by Roger Biermann
Who ever thought we’d see the hot hatch war take us here? Okay, so strictly speaking the Mercedes-AMG GLA45 4MATIC is a hot crossover rather than hatchback, but it’s based on the A/CLA45 grouping from Mercedes-AMG and packs the same turbocharged, all-wheel driven punch. Here in the USA, it doesn’t really have a direct rival, but it provides a hatch-like equivalent to the sedan-orientated CLA45 and Audi RS3. Indeed the GLA45 may be crossover in name, but its diminutive proportions place it firmly in hot hatch territory, perhaps targeting the Ford Focus RS.
Based on the same platform, the GLA45 features the same styling cues inside that you’ll find in the AMG CLA45. That means the same horrible standalone screen on the dash, but it also means the exceptional optional AMG steering wheel, with perforated leather and Alcantara thumb grips, and phenomenal optional Recaro bucket seats that hold you good and tight around corners. The materials can feel a bit cheap, but racy carbon fiber trimmings and red accents distract you enough not to notice.
But unlike the CLA45, the GLA features easy ingress and egress. The rear door apertures are wide and unimpeded by a sloping C-pillar, and once inside, rear occupants have more leg room and vast amounts of head room compared to the CLA. There’s decent cargo volume too – 17 cubic feet that can be expanded to 44 cu ft with the split folding rear bench stowed.
With a raised ride height, the GLA45 reaps the benefits of a slightly softer suspension setup. This front-drive based platform has been criticized for its harsh ride, but the GLA resolves that just a little. The dampers are still overly firm creating a jittery ride on poor surfaces, but the extra body roll in the crossover body makes handling feel more natural. With a front-wheel biased all-wheel drive system, grip is fairly endless, but the brake-assisted torque vectoring tends to cook the brakes quickly, resulting in inconsistent handling traits through prolonged driving stints. The steering is completely numb, which doesn’t bode well when the front end doesn’t exactly inspire too much confidence. Forget all aspirations of driver involvement though, and the GLA45 is an absolutely rapid point to point hatch, with all wheel drive security to boot.
For its mid-life restyle, Mercedes-AMG dialed the GLA45’s engine up to 12. The 2.0-liter turbo 4-pot now cranks out 355 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque to all 4 wheels via 4MATIC all-wheel drive. A revised 7-speed dual-clutch automatic handles shifts, and deals out a fair amount of flatulence and exhaust cracks on hard up-shifts when equipped with an optional exhaust. The gearbox can be dim-witted at times, and responds slowly to manual inputs, and is best driven flat out. When done so, performance is immense – 0-60mph takes a brief 4.3 seconds, enough to scare genuine sports cars from the lights.
As a range-topping model, you’ll get standard dual-zone climate, a power tailgate, and power seat adjustment as standard. Optionally, you get features like leather upholstery, heated seats, and red seatbelts. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are also optional extras. Must haves include the AMG Recaro seats, and the limited slip differential and adaptive suspension. In the way of safety, the GLA45 gets 8 airbags, a rearview camera, ABS and stability control standard, with optional blind spot, lane keeping, and parking assistants, and DISTRONIC adaptive cruise functionality. The Mercedes-Benz GLA hasn’t been crash tested by any local authorities, in any model format.
The Mercedes-AMG GLA45 AMG 4MATIC covers ground at an absolutely mind-blowing pace. Though the ride is improved somewhat by extra ride height, not even extra body roll can involve the driver properly. A Focus RS is a more involving, if less capable alternative, but the GLA45 still bests its own sibling, the CLA45 as an all-round package.