Taller than its same-engined cousins, can the GLA 45 AMG deliver similar performance?
What do you do when you’ve made the world’s most powerful production 2.0-litre turbocharged engine? Put it in as many cars as possible, of course.
AMG’s baby fire-breather makes a raucous note in the pint-sized A 45 AMG hatchback and sleek four-door coupe CLA 45 AMG, but the gang from Affalterbach needed something with a little more clearance to take to their favourite Bavarian fishing hole… after blistering across Bundesautobahn 93 first.
The result is the Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG, positioned as a cross-over performance SUV, a niche segment that includes the Audi RS Q3 and Porsche Macan. Available at $80,430 (excluding on-roads), it’s cheaper than the other two ($86,700 buys the twin-turbo Macan S and $81,900 the Audi RS Q3).
It’s debatable just how much of an SUV the GLA 45 is, especially given it is 15mm lower than the already-small GLA. It is however a healthy 40mm taller than the A 45, granting the high-performance SUV access to the slightly beaten track. But what we really want to know is how the handling compares on the road?
It’s evident from the first bump in the bitumen that the GLA 45 is no A 45, and it’s a welcome difference. Altogether less frenetic, the GLA 45 sucks up the corrugations with less bone-jarring fuss than its diminutive cousin. But it’s the compromise between vivacity and practicality that make the GLA 45 a distinctively appealing car. Inspecting the ample room in the cabin, 60:40 split rear seats and 421 litres of boot space, this ‘high-riding’ AMG is a good trade-off for a couple debating between a hot hatch and medium-sized SUV to ferry around a kid or two.
Truth is, one will still be getting the better end of the deal, as when you turn-in to a corner any notion that this is a soft-roader dissolves.
AMG’s tuning has transformed the chassis, turning a fun to drive vehicle into something with some true aggression. Stiffer bushings and steering knuckles provide sharp response from the McPherson strut front end, while stiffer springs, larger roll bars and retuned damping help with all-round stability.
Electrically-assisted steering with a reasonably quick 14.5:1 ratio provides progressive steering with firm resistance and weight. Turn-in through the faux-suede wheel is immediate and the chassis handles lateral forces well, although body roll is still evident. It’s well-mannered and sprinting through a few flicks of quick turns it feels that the GLA 45 is immune to understeer, although on this wet mountainous road it occasionally tries to rear its head.
Edge towards the GLA 45’s grip limit and understeer is resisted by 4MATIC all-wheel drive, with up to 50:50 power split between the front and rear wheels, while inside wheel braking intervention quietly nips away at the brakes. Sometimes this sort of power truncating can affect road feel through the steering wheel, but it’s completely absent here, and understeer is kept to a minimum because of it.
GLA 45 isn’t exactly light at 1585kg, but responsive brakes that don’t want to fade keep you sure footed, with large 350mm cross-drilled and slotted discs up front providing ample biting room for the four-piston callipers, while smaller 330mm units are mounted on the rear axle. Weight transfers over the front when braking hard, but good tuning in the dampers and stiffer springs helps prevent unwanted longitudinal uneasiness in the chassis.
There’s an abundance of herbs available via the hand-built 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder (winner of this year’s 1.8-Litre to 2.0-Litre International Engine Of The Year Award), which produces 265kW at 6000rpm and 450Nm from 2250rpm to 5000rpm. The seat-of-your-pants feeling translates on paper, with a relatively quick 0-100km/h in 4.8sec, beating its key opposition (Macan S twin-turbo, 5.4sec and Audi RS Q3, 5.2sec).
Turbo lag exists down low, but the twin-scroll design provides ample torque from around 3200rpm. Keeping up with the correct gear is key, and the AMG 7-speed DCT (dual-clutch transmission) administers rapid gear shifts via the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. It’s the same setup as in the A 45 and feels every bit as good.
The combination of a meaty power plant and quick shifting transmission can prove a challenge to simply coast along with. Eco mode provides the most successful attempt, but it’s hard to stay there as it’s in either sport or manual mode that the GLA 45 produces what is the 2.0-litre’s signature crackle and pop. Lift the revs to around 4000rpm and an over-fuelled progression of barking from the exhaust sounds like a batch of tom-thumbs going off in a pan.
The result of AMG’s chassis tuning combined with a powerful engine and brakes, is a car that feels 100kg lighter than it really is. It’s quick and agile, with outright grip that’s impressive on the road. If you’re trying to get a family friendly (ish) car over the line with your partner, or you just want to get to the river before the trout have turned off your pheasant tail nymphs, this could be the car you’ve been waiting for.
|Specs||2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG|
|Price||$80,430 (plus on-road costs)|
|Engine||1991cc turbocharged four-cylinder|
|Power||265kW at 6000rpm|
|Torque||450Nm at 1600-4000rpm|
|Power to weight||5.98kg/kW|
- Engine as good as a 2.0-litre gets
- More practical than a hatch
- Loads of grip
- Steering can feel detached over rougher surfaces
- Only just crossover SUV in size
- Infotainment not perfect, yet