Mercedes-AMG GLA 45: The Crossover Pocket Rocket
A hot hatch with a hint of ground clearance, this little AMG scoots.
Compact crossovers are not my favorite cars. Hopped up ones get a bit more respect from me, but I usually think of them as a money grab versus the true hot hatches more drivers should buy instead. Mercedes-AMG has a different approach to the hot compact crossover, throwing tuning and parts at its GLA, offering some versatility in a quick package.
At the start of this year, I had a go in the Mercedes-AMG GLA 35, and thought it was basically a hot hatch concealed by a small crossover body. With 302 horsepower, close gear ratios, and a tight suspension, I thought it was a blast, even if I called it and the GLB 35 model an "AMG Lite" package. I did think the GLA 35 was a bit small inside, but there was no shortage of performance. When the good people at Mercedes made the even faster GLA 45 available for a review, I jumped at the chance.
The Potent Figures
Like its 302-horsepower GLA 35 sibling, the Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four. What makes it special is that it's a properly hand-built engine from the AMG shop, and with some tuning and components upgrades the GLA 45 packs a whopping 382 horsepower @ 6,500 RPM and 354 lb-ft of torque from 4,750 - 5,000 RPM. With an 8-speed DCT and AMG's 4MATIC+ all-wheel-drive setup, the GLA 45 rips from 0-60 MPH in a quick 4.3 seconds. That's significantly quicker compared to the GLA 35 which was still quick, making that same sprint in 5.1.
The GLA's proportions are quite similar to a VW GTI, but with a couple more inches of ground clearance, to give you some perspective. The GLA 45 hits the scales at a hefty 3,847 pounds, which is a lot more than your typical hot hatch, but only 100 pounds more than the AMG GLA 35 I tested. Competition for the fastest compact AMG crossover is mixed. Audi doesn't make a truly performance-focused Q3, and its SQ5 is more closely aligned with the bigger Mercedes GLC. BMW also doesn't have a fast X2 model, and like the Audi competition, its faster crossover comes in the form of the bigger X3M.
At a $7,000 premium over the GLA 35, the Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 has a base price of $54,500. After adding a few options, including a panoramic sunroof, premium Digital White metallic paint, black leather interior, 20-inch wheels, an AMG performance steering wheel (wrapped in leather instead of Dinamica), and an upgraded multimedia package, this tester hit a total MSRP of $62,150.
Handling The Daily Duties
Surprisingly composed, the AMG adaptive air suspension is delightful in town. There's a slight bit of travel over bumps, and a delicately balanced bit of response without feeling jittery. Select the comfort drive mode on the AMG steering wheel knob, and the GLA 45 is a fun yet civil city crossover. Ride height is just tall enough to not feel tiny in traffic, and the size and shape offer good visibility. With just enough electric assistance, the GLA 45's steering is sharp but not over-boosted, and the small diameter steering wheel has a just thick enough rim.
While the turbocharged engine is potent for this class of vehicle, it can be tame enough if your right foot isn't composed of tungsten, but be aware that the throttle pedal travel is quite short. Should you get the urge to quickly get around slower motorists, the Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 will have no issues quickly putting them in your rear-view. EPA fuel economy estimates are 20/27/23, which is about 2 MPGs less than the GLA 35.
Cabin treatments include 10.25-inch displays for the instrument cluster and touchscreen MBUX infotainment system (which also has a center console-mounted trackpad). Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, so you can skip the $1,295 multimedia upgrade which includes MB's augmented reality navigation system and services. The GLA's standard audio system is good, but if you're obsessed with quality, opt for the Burmester upgrade. Carrying over the previous generation AMG sport steering wheel, the GLA 45 gets physical buttons and controls rather than the capacitive touch ones on the new E-Class models I've recently reviewed.
I'm not a massive fan of the Mercedes GLA's seats, as they look a bit basic for a performance-focused model from a premium German marque. The support all around is great, keeping you stuck in place, but with a price over $60,000, the GLA 45 needs some better looking buckets with cooler stitching and details.
Because it's a more compact implementation of the same chassis that supports the bigger GLB model, the GLA 45's back seat is a bit cramped for adult passengers, and the same goes for the rear cargo area. You can fit carry-on roller bags lengthwise, but anything longer than that is going to need to be turned sideways to fit inside the boot. Should you not have rear passengers and have to pack a ton of gear, the rear seats do fold mostly flat to provide more space. If you want more passenger and cargo capacity, you'll be smart to test drive the AMG GLB 35.
Mercedes is smart to incorporate plenty of places to stash your stuff throughout the cabin, with massive door pockets and water bottle holders, useful cupholders that fit big cups while not being in the way of any controls, a large center armrest with good storage space, and there's a pocket ahead of the cupholders to store your sunglasses, masks (yeah, this pandemic is still going), and snacks.
A True AMG Performer?
I may have nagged the GLA 35 for being a watered down version of the Mercedes-AMG brand, and a bit of a money grab in a quick compact crossover, but the GLA 45 served me a big slice of humble pie. At a healthy jump from 302 to 382 horsepower, the hand-built AMG engine in the GLA 45 is downright fast. From a dead stop, the 8-speed DCT and all-wheel-drive hook up perfectly to send this crossover ahead like a pissed off terrier, clicking off lightning fast shifts along the way. There's a good dose of burble from the 2-liter turbo four, with a little pop each time an upshift occurs. Downshifts almost have too much grumble, with all sorts of hot gasses to expel, but those exhaust notes aren't too artificial.
AMG's dynamic select system comes standard on the GLA 45, and met with comfort, slippery, sport, and sport+ modes. The happy individual mode I configured stuck the engine in dynamic, the ESP system to pro (allowing a lot of forgiveness before the last ditch traction control kicks in, but not fully off in the "master" mode), and the suspension in comfort to allow a bit of absorption over bumpier back roads. Through the bends, the Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 exhibits a healthy dose of body roll, attributed to the extra clearance and suspension travel as a crossover. Thankfully I never lost confidence in the GLA's ability to zip around the corners, even if there was a hint of understeer if I pushed it hard.
While the rollover sensation may sneak up on you, the GLA stays planted around a quick sweeper, thanks to the power transfer through the AWD powertrain and some sticky Continental SportContact 6 tires (the same you'll find mounted to the Acura NSX I drove not long ago). 19-inch wheels and tires come standard on the GLA 45, and my tester was upgraded to a 20-inch setup that has a surprising amount of sidewall to offer nice response without sacrificing comfort. There are also 21-inch options, if you want more wheel but less sidewall. Four-piston monoblock calipers bite down on cross-drilled front rotors, and while they're a beefy setup on paper, they're the same ones you get on the GLA 35, which could be more competent at scrubbing speed off this even faster 3,800-pound compact crossover.
I like the understated styling of AMG models, and the GLA 45 gets that design language nicely implemented. Bigger front intakes, subtle rear bumper ventilation, and cool quad exhaust tips round out a good package. For drivers who want a racier appearance to help the GLA 45 stand out, Mercedes does offer a $1,550 aerodynamic styling kit with a bigger front splitter and canards on the front bumper, while the rear end is treated to a large AMG wing, lateral airflow breakaway edges in the rear apron, and a big diffuser.
It Might Be Overkill, But Damn It's Fun
At a $7,000 premium over the AMG GLA 35, that's no small amount, but you get a ton for your money. I just wish there was a better seat design and a bit more room inside the GLA's cabin. I loved the slightly bigger GLB 35 I reviewed right after the GLA 35 at the beginning of the year, and thought it was the one to buy in the AMG 35 trim, offering more space in the back seat and in the cargo area. It's too bad there isn't a Mercedes-AMG GLB 45 offering, as that would check all the boxes.
If you've got $60,000 burning a hole in your pocket, and you want to get a wicked fast little crossover, the Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 is a damn fun way to blow the cash. It's wildly quick, more agile than you'd ever expect from any crossover, and offers sublime performance you'd expect from hot hatches. Although for this sort of coin for a compact Mercedes-AMG offering, I'd probably get a quick sedan in the form of the AMG C43. It's got more cabin volume and less boot space, but its lower center of gravity and better handling will get the job done without having to throw another small crossover on the road.