get you places when you skip-shift, but not so powerful you can’t enjoy a moment or two of full-throttle work. It’s not too bad a sound higher up in the rev range.
The A45 is a bigger, heavier car so its relative lack of agility is an understandable tradeoff. But this next difference cannot so easily be explained or forgiven, and that is responsiveness, and is perhaps the biggest advantage the Suzuki has over the Mercedes. Like the Toyota 86 and the manual 2.0L MX-5, the Swift responds with a pleasing sense of immediacy to throttle movements, pitching onto its tail or nose, a silly thrill that for me at least never gets old and it’s just what you want to take advantage of those right-now traffic gaps.
In contrast, the A45 simply does not respond instantly to throttle commands, taking an eternity of half a second to wake up, contemplate life and then respond. I wouldn’t call it turbo lag, as modern cars have ways to keep the forced induction on more-or-less permanent boost, and I’ve seen the same thing with automatic Mustangs and the RC-F. But it’s an irritatingly perceptible lag nevertheless.
Now when the A45 gets going it’ll catch anything ahead that isn’t made in Maranello, but you shouldn’t need to wait for the car to have its have lunch before it starts work. It’s also slow off the line, even when the auto stop/start is disabled. Sometimes it acts like a manual car that you’ve tried to accelerate off the line but brought the clutch up too early, causing the engine revs to momentarily die.
Back to the Swift. The gearshift isn’t the finest but it’s acceptable and does reward a skillful shift, exactly what you want in a manual car, and you have the playful challenge of choosing gears then executing downshifts. Visibility is excellent all round, grip is superb and in short if you have a lot of zipping around town to do, then I’d pick the Swift over the A45 for fun any day of the week. And to be clear, that’s driving fun, not ease-of-use or luxury.
That was the suburbs, but there’s also the more open, higher-speed roads to consider, the traditional domain of the sportscar. Could it be here the balance of power starts to shift?
As you’d expect, the A45 is fast. In fact, however fast you were expecting it to be, it’s probably faster. It has five modes ranging from Comfort to Sport to Race, and the latter means the car more or less drives around at 4000rpm so the car’s 280kW is always multiplied by exactly the right ratio of gears. The DCT gearchanges are split-second, brakes are fantastic, and there’s an array of electronic aids shuffling torque front to rear and left to right to automate the process of covering ground rapidly. You can feel the computers at work, for example the car turns in with the sort of alacrity that must come from electronic assistance. If mid-corner you crudely demand a tighter line the computers work out what must be done to reduce the radius, the car conjures up more grip, simply responding with bland disinterest to the command, flattering the driver. In the wet, the AMG grips the road better than some cars do in the dry.
The A45 is a very easy car to drive fast below its limit, and its limits are so high they should never be reached on public roads. That means it lacks the reward that enthusiasts look for in sportscars. But does that mean it is unworthy?
There is more to the A45 AMG experience than mere speed, and here I draw on the wisdom of Heston Blumenthal who said that eating is “one of the few activities we do that involves all of the senses simultaneously”, the point being that the eating experience is amplified by the ambience of the venue, the presentation of the food and the sense of theatre. The actual eating may become almost secondary. And so it is with driving a sportscar.
The A45 is no driver’s car in the mould of a Lotus, Toyota 86 or MX-5 and to be fair, it’s not trying to be – it’s a practical hatch, luxury car and amazingly fast time machine. Instead, the A45 delivers its thrills differently, and that starts with the sumptuous cockpit which Mercedes have managed to make both beautiful, usable and exciting. The steering wheel is high quality and just perfectly sized for your grip. The seats manage to be both comfortable, ultra supportive and good looking. Everything about the car, inside and out, adds to the ownership experience. But the best bit is the sound, a full orchestra in fact. Even in Comfort mode at idle the exhaust murmurs a distinct, deeply resonant burble from the back of the car, and around town you can hear the car working too, burbling its way to suburban speed limits, raspy in a way that promises so much more.
Twist the mode dial into Sport, Sport Plus and Race mode – then touch the Exhaust button – and the A45 no longer speaks, it roars what has to be one of the finest noises ever to be associated with a four-cylinder engine. I was going to write “made by”, but these days such songs are more lip-synch than live. Nevertheless, when working hard the engine’s note is adrenalin turned into sound, crackles and pops in just the right places, punctuating gearshifts with impatient, staccato pauses before coming back on to reach the sort of tingly acoustic heights you’d associate with a master guitarist. Listen close and you can hear the influence of turbo at the appropriate points, a trebley background singer to the bass lead.
All of this drama really does serve to heighten the enjoyment and sensation of driving the car, and for many the combination of sound, speed and ease-of-use will mean the A45 cannot be beaten as a experience machine. There is certainly a thrill to be had powering out of corners, even – especially – if you don’t use full throttle, holding the car back until it’s able to fully deploy its immense thrust, feeling the car wanting to go go go. The AMG A45 has been called a hyper hatch and I’d agree, it’s a good deal warmer than mere hot. It is certainly one hell of an experience, but raw driving machine it is not, at least on public roads.
So what can the Swift muster in response? Not much. It also has a four-cylinder engine, and its engine and exhaust note would perhaps be thought acceptable, in the same way you wouldn’t mind flying economy if you had never experienced business class. The problem is the A45’s soundtrack is first class, and once that’s heard then you are no longer content with what you have. The Swift is only front-wheel-drive, has 100kW not 280kW, and its electronics are there as a safety net, not as an aid. It has no trick differential, no adjustable suspension. On paper, there is no reasonable comparison and no chance.
But we’re in the real world, and I’m out into a well-worn loop of twisty, curvy rural road. I’m not finding the Swift any slower than the A45 mid-corner – it doesn’t have the traction aids, but that half a tonne less weight to deal with is the key, and that helps a lot with braking too. I’m higher up with better visibility in a narrower car, so I can choose my path through the corners better. I have to work harder too, select my own gears, and be more careful about powering out of tighter corners so the little engine’s torque is not wasted on wheelspin, take care on bumpy corners to avoid skittering over the road.
At speeds under 100km/h the Swift doesn’t hurt for power; you accelerate readily enough, but it’s not wow-exciting. Where you do want for more urge is uphills…but even there third gear is enough to keep to the speed limit, sometimes at a painful strain, where the A45 would quickly need backing off. You will also be kicking yourself for any mistakes on exit, as there’s no power to quickly cover up your lack of skill. The Swift is analogue, DIY fun you need to work for, not sit back and enjoy as you do in the A45.
This sounds like high praise for the Suzuki, but it’s not. The Swift is good, but will never be of the revered hot hatches. I feel that much of its ability comes from its light weight as opposed to brilliant chassis or suspension design, and indeed I think there’s an argument that given the light weight the overly harsh suspension could be softened, maybe allow a little oversteer and body roll, not dissimilar to what Mazda did with the MX-5. One caution; the Swift’s charms are easily dampened with a load of people (or even two large ones), whereas the larger A45 with its surfeit of power is much better able to cope. As a sports tourer, the A45 would surely win.
So which to choose; Mercedes or Suzuki? That’s your choice. If you want easy speed, the grin-inducing thrill of power accompanied by the drama of sound set in a cabin and car that excites, then the A45 AMG is your vehicle but you’ll enjoy the ambience of the car more than the handling. If you prefer to work hard to develop and refine your abilities, then savour the rewards that come from successful application of your skills then you’ll appreciate the challenges of the far more basic Suzuki.
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2016 Suzuki Swift Sport
Price : from $24,490 (plus ORC); Warranty : three-year, 100,000 kilometres; Safety : five-star ANCAP (35.55 / 37); Engine : 1.6L 4-cyl petrol, 100kW @ 6900 rpm, 160Nm @ 4400 rpm; Transmission : six-speed manual (CVT auto option); Body : 3890mm (L); 1695m (W); 1510m (H); wheelbase 2430mm; Turning Circle : 10.4m; 0-100km/hr : approx. 7.5 seconds; Ground Clearance : 130mm; Seats : 5; Tare Weight : 1060kg (unladen); GVM : 1520kg; Towing : not rated; Fuel Tank : 42 litres; Spare : none; Thirst : 6.5L/100km ADR81/02 combined cycle; Fuel : petrol (95 RON)