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Can a fast SUV really keep up with a hot hatch around the track?

By Alex Inwood, 09 Feb 2021 Features

A hot hatch always trumps an SUV, right? Or does it? This was closer than we thought!

Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 Mercedes-AMG A45 S

You might consider this a foregone conclusion. If you’re here, then there’s a good chance you’re a car enthusiast so you’ll intrinsically know that SUVs are inherently heavier, taller and less efficient than their sedan or hatch equivalents. And as a result, an SUV will always be slower around a circuit.

Or will it?

Sometimes logic and reality don’t collide in the way you expect and that was certainly the case when we pitted Mercedes-AMG’s ferocious A45 S with its SUV counterpart, the GLA 45 S.

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Both of these cars share AMG’s brutal M139 2.0-litre four pot with 310kW/500Nm, and both run the same 8-speed dual-clutch gearbox.  They’re roughly the same size, too, although the GLA is 140kg heavier (and $13,000 more expensive!).

Which is why we thought it’d be interesting to time them around a hot lap of Haunted Hills circuit. For science, you see.

Smug in the happy knowledge that the A45 S should trounce the GLA 45 S and thus bolster every enthusiasts’ argument that hot hatches are greater than SUVS, our resident hot-shoe, Scott Newman, used the A45 S to set the benchmark time.

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The marker? A stout 1:01.7 around the tight, twisting and undulating circuit.

Released of its electronic safety systems, this generation of A45 is a frenetic and fun companion to pedal quickly. It loves to rotate and carries small, efficient slides into and out of most of the corners. It was shod with Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres.

Time for the GLA to return serve.

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Wearing Continental Sport Contact 6 rubber, the GLA’s demeanour around the lap was deceptively swift. Sharp steering and decent body control for an SUV meant the lap looked undramatic, bar some pronounced tyre squeal.

In the end it laid down a very respectable 1:02.0 flat, just three tenths of a second slower than its lighter, more focused sibling.

That this pair was so close is surprising, especially given this track’s tight and technical layout where you’d think the extra kilos and higher centre of gravity would count against the GLA. We imagine it’d be even closer between this pair on a faster, more flowing track.