23 Jan 2015

Driven – Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG

Colin Hubbard reviews the Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG, a sort of super hot hatch/crossover.

Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG
Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG

Typically Mercedes' have been bought by the more mature driver but when the new A Class was launched it appealed to a whole new and younger market. It has been a huge success, not only because it's great looking in base spec but also because it's a very capable front wheel drive car. The market is constantly evolving and now SUVs and more importantly mini-SUVs and crossovers are selling like hot cakes.

The Evoque, Kuga and Q3 have stolen many sales from the hatchback market, even with their inflated list prices, and Mercedes has hit back hard with the GLA, a mini SUV based on the A class.

At a first glance it looks like an A Class on raised springs and fitted with bigger wheels but have a good look at the body and you will notice they are completely different.

Starting at the front the headlights dip into a deeper front bumper and the front side air intakes are enlarged to highlight the taller front end. The bonnet features an extra pair of ridges running equidistance to the outside ridges, a nod to the 300SL Gullwing of old, which give an aggressive stance when viewed in a rear view mirror.
Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG
Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG

At the sides the wheel arches are widened and increased in diameter to be able to the swallow larger wheels and tyres fitted to GLAs. The side profile appears to be bulked out like an A Class on steroids.

Black plastic wheel arch trims are fitted along with some black nobbly effect side skirts to create the impression of an off roader's extended wheel arches.

The A Class's lower body crease that kicks up from the front door to the rear light is now more restrained and runs a lower line to the top of the wheel level. The rear door window line kicks up at the rear to highlight the more curvaceous body.

At the rear the lights are much deeper and are split in half by the tailgate but add to the aggression in the bodywork.

The GLA45 AMG is fitted with the attention grabbing aero pack consisting of 'flics' on the front bumper, a deep front splitter and a rear aerofoil which give it a look like it's after a fight with something exotic.

The test car is not front wheel drive, instead all wheels are driven, not because it wants to go off road but because this is the range topping GLA45AMG. This means the car is fitted with the same rip-snorting 4 pot motor from the A45AMG, a 2 litre 4 cylinder unit but with a weapons-grade turbo-charger and some very special AMG engineering. The little 4 pot creates a staggering 177bhp per litre giving a total output of 355bhp.

It is a very special engine and an in AMG tradition is built by just one man and fitted with a plaque on top of the engine cover signed off in this case by Tobias Rohler. This restores confidence in the highly tuned motor in that is isn't simply a highly boosted, small capacity engine but a hand built unit designed to operate under extreme pressure but with everyday reliability.
Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG
Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG

Front wheel drive wouldn't cut it with all that power and 332 ft/lb torque so it is fitted with a Haldex all wheel drive system. It's front wheel drive until it detects slip then a clutch in the rear axle engages and up to 50% of the power is sent to the back wheels. Sounds complicated, it is, but it works effortlessly and so quickly you just don't know it is anything other than all wheel drive.

The gearbox is a 7 speed twin clutch unit. Sadly there's no manual option but it is all is forgiven when you experience the full power upshifts and rev matched downshifts. The ratios are well stepped for hard acceleration but 7th is a good cruising gear keeping the engine revs low.

The suspensions is fixed rate, there is no adjustability but this works just fine, the set up is fairly hard but perfectly damped with the larger tyres helping go soak up bumps in the road. It is extremely well balanced so B road stability is fantastic and will give a supercar a hard time in these conditions.

Tested back to back with the A45 AMG and on the same roundabout the GLA is actually the more stable car. I found it gripped and controlled itself better than the lower car. This is strange as the higher centre of gravity should have the opposite effect but the larger alloys and taller tyres with a longer rolling radius and a wider track offer greater balance and control.

What it gains in traction it loses slightly in outright agility as the A45 can dart about changing direction quickly and easily whereas the GLA takes that nano second longer to register your inputs.

Inside and the cabin shares only the dash with the A class and the whole interior feels that little more elevated. The front seats look amazing with fixed headrests and flashes of red and polished alloy detailing but also hold you in really well without feeling too tight. A little like a baseball glove in that they are comfortable but hold you in place millimetre perfect.
Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG
Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG

The dash is a quality affair with a stitched leather top section and real carbon fibre panelling on the front with Mercedes' tablet style multifunction display in the centre. I wasn't a fan of the tablet protruding from dash design when it was launched in the A Class but with time it grows on you, like a Bangle 5 series or the Audi A4 (B7) with the large chromed front grille, now they look great and completely natural.

The steering wheel is a thick and feelsome, and nicely trimmed with leather and Alcantara but with polished alloy on the base so through corners as the wheel moves in your hands you feel the cool sensation of the aluminium between fingers and thumbs.

In the back and it feels about the same size as the A Class but the tall front seats and deep doors with rising rear edges make it feel quite claustrophobic. The additional height means a bigger boot area so it has a useful 140 litres over the A Class's 341 litres.

On the road the GLA45 is a bit of an animal, but not in the same way as the A45 is; they are quite different cars altogether. The A45's perfect habitat would be a race track or some deserted roundabouts in Milton Keynes where it can go dart around flat - it's a little headbanger of a car. The GLA is the more car refined car and would be as happy outside Selfridges as it would be on a gravel rally stage.

The shells are structurally different and it is obvious when driving the two cars back to back as they  have identical power trains and engines with the sports exhausts fitted but the GLA is a little more muted and stable than the A45.
Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG
Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG

When I say muted I don't mean Prius quiet, there's still the same smile-generating snap, crackle and pop from the rear end like, Mercedes have fitted a popping candy dispenser in the backboxes but it is less manic. Part of this could be the GLA's higher ground clearance but I also suspect there is additional sound deadening fitted.

The performance is only marginally dulled over the A45 with 0-62mph taking only 4.8 seconds and stopping only at 155mph on the limiter. That's only part of the picture as the engine is a real gem, not a laggy unit like highly-tuned 4-pots of old but a reliable, smooth, tractable powerhouse that feels like a much bigger capacity lump.

The gearbox keeps the engine nicely on the boil when in sport mode by keeping the revs high and bounces off the rev limiter with ease at full throttle which in turn releases quite an explosion from the exhausts. Gear changes are snappily quick as the second clutch has the next gear pre-selected.

The other modes on the gearbox are Manual, for use with the wheel mounted paddles, and Controlled Efficiency for everyday driving, which helps achieve the combined 37.7mpg. It's much more relaxed in efficiency mode and just the hard ride reminds you of the true potential of the car.

It is telling that manufacturers are now producing smaller cars with big car rivalling performance and interior quality so no longer do you need to buy a big car to get glorious performance and a luxurious cabin. Cars like the GLA and Audi A1 are showing what's in store for the future when there will less room to park and less fuel to use so nobody actually needs that big car anymore.

As a package it's a great all rounder, just high enough to satisfy the types who want something more of an elevated driving position for security yet small enough to be able manoeuvre around and park easily. Combined with that brutal engine and well set up chassis it is a really entertaining and enjoyable car to drive.

In 45 AMG guise the GLA is a stunning piece of kit combining aggressive rally car style looks, touring car performance but with a stylish functional interior. If you get the opportunity you should try one.


Price - £44,250 (as tested -  £53,080)
Engine – 2.0 litre, inline 4, turbocharged, petrol
Transmission - 7-speed dual clutch auto
0-62mph – 4.8 seconds
Top speed - 155 mph (limited)
Power – 355 bhp
Torque – 332 lb ft
Economy – 37.7mpg (combined)
CO2 - 175 g/km
Kerb weight – 1,585 kg
Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG

Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG

Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG