Even given Mercedes' 21st century fascination with niche-busting fast cars (R63 anyone? A210 Evolution maybe?), the GLA45 AMG is a very bizarre car. It was a bemusing prospect at launch last year, but now the '45 range has been further expanded with the CLA Shooting Brake. The GLA's role has a more practical A-Class derivative has apparently been usurped.
But it would be wrong to discount the GLA too swiftly. There is an awful lot to like about this range of cars and the GLA in particular. There are some fairly significant gripes too, but we'll come to those. Let's deal with the positives first.
Bloody hell it's fast. On the launch a couple of cars felt slightly under the weather; no such problems here. Remember the GLA is only 30kg heavier than an A-Class, a car that has been timed to 100mph in 10 seconds. The optional AMG addenda may look a bit extravagant but it's certainly not making false promises. Conventional AMG owners beware: these four-cylinder cars don't want for any performance.
A big dump
Moreover, the 2.0-litre is a fabulous engine. When discussing most modern turbos, it's a case of a huge torque dump before 2,000rpm with no real incentive to rev it. Fast and easy, yes, but not the most exciting. The Mercedes is very different. There's a bit of lag and plenty of low-rev torque too but a second wind at about 5,500rpm that still comes as something of a shock. It's properly ferocious round to the limiter, revving with an intensity you would never credit such a heavily turbocharged engine with. Indeed upshifts can occasionally be missed (it's not always the gearbox...) as the engine convinces you it has another 1,000rpm or so left to run. A Black Series going beyond 7,000rpm would be something to savour.
Perhaps it's due to unfamiliarity, perhaps Mercedes has introduced a sneaky software tweak or two, but the dual-clutch 'box did feel sharper in this GLA than other 45s. It feels more responsive to downshifts than previously, upshifts seem a fraction quicker and the whole experience less dim-witted. Still not perfect but a tangible improvement. Odd.
If the old AMG V8 bruisers need to be mindful of the new breed in a straight line then they don't stand a chance around corners. Yes, even the GLA45. As with the A and CLA, it's the tautness and the precision of the damping that shines through, the body's resolute control giving the confidence to attack bends faster and faster. The brakes are stellar too, with exemplary feel and performance. There can't be much faster down a British B-road. Perhaps not the conventional AMG skillset but a thrilling one nonetheless.
What a shame then that the Haldex-derived four-wheel drive just isn't as crisp as the rest of the dynamic package. Only very seldom does the GLA feel anything other than a very capable front-wheel drive car. Attempt to neutralise it with a lift or more power results in a lot more push before any power is distributed rearwards. On occasion there's that sensation of all four wheels powering you out of a corner but it requires too much commitment on the road.
There are many good points to the interior (driving position, steering wheel, seats) but the fundamental design does now look a little dated against the C-Class and AMG GT. Perhaps that's a shallow observation but if you're spending £50K on a car it needs to make you smile during the dull drives as well as the pants-on-fire journeys. On seeing a new C-Class cabin the GLA45 may not do that.
And no, that £50K isn't a misprint. In fact KP14 CJZ had a list price of £53,080 through options such as an AMG Aerodynamic Package and, er, AMG Night Package. Mercedes insiders tell us this is in fact a typical options spend for many '45 buyers so the prospect of most equivalent GLAs leaving with a price in the 50s isn't unrealistic. Wow. The GLA is an endearingly daft though, and anyone who dismisses it on styling or a perceived engine deficit must drive it. It really is very good. However, it's hard to escape the feeling that most customers would be better served by a regular A45 hatch or the upcoming Shooting Brake.
SPECIFICATION | MERCEDES-BENZ GLA45 AMG
Engine: 1,991cc 4-cyl turbo
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 360@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 332@2,250-5,000rpm
0-62mph: 4.8 seconds
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
MPG: 37.6 (NEDC combined)
Price: £44,250 (£53,080 as tested including AMG Performance exhaust at £470, AMG Night Package (consisting of 20-inch wheels, aluminium roof rails, beltline strips in high gloss black, door mirrors in high gloss black) at £1,150, AMG Exclusive Package (consisting of red designo seat belts, electrically adjustable seats and mirrors, AMG floor mats, lumbar support, leather and memory package) at £1,695, Drivers Assistance Package (consisting of Distronic Plus, Lane-Keeping Assist and Pre-Safe anticipatory safety system) at £1,495, Premium Package (consisting of Harman Kardon Logic 7, Intelligent Light System and panoramic sliding sunroof) at £1,795, carbon fibre trim at £695 and AMG Aerodynamic Package (consisting of 'additional flics in high gloss black on front apron', AMG rear aerofoil in high gloss black, large front splitter in high gloss black) at £1,530.
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