Is Mercedes-AMG's SUV a hot hatch in disguise? Let's find out
The Mercedes-AMG GLA45 S has both confounded and impressed me during its first month at MOTOR.
On paper, against the context of the potent A45 S hatch which just claimed third at PCOTY, the GLA45 S can seem underwhelming and hard to justify. It’s more expensive, has more divisive styling, is heavier, and is a member of the cursed three-letter-acronym segment – SUVs – bringing with it a whole luggage set of preconceptions about its performance credentials.
And yet, I find myself writing this while members of our video team use it for filming duties, anxious and eager for the key be clasped in my grubby fist once more.
Far from being happy to pass it off to others due to a perceived compromised personality, I want to hoard the GLA45 S like a dragon atop a pile of gold, spitting liquid flame upon anyone who dare take it from me.
That’s not just a honeymoon period sheen either. I’ve had plenty of time to get to know the GLA, using it for regular commuting and a full comparison test against its core rival, the Audi RS Q3.
To say it has been a comprehensive introduction would be a severe understatement.
So far the niggles have been minor, but incessant. Upon start up you are greeted with a seat belt warning for the rear pews, despite the seats remaining unoccupied.
It’s as if the AMG has decided I’ve adopted a set of ghost triplets. From previous experience with Mercedes’ current generation of infotainment, the GLA’s inbuilt MBUX system was turned off before I had even left the depot at initial pick-up – if I hear another automated voice ask “how can I help you?” before I shuffle off this mortal coil it’ll be too soon.
Fuel consumption hasn’t been fantastic. The official combined claim is 9.6L/100km, which I have been unable to come close to matching. This is probably more than slightly influenced by the full-throttle antics the GLA45 S brings out of me at every traffic light. With some longer highway driving slated next month, it’ll be interesting to see if the four-pot’s thirst is abated somewhat.
"Of all the long term test cars I have had come through ... I can’t recall another I’ve gelled with as quickly"
The most noticeable change in day-to-day use for the GLA compared to it’s A-Class equivalent is linked to your right foot. Throttle response has been softened in its initial response. This translates on the road like there is an element of turbo lag that has been introduced. However, power hasn’t been adjusted from the responsive A45 S, and switching upwards through the GLA’s drive modes progressively sharpens up response times.
To make the small SUV more palatable to, well, SUV buyers it appears the bottom end of the throttle map has been given a lobotomy.
Despite the haircut down low, the GLA45 S isn’t drastically slower than its more focused A45 S sibling in either a straight line or around a race track. Our independent performance testing shows the GLA is just five tenths slower to 100km/h than the A45 S, and doesn’t fall more than a second behind until you are travelling in excess of 160km/h.
Scott Newman drove the pair around the Haunted Hills hillclimb circuit, and while the A45 S was quicker, the GLA remained within nine tenths over a 62-second lap. This impressive performance indicates that the ‘lag’ on step-off is an artificial characteristic introduced by engineers, and not something baked into the system. You can watch the full video of the AMG 45 siblings tackling Haunted Hills on the MOTOR YouTube channel.
Sure, slower is slower, but a 4.4-second 0-100km/h sprint is still seriously quick, and the GLA isn’t entirely without merits. I’ve already begun to appreciate the improved entry and egress ergonomics, more refined suspension tune, and raised ride height of the SUV bodystyle compared to its hatch sibling.
A trip to Phillip Island circuit to watch some race cars extolled these benefits best, with the GLA clambering over gutters, climbing grassy hills, and traversing gravel troughs around the circuit without worrying the front bumper. It’s not hardcore off-roading, but I wouldn’t ever countenance doing the same thing in an A45 S. Combine that with the prodigious performance, and I hope you can begin to see why I dislike sharing the GLA.
It’s early days yet, but of all the long term test cars I have had come through the garage, I can’t recall another I’ve gelled with as quickly. I hope my co-workers can forgive the hissing sounds I’ve been making every time they walk past my desk and look at the keys. - CK
Things we love:
1. Useable grunt
2. Sleeper styling
3. Exhaust theatrics
Things we rue:
1. Low-down lag
2. On the thirsty side
3. Phantom belt error
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