When I arrived at Sears Imported Autos Mercedes-Benz to borrow a new GLA class SUV to review I expected to pick up a standard GLA250 with its modest 208 horse power, but when I saw a couple of GLA45 AMG models sitting outside my plans changed.
Gary Emfield, Sears Imports New Car Sales Manager greeted me, “Which one would you like to take, Dave?”
I pointed to one of the GLA45 AMG models outside, “How about that one?”
He just smiled “I can’t wait to read your review, you’re gonna like that one.” and he was right, like it I did.
NUTS N’ BOLTS
The GLA class compact SUV is built upon the CLA class sedan, Mercedes’ front wheel drive, entry level sedan introduced in late 2013. All CLA and GLA models are powered by 4 cylinder turbo charged engines, the normal CLA and GLA 250 models roll with an adequate 208hp. The 45 AMG versions of each model benefit from a thorough going over by the performance wizards at AMG. The boys at Affalterbach have successfully eeked out 355 horsepower from that same transversely mounted 4 cylinder twin turbo engine producing 332 lb-ft of torque available from 2,250 to 5,000 RPM with 26 PSI of boost. According to Mercedes-Benz, those numbers make it the highest powered 4 cylinder engine currently available in a serial production car in the world.
The GLA45 is available as a 4matic all wheel drive model only so you’ve got all 4 wheels attempting to ‘hook up’ under the horsepower load translated through AMG’s Speedshift DCT seven-speed dual-clutch sports transmission. What does all this fancy lingo really mean from the driver’s seat? It means that just about anybody can hop in, mash the gas and put up a sub 5 second 0 – 60mph time. As they say, with great power, comes great responsibility and it was all I could do to behave while behind the wheel.
The GLA45 rides just 4.5 inches off the ground (the GLA250 has 8 inches of ground clearance) which makes it that much harder for me to call it an SUV. It’s a unibody design based on a sedan, shouldn’t that make it a crossover? I know Mercedes’ marketing department cringes at the sound of that word. They’re adamant that the GLA45 is an SUV that combines ‘sports car handling in a rugged SUV.’ I suppose it doesn’t matter. Oh how I yearn for the days when Mercedes offered a couple of sedans, a roadster, wagon and a few coupes! Whatever you call it, the GLA45 fills a unique niche in the Mercedes product line and is solid competition for Audi’s RS3 hatchback, it’s only European rival I can think of from a size and performance standpoint.
The styling is typically AMG aggressive and a bit flashy with the huge front grille, embedded Mercedes star and swoopy front bumper treatment. The body lines down the side of the car don’t stand out so much on my black test car, but their shape is evident when inspected closely. The car just looks ‘young’ so if that’s what Mercedes was trying to accomplish, I think they were successful.
This car was equipped with the “AMG Driver’s Package” which includes “AMG’s Performance Suspension with stiffer / firmer Dampening Characteristics” and 20” AMG 10-Spoke wheels. Despite the more taught suspension and larger wheels with low profile tires the car didn’t feel overly aggressive or ride uncomfortably like some AMG cars.
The interior looks and feels much like the CLA45 AMG sedan. Anyone who owns a modern Mercedes-Benz will recognize the usual parts bin pieces, gauges, switches, interior door handles, the COMAND screen and controller, it’s all there. I’m amazed how much Mercedes packs into their interiors, especially on the center console without using too many buttons and switches. Sure, there are more than there were years ago, but given the amount of information and systems to be managed, Mercedes accomplishes a lot while keeping things fairly clean compared to other European manufacturers. Again, Mercedes delivers on interior ergonomics making the experience in the cabin comfortable and intuitive.
Head room was plentiful up front and the cabin didn’t feel too narrow as is sometimes the case with ‘entry level’ compacts. Back seat headroom and legroom isn’t massive, but it’s adequate for a couple of adults. Mercedes has really stepped up the quality of their interior materials in their entry level models, if you can consider a $60,000+ car the entry level.
There isn’t much difference in terms of interior materials between the GLA45 and the GLA250. Small details like the stitching on the dash (actually part of the ‘Interior Package’ on this car) and door panels, the same round air vents that are found on higher end Mercedes models and a beautifully wrapped leather steering wheel that feels like a million high performance bucks in your hands made this interior stand out.
Once I was comfortably seated in the one piece AMG sport seat inside the GLA45 I started the engine, gripped the wheel and imagined what a real owner of this car might do with it. Say, on a normal weekend, on their way home from the local auto-cross. How about a trip to Ikea to buy a Swedish designed modern storage solution on which to display his collection of 1/18th scale Mercedes model cars?
Ikea was about 20 miles from where I was sitting. I took the ‘long way’ to the highway which gave me the opportunity to test the car on some twisty back roads. The GLA45 handled the back roads I always use for test drives with absolute ease. The harsh reality of speed limits quickly set in, as I wasn’t able to push much past 50 or 55 mph for any great length in the 45mph speed zone, but that didn’t bother me. This is the kind of driving I do most of the time, even under these circumstances, the GLA was fun. I wasn’t beginning to reach it’s limits, but it still sounded good, I was able to just about double the speed limit through sweeping turns without feeling at all unsafe. It sure didn’t feel like anything ‘entry level’, I began to actually imagine this is my daily driver.
It’s fast and fun to drive, very capable in the corners, yet not too extreme feeling. It’s got a hatchback that can swallow a decent amount of cargo, especially if you fold down the rear seats. There are a lot of car choices in the $60,000 range, but if you want something that’s a decent blend of performance and AWD practicality the GLA45 AMG is a pretty good option. Oh, and you can even fit a pre assembled Ikea shelving unit, a case of Swedish meatballs and two 16” x 16” picture frames in the back with plenty of room to spare. Icing on the cake: the GLA45 averaged 27.7 mpg over the 52 miles driven during my test drive, and I didn’t baby it!
Breakdown of the options and price as per the window sticker on the subject GLA45 AMG.:
*This article originally appeared in the November / December 2014 Issue (Vol. 29, No. 1) of the SL Market Letter. Click here to see sample issues of the SL Market Letter and learn about subscribing.