It looks slightly confused, but the Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG sets the performance benchmark in a booming compact SUV market.
WHAT IS IT
It's the high-riding alternative to Merc's already proven A45 hatch and CLA45 coupe, and it may just be the best all-rounder of the performance trio.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
We like to have our cake and eat it too. The GLA45 promises ballistic performance from its 265kW/450Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder AMG engine in a more practical package than the hard-core A45 hot hatch.
Audi RS Q3
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Plus: On-road ability; everyday usability; Mercedes-Benz quality
Minus: Somewhat ungainly looks; slow gearbox
Verdict: Breathtaking power and roadholding without the single-mindedness of a dedicated performance car
THE WHEELS REVIEW
I’LL ADMIT that I didn’t get the GLA45 at first. The concept of a performance SUV seems fundamentally conflicted; sporting competency usually comes at the expense of practicalities like ground clearance and cargo space. I approached the GLA45 wondering whether a compact SUV could legitimately wear AMG badges.
Our road test took us on a series of Victorian highways and B-roads before ending up at Sandown Raceway. I quickly realised how far I had underestimated the GLA’s ability to cope with the AMG treatment.
AMG claim its 265kw/450Nm 2.0-litre engine is the most powerful production four-cylinder in the world. Its massive torque hoists the GLA45’s nose as the tyres scrabble for grip, the revs climb freely and the exhaust cracks when shifting at redline. It feels special.
Traction is impressive, especially when launched using the race-start function.
The lack of understeer and huge front-end grip is outstanding, only letting go when provoked foolishly on the track.
Braking power is remarkable. Initial bite is ideal and the pedal has a lovely, even progression.
On the road, the GLA45 makes the most sense. Its fierce power thrills in a more liveable package than the track-focused A45 AMG hot hatch on which it’s based, the more compliant suspension rides beautifully even on the standard 20-inch wheel and tyre package, and the steering calibration is perfect for the road, with great initial turn-in.
Getting off the line normally takes a deliberate stab of the pedal to wake the dual-clutch gearbox. Once away, the seven-speed DCT is unobtrusive, though not as rapid as some others.
One side-effect of highly strung turbocharged engines is a struggle to pick up speed from low revs in higher gears. A quick paddle flip drops you into the peak torque band of 2250-5000rpm.
The GLA’s raised centre of gravity does bring more body roll than its sharpened sibling, but not by much. Stay patient with your inputs, let the car settle and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable drive.
A weight increase of 30kg over the A-Class applies across the GLA range due to chassis strengthening.
Visually, the GLA45 has novelty value, especially when fitted with the attention-seeking Edition 1 pack and rear spoiler for those who really want to advertise their AMG purchase. Neither is to my taste, but they’re easily left off. According to Mercedes, uptake on the spoiler is about 30 percent.
If you’re over six feet and enjoy the odd track day, you may struggle to squeeze between the seat base and roof lining with a helmet, as I did.
Though small inside, it’s beautifully made. Notable AMG touches include perforated leather seats and an unusual octagonal suede-lined steering wheel.
Being the range-topper, the GLA45 comes at a lofty premium. Its list price of $79,430 makes it some $21,530 more expensive than the GLA250 beneath it.
You do get a lot for your money, and Mercedes isn’t short of buyers; orders for the GLA45 AMG run through to March/April next year, with new customers set to wait until May/June.
The Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG aims to break down barriers and it does the job well. What it loses in pointedness it makes up for in practicality. As an all-round compromise for the real world, it’s ahead of the pack.
Model: Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG
Engine: 1991cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power: 265kW @ 6000rpm
Max torque: 450Nm @ 2250-5000rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Kerb weight: 1585kg
0-100km/h: 4.8sec (claimed)
Economy: 7.5L/100km (EU)
On sale: Now
Who do you think deserves to win the 2017 COTY title? Cast your vote for a chance to win $1,000.
Sign up here to receive the latest round-up of Wheels news, reviews and video highlights straight to your inbox each week.