This is the Mercedes GLA 45 AMG, and it’s a new type of car from Mercedes altogether: a hot crossover.
If ‘GLA 45 AMG’ looks like Herr Engineer fell asleep on his keyboard, don’t worry. ‘GLA’ is Mercedes new A-class based crossover, a high-riding hatch with designs on the Audi Q3 and Range Rover Evoque.
The ‘45 AMG’ suffix is the same applied to the fast A-class and CLA. So, this flagship GLA uses the same ballistic four-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive system as the other ‘my first AMG’ stablemates, offering the sort of performance from this fairly unassuming family car that a Porsche 911 Turbo would’ve aimed for a decade ago.
So the Mercedes GLA 45 AMG isn’t the slow car among AMGs then?
Certainly not. Even a bluffer, taller version of the A-class is going to shift when you plumb a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine good for 355bhp and 332lb ft into its nose. Sorry to Porsche-bash once again here, but you’re looking at a posh Qashqai with more punch than a 911 Carrera 3.4 here.
Performance is suitably rapid. The GLA 45 AMG is front-wheel drive in everyday pootling, but go for a hard launch and up to 50% of power is diverted to the 19in rear wheels. With 0-62mph arriving in 4.8sec (only 0.2sec slower than the 30kg lighter A45 hatch), the GLA is far from a poor relation.
In fact, it’s just as quick across the ground as the full-fat Mercedes SUV road-rocket, the bi-turbo V8-powered ML63 AMG. Audi’s 306bhp RSQ3 is slower and thirstier, and nothing in Land Rover’s arsenal can bring the Evoque onto a level playing field with this flagship GLA. It’s a guilty pleasure, this one. One that claims an official 37mpg on the EU combined cycle too – pretty astounding given the performance.
Of course, like the rest of the A-class-based AMGs, the GLA doesn’t sound as inspiring as its V8 AMG brethren. The in-line four pot growls under heavy load and gamely pops on the overrun, but the GLA 45 is a machine you’ll buy for its any-weather pace, not a hair-raising backing track as standard. Speccing the optional sports exhaust gives you a rally car esque-bark: fun on a test drive, but it won’t ingratiate you to the neighbours.
Still, it sounds antisocial enough to carry off the dubious red seatbelts, red air vent surrounds and blinged-up gear selector that lift the standard GLA (and therefore A-class-donated) interior. So it should – this is a £42k machine.
How’s it handle?
Riding 46mm higher than an A45 AMG (albeit 20mm lower than any other GLA) does rob the GLA of the last degrees of agility, but there are benefits to its loftiness that claw the difference back somewhat. Clamped into just as supportive a bucket seat as the hot hatch, you’re in no less of a mood to throw that bluff nose into some turns.
There, you’ll find the GLA simply behaves like a very, very fast, glued-down hot hatchback – while a dab of extra suspension travel means it rides better than the (admittedly so-brittle-it-might-shatter) A45. This is a mightily effective point-to-point performance machine that’s supremely sorted: its 330mm four-piston cross-drilled front brakes pull the 1585kg Merc up with strong bite, yet the GLA maintains its composure to make it ripe for an early dose of throttle: the suspension compliance seeing this car grip ‘n’ go rather than slip ‘n’ slide.
As we’re now accustomed to in AMG Mercs, the transmission is sometimes left panting by the speed of everything happening around it. The seven-speed dual-clutcher in the GLA is, hey presto, lifted from the A45 and CLA45, and it still suffers from a slight deliberation time that drivers must pre-empt to avoid smacking the engine’s limiter.
The electric steering is quick – as we’re used to in the A-class and CLA – but has more weight and feel to it than a regular GLA’s rack. This hotshoe variant, despite its hairy-chested performance stats, might just be the most pleasant GLA to drive, versus its more anaemic, mumsier stablemates. Is AMG going soft? Nope – it’s just bringing a little more power to more people.
Let’s flip this around – why wouldn’t I buy the GLA 45 AMG instead of the A45?
Good question. The GLA looks cooler in a Tonka toy sorta-way, feels faster to drive, and has a 140-litre bigger boot. Which you choose will come down largely to cost (the GLA is almost £4000 pricier than the A-class hatch, and does five fewer miles per gallon) and your own perceptions of crossovers – rocketsled-fast ones or otherwise.
This is a turn up for the books: the slippery, awkward-looking CLA 45 AMG turns out to be the bronze medallist among four-pot AMGs, and the crashy A45 is less liveable than the GLA – which is almost as pacey on paper. Hot hatchback connoisseurs might not like it, but the GLA 45 AMG is the Merc to give other pocket rockets a bloody nose.