Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG first drive Review | Autocar
What is it?
The Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG, a storming four-wheel-drive hatchback-cum-SUV that completely blurs the lines in a junior premium-brand performance-car market that is becoming increasingly diversified as car makers seek to fill every possible niche.
Sister model to the recently introduced A45 AMG hatchback and CLA45 AMG saloon, the GLA45 AMG has been conceived to appeal to a small group of buyers seeking genuine performance but without the compromises that traditionally come with it.
At least, that’s the line Mercedes-Benz is pedalling. And it is not alone. The target market is the very same one Audi is aiming at with its new RS Q3.
Power hails from the same turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder direct-injection petrol engine used in the A45 AMG and CLA45 AMG. With 355bhp, it is currently the most powerful series production four-cylinder engine. Torque swells to a peak of 332lb ft on a band of revs between 2250 and 5000rpm.
Drive is channelled through a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox and electro-mechanical four-wheel drive system to all four wheels.
Underneath, there is a heavily revised version of the A45 AMG and CLA45 AMG chassis, boasting greater wheel travel, a ride height that is 25mm lower than that of standard GLA models, and with standard 19-inch wheels.
What is it like?
In many ways, a more pleasing everyday proposition than either the A45 AMG or CLA45 AMG.
It delivers the same rousing performance but offers a degree of comfort to its ride that is lacking in its four-wheel-drive siblings. As such, it is better suited to the rigours of daily commuting.
Step inside the GLA45 AMG and you discover a suitably high quality interior. The dashboard is unique, but there is plenty to remind you of the A45 AMG and CLA45 AMG, including the instruments, steering wheel, seats, infotainment unit and switchgear. The driving position is set a little higher than in AMG’s other four-cylinder models, but with a ride height that is 25mm lower than standard GLA models you never feel you are perched up at true SUV height.
The engine delivers loads of low-to-mid-range flexibility in either of its three driving modes, with strong pull and excellent tractability from little more than 1500rpm. This makes the GLA45 AMG every bit as suited to the urban crawl as the open road.
However, the most impressive facet of the transversely mounted four-cylinder is felt from 4500rpm onwards, where it hardens in character and delivers truly explosive qualities on a heavily pegged throttle. It also sounds fantastic with a raspy growl under load and the odd crackle of exhaust on the over run.
The seven dual clutch automatic gearbox shifts with great intent at higher revs in Sport mode, but it can be slow to grab ratios at lower engine speeds in ECO mode around town. More impressive is the action of the electro-mechanical multi-plate clutch four-wheel drive system and various electronic driver-assistance systems, including a switchable electronic stability program (ESP) function. Together, they dole out the drive in a highly efficient manner, whether on dry or damp roads.
The overall effectiveness of the engine and the ability of the transmission to deploy its reserves is displayed in no uncertain terms by Mercedes-Benz’s own performance claims. With a 0-62mph time of just 4.8sec, the GLA45 AMG is a considerable 0.7sec faster than the RS Q3. AMG’s latest model is also among a handful of four-cylinder-powered cars to boast a genuinely limited 155mph top speed.
But while its straight line performance is outstanding, it isn’t the most impressive factor about the GLA45 AMG. What grabbed our attention first time out was the added comfort AMG’s chassis engineers have managed to incorporate into its ride without adversely affecting its handling.
While it uses the same basic MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension as the A45 AMG and CLA45 AMG, the GLA45 AMG proves more cosseting over coarse roads than its siblings thanks to a small degree of additional wheel travel brought on by its higher ride height, altered kinematic properties and more forgiving springs and dampers. There is greater shock absorption on bumps, ridges and potholes in compression and less severe traits to the rebound, giving it a more settled ride in all conditions.
But despite the more cosseting character its handling is really quite impressive for a compact SUV. The GLA45 AMG serves up heady front end grip and lower levels of roll than you’d credit given the added compliance brought to its chassis. The steering is pleasingly direct away from the centre position and weights up nicely with a quarter turn of lock with proper feel.
This is a very secure car. The chassis provides sufficient communication to allow you to carry high speeds into corners without any great trepidation or fear of the tail coming unstuck should you suddenly be required to lift off. It also delivers great drive on the exit as the four-wheel drive system loads up the rear axle to make best use of the traction on offer.
Still, if you’re looking for ultimate four-cylinder performance at a similar price you’d be better off with the A45 AMG or CLA45 AMG – both of which are a tick more focused in character. As good as the GLA45 AMG is, it can’t quite match its identically powered stablemates for outright handling prowess.
Should I buy one?
It really depends if you are looking for a car for everyday use offering something special in the way of performance or seeking a no-compromise driver’s car.
If it is the former, you could do a lot worse than the GLA45 AMG. It offers a mesmerising combination of performance, handling and ride comfort. Beware, though. Mercedes-Benz likes to describe its latest offering as an SUV, however, it is more a high-riding hatchback with added styling elements to toughen up its appearance. As such, it lacks the space and overall versatility of true SUV rivals such as the Range Rover Evoque.
Those looking for the definitive word in dynamic ability should bypass the GLA45 AMG and decide between the A45 AMG and CLA45 AMG.
Or, for those prepared to wait, there’s the upcoming CLA45 AMG Shooting Brake. However, it isn’t planned to be revealed until this time next year.