► Eagerly anticiapted AMG GLA 45 S
► Previous car was promising but flawed
► Result is a speedy but comfortable daily
The old Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 was a proper George’s Marvellous Medicine recipe – starting off as A-Class hatch before gaining extra ride height and plastic cladding, it was then packed off to AMG where for some side skirts and a spoiler. And slightly lower suspension.
That’s a lot to take in, especially when you consider the resulting car had a less commanding driving position than the normal GLA and a higher centre of gravity than the A 45, but could be some £13,000 more expensive than the latter. It really shouldn't have worked.
Despite this though, the GLA 45 was objectively quite good in the way that all fast and grippy cars are, but with the additional benefits of better practicality and a comfier ride than its hatchback cousin. Still, that wasn't quite enough to diminish its polarising looks.
This one looks much better
Although still heavily based on the A-Class, this generation of GLA looks like an actual SUV now, rather than a hatchback that’s done an orienteering course. It follows then that the AMG version is even more distinctive – and a much clearer rival to the Porsche Macan - very much the LeBron James of the fast SUV world.
As you’d expect AMG is going after the all-rounder angle for this car in its marketing material, describing it as an ‘assured master of a multitude of disciplines’ which is not the name of He-Man’s Mr Fixit side hustle, so it turns out, but a way of saying the GLA is at home on a race track as it is with a canoe on the roof.
It’s also much nicer inside than before thanks to the latest generation of Mercedes's MBUX cockpit (we've covered this in our A-Class and GLA-Class reviews), plus there's loads of space for rear passengers and a useful boot.
Who cares - what’s under the bonnet?
AMG takes great joy in repeating the line about this car having the world’s most powerful turbocharged four-cylinder motor (it’s close rival the RS 3/RS Q3 uses a five pot) but in fairness the 415bhp and 369lbs ft it extracts from 2.0-litres of displacement is quite impressive.
There’s a big boosty mid-range, of course, and you have to wait until 5,000rpm until peak torque, which means it’s a characterful unit. That said, those things combined with a short-feeling second gear does mean you’ll find the limiter more than you’d like coming out of slow corners or roundabouts.
Leave the excellent eight-speed DCT in auto and engage the standard-fit race start and 0-62mph drops in 4.3 seconds – enough to worry an entry-level 911 – and on the flip side there’s a gliding function you can activate to help save fuel too.
Pub facts? There’s a separate cooling system for the head and crank case so they can operate at their respective peak thermal efficiencies, and compared to the AMG GLA 35, the engine in the 45 S has been rotated by 180 degrees so the turbo and exhaust are at the back and the inlet at the front.
What’s the AMG GLA 45 S like to drive?
Grippy – in a word – thanks to the A 45’s all-wheel drive system and a torque vectoring rear axle with two multi-disc clutches.
It feels very tied down in all but the most liberal Master dynamics mode – strictly for circuit use, says AMG – which is the only setting that makes the GLA feel remotely rear driven. Power oversteer is there but not exactly on tap and there’s no drift mode like the A 45. Mario to the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio’s Wario, then.
Your other choices are Basic, Advanced and Pro and to be honest we’d need more than our test drive to discern the subtle differences between them, other than that the first two use the all-wheel drive system’s normal mode, while Pro and Master unlock its sport setting, enabling more yaw.
In any mode, the GLA 45 drives like a big hot hatch - it’s not the last word in involvement but it’s certainly very effective and fast. Bodyroll is kept neatly at bay, so if you come out of a corner with the power on early it just sort of squats down and pulls hard like it’s on Touring Car tyres.
Sounds like a lot of modes…
There are two for the all-wheel drive, four for the driving dynamics and then your overall driving modes – Slippery, Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Race. Those last overarching settings adjust all the others so in reality it’s not so hard to manage, but even so, it feels like one option too many.
Equally comprehensive are the ways you can adjust said modes – there’s a toggle on the centre console, a rotary mode dial and two configurable buttons on the wheel, plus another button for the damper setting under your left arm. Too many buttons, in truth, but thankfully you can set up the Individual mode the way you want and then just press the centre of the digital Manettino to cycle between it and the normal Comfort mode.
Leave it in Comfort mode and you’ll find the best suspension setting for the UK – it’s surprisingly plush, actually, without being wallowy or floaty. Potholes and speed bumps in town are best taken at slow speed, naturally, but on faster roads it’s very refined. Moreso than the hatch, at any rate.
It’s fair to say we were not massive enamoured by the old GLA 45 – largely down to the fact it cost way more than the A 45 and didn’t really do much differently other than offering slightly higher seat.
While this version is unlikely to be cheaper than before it does at least come with improvements in passenger and luggage space, and interestingly enough a different driving character.
If you like the sensation of bottomless traction then the GLA 45 is likely to appear more than the A 45 – drift mode is notably absent in the SUV – and its more forgiving ride allied with a periscope driving position will make it an easier thing to live with, too.