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The Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG is the third member of the German company’s uber popular family of hot fours.
Ostensibly a crossover SUV, albeit a very car-like one, the hardcore GLA spin-off joins the A45 AMG and CLA45 AMG. It offers a higher ride height and more practicality than either, and at $79,430, is priced smack-bang between the two. It's not cheap, but compared with the CLA45 it's great value.
All the familiar ingredients are here. The 265kW/450Nm 2.0-litre turbo-four that produces more power than any other series production engine of its type, the variable 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system with a front bias, and the standard seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with paddles.
The success of AMG across the board in Australia is not really news. The Affalterbach tuning house has greater market penetration here than anywhere else, with about 8.5 per cent of Mercedes’ sales here wearing the hallowed badge.
This year, partially in lieu of the between-generations C63 sedan and wagon top-sellers, the four-pot pocket rockets have led the charge, and a record-breaking one at that. Given acceptable supply, the GLA might just oust them both. But does it deserve to?
Let’s get one thing straight. The GLA is a crossover SUV in the same way I’m a Victoria’s Secret model. It’s scarcely bigger than an A-Class and despite having a 40mm-higher ride height than its baby sibling, it’s scarcely larger than an average small hatchback.
The benefits are an extra 80 litres of boot space, now 421L with the rear seats up, making it a little more practical for odds and ends. The rear row folds 60:40 and has a ski port. That said, it loses out to the B-Class in this department, which like the A, CLA and GLA is based on the same modular MFA architecture.
But the cabin is certainly more user-friendly in the GLA than any other baby AMG. Head and legroom in the back are acceptable, albeit not on a par with the Audi RS Q3 that looks like a block of flats next to the Benz. Rear passengers get air vents and a trio of headrests.
Up front the fascia is familiar. There are a few too many buttons to control the audio system and the touchscreen propped up above it looks a little tacked-on. That said, the leather/suede wheel, AMG stamping on the slick little gearshifter and the copious silver and carbon inserts look the business.
The front Recaro seats lose the normal GLA’s storage cubbies and map pockets but add a whole lot of lateral support. Trimmed in leather with heating and red stitching, and red seat belts no less, they’re a treat. The more rotund readers might struggle however.
And the fact the GLA is more hatchback than crossover has other benefits. Its performance is scarcely compromised by its excess height or weight (its only 30kg heavier than the A45), and its styling is slick and clean — to our eyes much more resolved than its siblings.
That mildly jacked-up ride makes the road view that little bit more commanding and speed humps that little but less demanding. But body control remains excellent.
It sits flat mid corner with little noticeable roll and turns in with the same gusto as its lower siblings, and while it could be more playful if there was more rear-bias, it hangs on with ferocity and inspires confidence in the driver.
The ride remains firm on the 20-inch wheels but it feels more composed around urban commutes than the A45, which will rattle out your fillings. It’s also less prone to skip off the line if you hit a bump mid-corner than the rock-hard A45.
Like the A45, it’s not a light car for its size, and while the massive 350mm front/330mm rear vented, cross-drilled and grooved brakes with four-piston aluminium calipers up front offer plenty of bite and go the distance, you still notice the weight transfer.
There’s still too much road noise too, especially on coarser chip surfaces.
Those grievances aside it probably represents a better all-round package than any other AMG pocket rocket, in the way it still offers more comfort with fewer compromises.
The steering loads up nicely and offers plenty of heft and feel at higher speeds, but is light enough to twirl about in a car park. Of course, that Alcantara steering wheel livens up the experience. It might be electromechanical, but the tiller feels communicative.
The engine likewise is familiar. The sound is what really grabs you, a keening wail at the top of the rev range and, in sports mode, a thunderous exhaust crackle on upshifts. It’s not for the wallflowers among us.
With revs on board, the engine’s strong mid-range gives the GLA immediate punch out of sweepers. The small weight penalty takes the 0-100km/h sprint out to 4.8 seconds from 4.6s in the A45, but you scarcely notice it.
It’s not as strong under 2000rpm as it should be though. It behaves like a traditional turbo engine with a delay between foot-down and head-back. Using the launch control system in a controlled environment rectifies this a bit, and really shows the 4MATIC AWD system’s prowess.
Additionally, the dual-clutch transmission is not as smooth as some, especially in more urban environs, but at least it doesn’t have the silly column shifter of many other Mercedes-Benz models. Instead, it has a delightful and distinctive shifter in the more common locale.
All told, the GLA45 AMG might just be the pick of the MFA-based AMG family. Its gains in practicality, better urban ride and eye-catching styling outweigh the moderate dynamic imposts. And like the A45 and CLA45, it’s brimming with character.
Just don’t pretend it’s a crossover SUV.