Received wisdom would suggest that cars like the Mercedes-AMG GLA45 – jacked-up, mini-SUV versions of powerful four-wheel drive hatchbacks – won’t be as entertaining to drive as their lower hot hatch alternatives. But to dismiss this relatively new breed performance cars would be a mistake; Audi’s RS Q3 has proven – by being more engaging than the RS3 that it shared an engine with – that there’s plenty for enthusiastic drivers to enjoy.
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For 2017 the GLA45 has received a hike in power to make this AMG an even more interesting prospect. It now matches the A45 that it shares an engine and drivetrain with. With an extra 21bhp the GLA45’s four-cylinder turbocharged engine produces 376bhp and torque is up by 18lb ft to 350 lb ft.
As well as the extra performance the GLA45 has a new spoiler and new front and rear bumpers, all of which reduce drag over the old model.
The sheer amount of power that the GLA45’s engine makes is mightily impressive, even if it is turbocharged. 376bhp from a 1991cc engine, 188bhp per litre, is almost unheard of; not even the Ferrari 488 GTB (169bhp/litre) or McLaren 675LT (175bhp/litre) can match that.
To make the most of the extra performance, the top five gears in the GLA45’s seven-speed dual-clutch transmission have been shortened to help improve the car's responses. These closer gear ratios have also helped reduce shift times, too.
Engine, transmission and 0-60 time
Although the GLA45 has the same transmission, drivetrain and 2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine that you’ll find in the Mercedes-AMG A45 and CLA45, the little SUV can’t match its siblings on the dash from 0 to 62mph. The new GLA reaches 62mph in an impressive 4.4 sec, 0.4sec faster than the pre-facelifted model. However, that time is 0.2sec slower than the A45 and the CLA45.
The engine itself is spritely, revs up quickly and cleanly, and emits a pleasant and crisp noise as it does so. Surprisingly, considering how heavily boosted the engine is to produce so much from so little, the engine’s power delivery is very linear. What’s not so shocking is the engine's punch. The first time you touch the throttle it creates a startling leap forward, but it's surprisingly easy to get used to the performance and that initial thrust soon seems almost routine.
The louder exhaust mode doesn’t seem to increase the engine’s volume under acceleration, but every time you let off the throttle and every gear change is accompanied by a pop and crackle. The old GLA would belch and fart from its exhaust, but the exclamations this new model projects from its tailpipes are shorter cracks and far less annoying.
Sometimes the gearbox doesn’t change down quite as rapidly as you might like as you brake into corners, leaving you in a gear higher than you may have intended. However, the GLA45’s healthy power and torque mean that being a gear too high out of a corner actually makes very little difference to your progress.
What’s it like to drive?
From the driver's seat you'd hardly be able to detect the higher ride-height over an A45; it feels much like the hot hatchback it's based on. That feeling never really dissipates on the road either, with the same firm ride and immediacy typical of sporty hatchbacks.
The seats are very supportive; their shape wraps around you and holds you into position. However, they are very firm and contribute to mild discomfort of the unyielding ride.
The bucket-style seats look great though, and match the quality feel that the aluminium switches and part-Alcantara steering wheel give the interior. However, the fake carbonfibre dash panel and smattering of red plastic (both thankfully optional) do cheapen the feel slightly.
The steering is very light and the rack is quick. There’s not much in the way of meaningful information to be felt through the steering, but with very little roll and slack in the chassis the GLA responds instantly and makes the car feel eager and alert.
Just as responsive are the brakes. Only a small touch of the pedal is needed to stop the car, but these overzealous stoppers simply aren’t as easy to get used to as the steering and make it difficult to drive smoothly.
As you push harder and harder, the GLA45’s elevated body becomes apparent. You'll detect a touch more roll than you’d get in an A45 and the body doesn’t remain quite as unimpeachable as the hatchback either. It’s far from feeling untamed though, and in fact adds a charm that the lower, resolutely tied-down A45 and CLA45 don’t offer.
Is the GLA45 better, more engaging and more satisfying to drive than the cars it shares its underpinnings with? Simply, no. The extra roll and body movements don’t unlock an extra layer involvement or playfulness; it just remains fast, grippy and secure – and ultimately not quite as capable as the hatchback A45 and four-door coupe CLA45.
Price and rivals
The AMG GLA45 starts at £46,875, a significant £5045 more than the A45 with the same engine, drivetrain, and power with very little extra space or practicality.
The absolute top of the range GLA is the Yellow Night Edition, costing £53,135 and equipped with extra wings and aero parts with yellow detailing, 20-inch wheels with yellow rims, keyless entry and black leather with yellow stitching.
The GLA45’s main rival is the aforementioned Audi RS Q3. The Audi’s five-cylinder engine, although down on power compared to the Merc, is more pleasing to wring out thanks to the noise it emits. The exaggerated movements from its body also work the four-wheel drive system harder allow the driver to actually manipulate the RS Q3 around a corner. It really is fun to drive.
Porsche’s Macan S is a more capable and better quality car than the Audi, but it can’t match its exuberant character. It’s closer to the GLA in terms of philosophy, but the Porsche edges ahead as it’s bigger, is made from even more luxurious materials and has a pliant ride.