On the Island of Dr Moreau, H.G.Wells describes a horrifying environment where humanoid animal hybrids (and I’m not talking about Val Kilmer) are ‘engineered’ by a mad scientist, seeking to find perfection.
Moreau creates unnatural answers to questions that nature never asked; a hyena-pig, a fox-bear, a goat-ape. Combinations that shouldn’t work, but in the world of science fiction do, to a point.
But what if in the real world, Moreau was an automotive engineer, again seeking to create the perfect natural-unnatural hybrid, by pairing types that common sense suggest should just not work.
Something like crossing a high-intensity, turbocharged, track day hatch-back with a blobby, compact SUV.
Welcome to the Island of Dr Mercedes-AMG GLA45 S.
We talk a lot about ‘platforms’ and ‘skateboards’ here at CarAdvice (we’re great at parties, honest), where the bulk of the engineering development is centred around a multi-use and multi-role underpinning that can essentially be adapted to suit any body on top.
Output from the tuned-to-perfection 2.0-litre turbocharged M139 is the same; 310kW at a snarling and cracking 6750rpm and 500Nm between 5000 and 5250rpm.
It runs the same hyper-intelligent 4Matic+ all-wheel-drive system that puts power to each wheel, front, back, left or right, as needed, and utilises the same eight-speed AMG Speedshift DCT to slap ratios together faster than hands in a high-stakes game of UNO.
Technology, gizmos, widgets and mobile-app connectivity features are all carried across too.
|2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA45S|
|Engine configuration||2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged|
|Power||310kW @ 6750rpm|
|Torque||500Nm @ 5000-5250rpm|
|Transmission||8-speed AMG Speedshift DCT|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive (variable torque split)|
|Power to weight ratio||171.6kW/t|
|Fuel claim (combined)||9.6L/100km|
|Main competitors||Audi RSQ3 | AMG GLA 35|
Put simply, at $107,035 (before options and on-road costs), the GLA45 S is the $12,135 more expensive, taller and marginally bigger-booted version of the bonkers A45 S hyper-hatch, and I’m suggesting that it may have been an evolutionary step too far.
Don’t get me wrong, this thing is stupidly fast and ridiculously capable, it just feels a bit out of place while doing it.
Plus, it’s expensive.
At least the A45 S starts with a five-digit number, this thing is already in the sixes and is a whole $24,100 more expensive than than it’s less-nuclear showroom mate, the GLA 35 ($82,935 before options and on roads).
To be fair, you don’t really need to tick many boxes beyond the $107k list, but premium paint (8-choices) adds $1490, as does the Innovation package (head-up display), which feels a bit cheeky at the base buy-in.
But it means that my choice of a Patagonia Red one with the aero-kit and head-up display added in, rings the till at over $120k on the road, and that’s ignoring any dealer delivery costs.
Plus, as on-paper-identical as the GLA and A are, there’s something intangible about the compact SUV that makes it feel just a little bit muted as you tootle around town.
It’s almost like the PG-version of the R-rated hatchback. The edited-for-TV version if you will.
|2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA45S|
|Wheels/tyres||255/40 R20 – Michelin|
The smart but still quite generic, curvy SUV shape doesn’t look tough or hardcore (you can option the $2900 aerodynamics package for a bit of extra drama), nor does it look different enough from the more pedestrian Mercedes-Benz GLA250 (or 200).
Yes, the ’45 is wider (1849mm to 1834mm) thanks to the unique arch extensions, has a wider front track (1612mm to 1590mm) and has plenty of unique trim elements, from the Panamericana style grille to the quad-tipped rear valance, that gives it plenty of side-by-side comparison points.
But the modern urban-SUV styling just doesn’t convey any aggressive context, that the hatch-back manages to carry off.
Even the previous generation GLA45, with its high-hatch design and almost cartoonish rally-raid style, made a shouty statement. For mine, a car like the GLA45 S needs to remind you of what lies beneath, but perhaps a sleeper is what buyers are after?
Whatever the case, or your taste, there’s no denying the little SUV works well on the move.
Urban running is zippy, to say the least. Even with the car left in its Comfort setting, performance is very much driven by your throttle position. Squeeze gently to perhaps 20 per cent pressure, and you’ll keep up with the flow of traffic. Need to pass or be somewhere else quickly, just dial it up to around 40 per cent to get by.
Like this, the GLA still fees quick enough, certainly for SUV’ing about town. It’s only when you can escape the confines of 40- and 50km/h zones that you can explore the rest of the throttle travel.
|2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA45S|
|Colour||Iridium Silver (Metallic)|
|Options as tested||$2980|
|ANCAP safety rating||Not tested|
|Warranty||3 years / unlimited km|
On a winding country road then, with pedal mashed to the carpet, the GLA45 S is every monster from Moreau’s island combined. It is blisteringly quick and is able to hold unnatural speeds through twisting and tightening bends. And like with the A45, even driving quickly on a public road, you’re leaving so much left in the car. It’s tremendously well sorted.
Through left-right switches on a 100km/h stretch, the ’45 dances eagerly but doesn’t feel quite as sharp as the A45 hatch. You ride 42mm higher off the ground, and the SUV’s suspension offers a bit more compliance than the hatch, even with its three-stage AMG ride control program in place.
This is a strong point of the GLA, as it can absorb bumps and edges with a bit more ‘give’ than the lower hatchback, and even when thrown at loose gravel roads, is well able to keep honest pace without even hinting at a loss of behavioural control.
You get the impression that the car is more capable than you will ever be.
Back on tarmac, sun setting, the GLA45 continues to explode forward. The body control and ride demeanour is ultimately the biggest strength of the car, providing a level of compliance and flexibility that allows you to be comfortable yet still be moving at a super-legal rate of knots. Comfort and flexibility in the realm of a sports-coupe-hatch-thing that is.
Further, you get all the bells and whistles we’ve seen across the other A-derived range, and as has been explored with other GLA variants, a reasonably roomy back seat and a usable boot (435-litres to 1430-litres).
As with other GLA variants, you can add a sliding rear bench for $790 too.
It is a versatile, tech-filled urban runner, but it just feels a bit incongruous with its hyper-performance nature.
Will you drop the kids then go and indulge in a track day? I’m thinking not.
It’s funny too, as we saw the hyper-compact SUV concept tested when Nissan jammed a GTR’s running gear under the body of a Juke. It too was fast and fun, but ultimately deemed to be just a little too niche to take any further.
Afalterbach obviously didn’t get the memo.
Unlike the beasts on Moreau’s island, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA45 S is already fully evolved. Evolved to what though, is more the question, because as capable and entertaining as it is, you have to ask yourself at well over $110,000 on the road, why are you even here?
Need an SUV?
Six figures buys you a lot of choice. Want a pocket-rocket? The A45 S hatch is every bit as capable and even more exciting. Need to meld the two? Surely the AMG GLA35 does enough?
I’m a huge fan of the A45 S hatch, and would happily recommend one to all and sundry as a thrill-per-minute powerhouse (a Thrillhouse perhaps?), but when you consider the GLA’s price premium and inherent ‘nature out of place’ categorisation, I can’t see myself doing the same with the SUV.
A ‘250 or ’35, sure. The GLA platform is a pint-size GLE-coupe in the same way a GLB is a shrunken GLS. It is stylish, well-featured and roomy enough for a compact, urban-friendly SUV. It’s a good car, but it’s not a $120k car.
The ’45 is an amazing machine, that has absolutely no right to be as hilarious to drive as it is. It showcases Mercedes’ ability to get the crucial underpinnings and platform right once, and thus be able to create unnatural hybrids to their every whim and desire.
It’s fast. It sticks. It’s a big stack of fun and does everything it says on the brochure, but given some of the character of the previous generation car has gone, the GLA45 comes off feeling just a bit silly, rather than the ultimate jack of all trades.