There’s little doubt that when Mercedes-AMG created the world’s most powerful four-cylinder engine (internal code M139), it created an instant classic.
While ripe for cramming into hot hatches, it should come as no surprise the bean counters at AMG HQ would look to amortise development costs across a broader range of product.
Enter the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA45 S, the three-pointed star’s take on the hot performance SUV.
Nobody really needs a city-focussed SUV like this, with sub-five-second performance and all the street smarts and kerbside appeal of its AMG A45 hot-hatch cousin. And yet, here we are.
This is the second-generation GLA45 from the Mercedes stable. And it is an improvement on the breed, at once more powerful, faster and roomier than its predecessor.
It doesn’t come cheap, though, Mercedes asking for $108,100 of your hard-earned before options and on-road costs. Our test car didn’t come unmolested, though, with several options pushing the price to $118,050 plus on-roads.
|2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA45 S|
|Engine configuration||2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol|
|Power||310kW @ 6750rpm|
|Torque||500Nm @ 5000–5250rpm|
|Transmission||Eight-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|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 GLA35|
The extra 10 large comprises $1490 for metallic paint, Mountain Grey in our case, one of six optional hues from a palette of eight colours where only Polar White and Cosmos Black don’t attract a premium.
The AMG Aerodynamics Package ($2990) adds that massive rear wing and flics – or canards – on the front bar. Looks aggressive, too, especially that big wing sprouting from the roof.
It seems incongruous you have to pay for a lusty exhaust note, but thanks to European noise emissions restrictions, the new GLA45 S has been aurally neutered. Never fear, though. For an extra $690 you can option the AMG Performance Sound pack that pipes exhaust noise into the cabin. Tick that box if that’s your thing.
There’s also the $3290 AMG High Performance Seat package that adds Sports seats with adjustable bolstering for added hugs.
And the $1490 Innovation pack brings with it a head-up display and augmented-reality video integrated into the GLA45’s sat-nav. It’s a neat little function that projects the actual street view from a forwards-facing camera onto the multimedia screen overlaid with navigation guidance. It’s clever and brilliant.
None of this, however, does little to dispel the notion that the GLA45 is in the running to win the prize as arguably one of the most pointless cars available today. Australia’s love affair with SUVs and high-riding crossovers notwithstanding, if you want hot-hatch performance, buy a hot hatch. Mercedes-AMG has a perfectly good one, a great one even, in its armoury.
|2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA45 S|
|Wheels/tyres||255/40R20 – Michelin|
Still, there’s a certain type of buyer, and their numbers are possibly quite small, who values the tall-ish stance of a compact SUV but with the performance of an out-and-out hyper hatch. This, then, is the car for them.
Mercedes-AMG isn’t alone in offering a hot compact SUV, with rivals like the Audi RSQ3 ($91,110) clamouring for the attention of that particular sub-set of buyers. Ingolstadt’s take on the segment is arguably the GLA45’s closest rival, if not on price, then certainly on performance.
And performance is something the GLA45 has. By the compact-SUV full.
Power comes from Merc’s heroic and slightly madcap 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It’s billed by Merc as the most powerful four-pot ever made, and it’s hard to argue with the numbers. Like its hyper hatch A45 sibling, the 1991cc turbo four makes 310kW and 500Nm. Both outputs peak quite high in the rev range, 6750rpm in the case of kilowatts, and between 5000–5250rpm for newton-metres. All those numbers are sewn to all four wheels via AMG’s eight-speed ‘Speedshift’ dual-clutch auto.
It’s an exciting and willing marriage, one that can hurtle the circa-1800kg SUV from 0–100km/h in a scant 4.3 seconds. That’s blisteringly quick, and to provide some context, the Audi RSQ3 is 0.2sec slower to the benchmark triple figures, while the GLA45’s twin-under-the-skin, the A45 hyper hatch, claims a zero to 100km/h dash of 3.9sec. It should be noted, the A45 is almost 200kg lighter than its SUV sibling.
It’s a silly level of performance for what is ostensibly an SUV, but it’s also a lot of fun in the right circumstances.
Around town, the GLA45 can behave like the entry point into the range, the GLA200 with its 1.3-litre four and meagre by comparison 120kW and 250Nm. There’s a benign quality to the GLA45 when that’s what’s needed. Tootling around in traffic in Comfort mode is a relatively calm experience. The steering is light, the DCT shifts are unobtrusive despite its tendency to seek the highest possible ratio in the hunt for economy, and the engine remains muted and muffled.
Still, lean a little harder on the accelerator and the little SUV can, and will, surge forward at a prodigious rate – faster almost than anticipated. Merging into traffic on freeways has never been easier. Or more fun.
But, and oh what a but, find the perfect ribbon of road, throw the drive-mode selector into Sport or Sport+, and hold on tight. The steering gains some heft, the transmission holds onto gears more eagerly, with a thirst and a lust for revolutions while the engine morphs from muted growl to cacophonous rumble, replete with burbles and explosions on down-shifts.
If the sound isn’t intoxicating enough, the surge of acceleration and near-instant response will leave you drunk for more. It’s eye-watering and yet entirely predictable. Yes, the 4.3sec claim to 100km/h feels about right. And properly quick. But the GLA45 never feels unhinged.
Instead, thanks to a tighter suspension tune in Sport+ mode, the compact SUV feels planted and solid on the road, while AMG’s 4Matic all-wheel-drive system apportions torque and traction to the axles and wheels that need it most.
The result is an assured experience behind the wheel. One where you can push with confidence when you want to, and yet dial it right back to sedate levels when the kids are strapped into the back.
|2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA45 S|
|Colour||Mountain Grey (Metallic)|
|Options as tested||$9950|
|Servicing, three years||$3000|
|Servicing, five years||$4300|
|ANCAP safety rating||Not tested|
|Warranty||Five years/unlimited km|
And that’s part of the GLA45’s appeal. Whereas the A45 looks and feels like a proper hottest of hot hatches, an uncompromising take on the formula, the GLA45 can pass itself off as a sedate urban-focussed SUV equally at home on the school run as it is carving out some corners in the mountains. And that’s what some people want.
Mercedes-AMG claims the GLA45 S will use 9.6L/100km of 98RON premium unleaded. But, such is the nature of the beast that getting anywhere near that number is unlikely. We saw 12.7L/100km, but that did involve some spirited fun. Still, 12.7L from a four-pot, even one as manic as this one, is a bit rich. Owners will likely not care, though.
Inside, the Mercedes-AMG GLA45 lives up to its three-pointed star billing with plenty of premium touches and flourishes designed to look and feel a million bucks, or at least $108,000 and change.
The seats are trimmed in Titanium Grey and Black Lugano leather with plenty of yellow swathes cutting through the monochrome.
The centrepiece of the cabin is the single-pane widescreen ‘cockpit’ display that integrates two 10.25-inch digital screens – one for infotainment functions and one for the digital driver display. It’s an impressive-looking bit of kit, with crisp resolution and a clarity redolent of HD TV screens. It runs Merc’s latest MBUX infotainment system, which offers users menus galore – some would say too many menus and sub-menus.
The good news is these can be accessed in myriad ways: from the touchpad with shortcut buttons down on the centre console, to the haptic controllers on the steering wheel spokes, to the catchy but ultimately fraught ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice command (fraught because getting Ms Mercedes to understand what you’re saying is an exercise in patience).
And yet, the sometimes bewildering array of menus and configurable features can be overwhelming. We’d venture it’s the type of thing a new owner might play with once or twice, settle on their preferred settings and then forget, leaving smartphone mirroring via either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to do the heavy lifting.
The digital driver display can be personalised to taste too. From classic analogue-looking dials to jet-fighter-style telemetry readings, there’s a wealth of information on offer to bewilder and beguile. I chose classic dials. Call me old-fashioned. Or just old.
The second row is spacious enough, and comfortable for two, the middle seat offering the usual compromise. There are air vents back there as well as a USB-C charging point to match the total of three USB-C points up front. There’s also a wireless charging pad in the front console.
For those wanting to give their little ones a thrill, there are ISOFIX mounts in the outboard seats and three top-tether anchors on the seatbacks. It’s light and airy in the cabin, including the second row, thanks to the standard-fit two-pane panoramic roof.
Boot space is rated at 435L and expanding to 1430L with the second row of seats stowed away. And this is where the GLA45 begins to make some sense, with those capacities easily eclipsing the A45 hatchback’s 370L/1210L load areas.
Neither ANCAP nor Euro NCAP has crash-tested the GLA45, nor the wider GLA range. But, standard safety systems across the range include autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring along with exit-warning alert, driver-attention assist, while nine airbags cover both rows of occupants.
The GLA45 needs a trip to the workshop every 12 months or a generous 20,000km, whichever comes first. Servicing plans can be pre-purchased for $3000 (three years), $3700 (four years) or $4300 (five years). And Mercedes-Benz should be commended for its five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, while some other premium brands continue to persist with three-year sureties.
There’s no question the Mercedes-AMG GLA45 S fills a need in the brand’s portfolio. The seemingly unquenchable thirst for SUVs of all shapes, sizes and performance means there will always be a place for hyper compact SUVs like the GLA45. For those who don’t want the lairy appeal of Merc-AMG’s A45 hyper hatch, the GLA45 just might be the under-the-radar performance car they’re looking for.