Look at the GLA45 and it is sure to divide opinions. Some call it a crossover, others say it is a baby SUV. And then there are people like me, who think this really is a hot-hatch. After all, the GLA shares plenty of mechanical traits with its A and CLA siblings, and feels small when compared against other rivals. Think BMW’s X3, Audi’s Q3 and Porsche’s Macan and you’ll realize just how different these are size-wise compared to the GLA.
Shall we settle for middle ground and agree that this is just a more practical hot-hatch – one with pace, grace and space. You should read all the way to the end, then watch our video on YouTube to find out why.
What we have in front of us, is the face-lifted Mercedes-AMG GLA45 4MATIC. From an aesthetics point of view, the GLA45 is less boyracer-ish as the A45 and certainly less sexy than the CLA45. Perhaps it does have a bit of a bulbous bum, but hey I’ve never really complained about healthy posteriors. Under that skin lies an updated version of the most powerful two-litre engine in the world. “More” is the keyword here, as the updates now bring 375 hp and 475 Nm; 20 hp and 25 Nm more than the pre-FL models. Can you think of any other hot-hatch with power figures that come close?
Most important however, are re-worked suspension and shorter gear ratios between gears 3 to 7, and a mechanically locking front differential, gifting this car with improved agility and performance. Drive a pre and post facelift car back-to-back and you’ll notice the significance of these enhancements.
On paper, these performance figures are pretty huge. But as I was pulling out of the Mercedes-Benz Malaysia car-park, the sensation was a little underwhelming. My previous experience with cars from Affalterbach were the C63S and AMG GT; both of which are hugely explosive machines. This one is no slouch – just 4.4 seconds to the century sprint, quicker than almost everything else in this class bar the A45 and CLA45 siblings, both which are slimmer and quicker by just two tenths.
Instead, the GLA45 manages to subdue this manic insanity; almost like a champion athlete wearing a pair of comfortable jeans out in the arena.
It was my run up Ulu Yam which really underscored the car’s raw abilities. Despite a heavily tuned turbocharged motor, there is only a small whiff of lag with a linear power delivery, allowing you to slingshot from apex to apex in confidence. The steering is light and precise, like most modern cars are these days. Even on massive 20 inch wheels, the ride is firm but pliant. Yes, there is a bit of roll, but I’ve always preferred it this way; easier to read when the car is at its limits.
Given the immense thrust the GLA45 has, stopping power is critical and we are happy to report that this is delivered, fuss-free. The brakes are quick to bite, remained consistently strong through all the abuse which we put them through, yet were easy to modulate. We have no indication if the stoppers will be good enough for Sepang, but then if you really think about it – why would you put a GLA45 through the paces on Sepang?
But where the GLA45 really shines, is in real-world driving scenarios. Hot-hatches are never really practical, but the GLA45 manages to do reasonably well in both departments. For one, none of my rear seating occupants complained about slamming their foreheads into the car’s C-pillar (try asking regular sized folks to get in and out of the A and CLA models and you’ll know what I mean). In fact, there’s easy (and graceful) entry and exit into the GLA45, along with ample legroom in the rear.
The cabin is generally nice place to be, with faux carbonfibre across the dashboard, brushed aluminum trim, and red accents that help to highlight you’re in something special. The front seats are beautifully sculpted too, and fit well, even for generously sized fellas like myself. While I am not a fan of Merc’s COMAND system, the updated version in the GLA45 proved fairly easy to navigate through and get used to.
To get an understanding of what difficult systems are, try pairing your Bluetooth enabled phone with COMAND in a W212 E-class. It will require time, patience, pure luck, and a blood sacrifice to the MB deities – this unlocks the chance of stumbling upon a menu which allows you to perform said task.
Yes, there is more space – but we are comparing this against the standards of hot-hatches. With the seats up, you’ve got enough boot space for two medium sized suitcases and then some; good for long weekends away for two people. Don’t expect to be able to fit strollers and your week’s worth of groceries. You’d need to drop the rear seats to extend all 481 litres for airport runs, so best you go alone.
And don’t expect a luxe-ride Mercedes because you won’t get it here. Despite the firmer ride, it is never too jarring, especially not for the rear passengers (so the in-laws will never think you hate them). Reinforcing that are the exhaust’s pops, blats and crackles that resonates through the cabin – just the right amount, never too much to get annoying. Should there be a need to tone it all down, simply flick over to Comfort mode to get a quieter, slightly plushier ride.
Else, my preference is to flick the dial to Individual – further adapted for sport throttle, sport steering, but comfort suspension, and driven in full manual mode.
Naturally, there are several flaws we found with the GLA45. For one, we lacked the creative reasoning to understand why the central display isn’t touchscreen capable. The buttons placed under the AC vents seemed oddly dated (who dials phone numbers from a car?) and felt cheap. The gear knob is well placed (unlike in an AMG GT), but was too small to my liking. Sure, you only use it to shift through Park, Drive and Reverse for most parts, but something easier to grip would be nicer. And 20 inch wheels on a hot-hatch seems a bit obscene, no? While it sounds good on the inside, I also wish this car had more aural presence on the outside.
Then there’s the issue of, ahem, fuel consumption. This car is so fun to drive all of the time that I actually had trouble driving it reasonably. Couple that with my naturally heavier right foot and a small-ish 55 litre tank, and that meant I had to fuel up at the end of every day. Over a span of three days, I traveled some 600 km, burnt though about RM300 worth of petrol, and only managed an average of 24.8 litres / 100 km.
But at no point did I forget that I was in a three-pointed star that wears AMG badges. It is difficult to, when there are not-so-subtle reminders everywhere. So then, there are bound to be compromises, right? Less comfort and more hoon? Yeah, I can live with that. If your wife drives a practical D segment (like mine does), this is the sort of hoonigan vehicle that will appeal to you. I know this for a fact, because the GLA45 has been calling me in my sleep.
Now, I just need to find out how to afford the RM410k sticker price…