Madness I tell you, madness. 265 kW in a slightly raised hatchback would have been something thought impossible a mere few years ago. Mercedes-Benz then launched the most powerful 2-Litre production engine ever and proceeded to send power to all four wheels. In the past, this sort of teenage unruliness was reserved for rally derived monsters badged STI or EVO. With the GLA45 Mercedes-Benz may just have taken up the mantle where the others have dropped the ball. We held on for dear life and tried to come to terms with the R850 000 Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG over a week’s test.
What makes a maniac?As mentioned above, there are 265 kW and 450 Nm of torque out of the 2-Litre turbocharged motor under the bonnet. That powerplant sits 91mm higher than in a normal A45 AMG thanks to the increased ride height of the GLA. If you haven’t already noticed from the pictures above, this particular GLA45 AMG is the Edition 1 version, which means AMG escalates the number of accessories, bumper bits and winglets. The parts do add on a hefty whack to the price, but you get one mean, aggressive and purposeful looking hatchback. The red stickering around the front was starting to peel off in some areas, which is not something we would expect from this expensive a car, nevermind a Mercedes-Benz.
That engineWe have some experience with this 2-Litre turbo unit as we’ve previously tested it in the A45 AMG, but it seems to be more aggressive and more binary in this GLA version. It’s almost an all or nothing power-band as you work your way through the throttle pedal. There’s a fair amount of turbo-lag right at the bottom of the rev range and then it unleashes a massacre as all four wheels are called to action and the exhaust pipes rattle off a remix of a World War II battle.
The combination of power and sound hits all the right senses and the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox does a good job of shifting through the ratios quickly. Downshifts are brisk too. At slower speeds it can be frustrating though as the engine seems to always run below any form of boost especially in eco modes where the gearbox does tend promote low revs when driving slowly, likely to preserve as much fuel as possible.
Interior mix upJudging by the exterior of the GLA45 AMG we expected the interior to be equally garish, but in reality this is not the case. There are some serious bucket seats to drop into and you feel incredibly supported and comfortable by the lateral bolsters and the endless electrical adjustments on offer. The Edition 1 interior arrangements include a mix of Alcantara and leather, bits of red stitching dotted around the cabin and a special AMG performance steering wheel. It’s quite ‘luxury performance’ inside as opposed to ‘gangster rapper’ outside.
Space wise it’s actually quite decent in the GLA, the rear legroom is admirable and the boot can hold 481-Litres worth of equipment. Headroom is excellent thanks to the GLA’s crossover shape and the racing bucket seats plants the driver a little lower in the cabin. For the racer fans, there’s a lap timer built in to the binnacle to record track laps. Seven airbags are specced as standard with the option of nine if you feel that you’re likely to be in need of some extra cushioning.
Ride and HandlingLaunch control starts in this GLA45 AMG are pure madness. It gets off the line like Roadrunner from the old cartoons. There’s even a split second where it stands still with all four wheel spinning underneath. But when it finds traction the GLA45 reels in the horizon like it’s about to warp time. There’s a reason this GLA45 AMG is our reigning drag race champion, having laid waste to the CLS 63 AMG and the mighty S65 AMG in a 400m race.
If there are any Subaru STI or Mitsubishi EVO fans out there looking for a place to spend their bucks then this is where they should be heading. The GLA45 AMG is hardcore, the suspension is firm, even in the most comfort of all the settings, but it isn’t terrible when you get to speedbumps and potholes. The ride is hard over bumps but the quality of the build means that it doesn’t crash into the cabin. On the open road the GLA45 AMG is pleasant to cruise in, but you’re constantly tempted to pin the accelerator to the floor by the enticing exhaust mutter.
As far as handling goes, the old rally-inspired sedans still have an edge in the thrills department. The GLA45 AMG is a little too safe, predictable and understeery. There’s not too much to thrill you when you want to put it on a track, the back end is far too planted and the result is an inevitable push of the front into- and out of corners. It could have been a little wilder and lairy to drive, but the all-wheel drive system is front-wheel biased, only calling on the rear wheels when absolutely necessary.
VerdictMercedes-Benz has certainly found a gap in the market where the previous rally-inspired racers of old have faded away. Those buyers would do well to get a GLA45 AMG as the ostentatious look is a head turner on any street. The acceleration and straight line addiction is more than acceptable and it’s still practical as a four-door crossover. It may lack a little in track thrills but is more than capable on a mountain pass. You will have to swallow down an R835 643 bill though, and that’s a hefty tag to get past.
Test Team's Comments"The Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG is a proper animal and is savagely fast right from standstill. Launch control is enough to see off most sportscars, while there's still enough practicality to earn it a slightly sensible tag. Few cars are this hardcore and it'll take a real fanatic to get the best out of it. It's ridiculously over the top, but I love it for that very reason." -David Taylor
"To be honest, I thought I was going to hate this thing. But I don't. It may be as stylish as showing up for work in tight red lederhosen, but from behind the wheel you won't care. It is hilariously good to drive, blistering off the line and sticks to the corners. It makes every journey engaging and fun. Shucks... Mercedes-Benz has out-Subaru'd Subaru. Who'd have thought..." -Hannes Oosthuizen
We Like: Incredible acceleration, battle-ready looks, aural stimulation
We Don’t Like: Turbo lag, not so great on track