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Mercedes GLA 45 AMG review: Crossover to the dark side

Leow Ju-Len
04/11/2014

 

A baby SUV that hits 100km/h in 4.8 seconds? The Mercedes GLA 45 AMG is a case of “Why not” rather than “Why?”…

SINGAPORE Mercedes is on a mission to overtake BMW and Audi in global sales, and the GLA-Class is one of the many legs conceived to power it ahead. And given how the crossover segment is in full bloom these days, not building the GLA would have been like launching a new burger joint without putting fries on the menu. 

But who asked for a version with the world’s most powerful 2.0-litre engine under the bonnet? I’d like to know, so I can thank them.

It’s a four-cylinder turbo, which sounds straightforward enough, but those men in lab coats have somehow managed to conjure 360 horses from it. There’s an extra radiator to cool it, but goodness knows how that’s enough because the engine sounds like it runs on gunpowder, and appropriately enough it launches the GLA 45 like a cannonball.

No kidding, when you press your foot down you’d better have a clear stretch of road ahead of you, because the Mercedes lunges forward in a way that feels and sounds like it’s an angry grizzly, one with a stomachache who’s in a hurry to reach the woods.

Not that a twisty stretch of tarmac would deter it much on the way to those woods, either. Like the A 45 AMG, it’s ridiculously easy to drive fast, in the sense that all you need is bravery. The quick steering and grippy tyres do the rest, and anyway the GLA isn’t a large car so it does have a built-in sense of agility.

It sits on slightly (like 15mm) lower suspension, but it does differ from the A 45 in that you’re aware of more pitch and roll as you guide it through corners. It moves around underneath you a little, while the tyres take a moment to settle before biting properly, but it’s a fast car that could keep up with far more pricey machinery, no problems.

Mind you it’s not a true 4×4, in that it’s front drive most of the time, with the centre differential sending up to half the engine’s power to the rear wheels as and when it’s needed, and that might be why our test car’s front tyres looked a little shagged. They bear the brunt of the engine’s mighty torque output, and someone naughty obviously drove the car before we did.

But then it’s just not easy to behave yourself in a GLA 45. Maybe the test car’s “Edition 1” livery had something to do with it. The rear wing and front splitter are the easy-to-spot bits, but the kit also includes the decals on the side of the car, black 20-inch alloys, and flashes of red around the car.

It’s all very racy, but it costs $16,200. Still, it’s only being offered in the car’s first year of production, so you might as well spring for it.

Then again, the interior is full of stuff that puts wicked thoughts in your head, like red contrast stitching everywhere, Alcantra wrapping for the steering wheel, and gearchange paddles made of aluminium to name a few.

If you’re not seduced by all that, you have got to be the motoring equivalent of a eunuch.

Even if you’ve plenty between the legs, the GLA 45 does have quite a bit going for it to appeal to the head as well. For one thing, the performance is the stuff of supercars from a generation ago, for less than half the money. It might not be particularly spacious, and the rear seats are uncomfortably upright, but it’ll still carry more stuff and more people around in more comfort than just about anything that’s this fast.

And above all, it’s a hoot, not just because of the speed and the ability to summon some mighty Gs through corners, but because you simply don’t expect this sort of performance from something that’s relatively small and tall.

I’m not sure it’ll sell in the huge numbers that Mercedes needs in its quest to become the global number one again, but we should all be thankful that the current era of engine/body mixing and matching has enabled cars like the GLA 45 to come about. Just because Mercedes is on a serious mission doesn’t mean we can’t have a bit of fun.

Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG 4Matic Edition 1
NEED TO KNOW
Engine 1,991cc, 16V, turbocharged, inline 4
Power 360bhp at 6000rpm
Torque 450Nm at 2,200-5,000rpm
Gearbox 7-speed dual-clutch
Top Speed 250km/h
0-100kmh 4.8 seconds
Fuel efficiency 7.5L/100km
CO2 175g/km
Price $294,888 with COE
Availability Now

Also consider:
BMW M135i, Volkswagen Golf R

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