One look at the Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG is all you need to see that it is seething with unmitigated rage.
Does this look like a happy car to you?
No, it doesn’t. Because it isn’t.
You know those car commercials where a camera pans along the beautifully sculpted lines of a svelte, athletic sports car? The GLA45 AMG will never be in one of those commercials. It’s like a short and stubby, yet swollen and short-tempered boxer with cauliflower ears and a severe underbite. It’s not here to look pretty.
You know all those extraneous trinkets and frivolous doodads that come with a lot of luxury cars now? The GLA45 AMG doesn’t have any of those. Writhe yourself around the stiff bolstering of the optional AMG performance front seats, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by a surprisingly Spartan interior. There’s a multi-function screen atop the carbon fiber accented dashboard, a control panel for those functions, and ergonomically deficient HVAC controls. That’s it. The GLA45 AMG is not about trinkets or doodads.
You know all the manners and class that your grandfather’s cushy E-Class has? Absolutely none of that rubbed off on the GLA45 AMG. It rides firmly on good roads and roughly on poor roads, and the 19-inch wheels and summer performance tires don’t help with ride or noise, and we haven’t even gotten to the exhaust yet. If it could introduce itself to you, it wouldn’t shake your hand or ask you about your career or your family. It would simply say “I’m here to go fast. If you want to go fast, get in. If you don’t, get the hell out of here.”
You would be strongly advised to take that statement seriously, too. Because it is a fast car.
The GLA45 AMG, and its sedan teammate, the CLA45 AMG, both hold the distinction of having the most powerful 4cyl engine of any car ever sold in the United States, and, at 177.5hp per liter, they also have the second highest specific output of any car ever sold in the United States, bested only by the McLaren P1. It is a 2.0L inline engine with 355hp and 332 ft-lbs of torque. The gargantuan BorgWarner twin-scroll turbocharger mounted above the exhaust manifold shoves 26.1 psi of air pressure through the air-to-water intercooler and into the cylinders, and the diameter of the downpipe would allow the insertion of an adult’s clenched fist. Because it’s a genuine AMG engine, it is hand-built in Affalterbach, Germany, by a single engine assembler.
A seven-speed AMG-tuned dual-clutch transmission that Mercedes-Benz calls Speedshift delivers that power and torque to all four wheels via the 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system in one big wallop. Switch the car to AMG mode and the transmission to Manual mode, and power brake it to engage Race Start mode, and the revs will build up to 3,500RPM, and once you release the brake, the GLA45 AMG will claw furiously toward its 6,700RPM limiter, which it will bash against in frustration unless you pull on the upshift paddle in time.
If you hit the upshift just right, though, the engine computer wll pull ignition timing and fuel delivery right as the transmission engages the next gear, which drops the RPMs and speeds up the shift. This also makes the already cacophonous optional performance exhaust snarl at a volume that will make it abundantly clear to passersby that it is not to be trifled with.
It doesn’t look like a happy car, and nor does it sound like one.
Keep nailing the upshifts, and the GLA45 AMG will grab ahold of 60mph in 4.8 seconds and keep ripping and tearing until the quarter mile lays in smithereens in just 13.2 seconds at 106mph.
However, don’t insult the GLA45 AMG by assuming it’s just about dragstrip timeslips. You’ll just make it even angrier.
The GLA45 AMG’s suspension is so radically different from its happier counterpart, the GLA250, that the U.S. government considers it a car while it considers the GLA250 a crossover, according to this SAE article. The GLA45 AMG has multilink independent suspension at all four wheels, and it also has anti-dive suspension geometry at the front and anti-dive and anti-squat geometry at the back. This keeps the components of the suspension under a more constant load as the weight of the body moves around under hard acceleration and braking, which translates into a car that’s more responsive to input from the driver.
Quite simply, pushing the GLA45 AMG through a set of tight corners is very much like pushing a boxer into the ring: it will respond to the aggression by fighting harder. That’s not to say that it’s foolproof; all-wheel-drive, sticky tires and an advanced suspension won’t help you in any car if you don’t know what to do with them. Furthermore, it has no intention of sliding around and destroying its tires for no good reason. Its handling is neutral and purposeful. Try to do something mischievous with it, and it will just buck and jump in disdain as the driver aid systems yank you back in line.
But if you can show the GLA45 AMG that you have the skill and the fortitude to exploit its capabilities, it will grip more tightly, turn in more suddenly, and enable you to take corners at higher speeds that you’ll ever have imagined a 3,457-lb hatchback could handle.
None of this, however, explains the GLA45 AMG’s disposition. Where exactly did it get the chip on its shoulder? Why can’t it enjoy the fruits of its labor and just lighten up a little bit?
Daimler AG, Mercedes-Benz’ parent company, is one of the oldest and wealthiest automakers in the world. Yet, I’m not sure how their market research brought them to conceive the GLA45 AMG. Its closest competitors are cars like the Subaru WRX STI and the Volkswagen Golf R, and it will easily obliterate either of them in terms of performance. If you’re fresh out of college at 25 years old and you want the fastest sport compact hatchback and one of the shoutiest exhaust notes in the United States, the GLA45 AMG is your vehicle, full stop. But very few 25-year-olds can afford it as tested with a $62,655 MSRP, many thousands more than its competition. People who can afford to spend that kind of money on a car are the type of people who would be grossly offended by its shouty exhaust.
The GLA45 AMG doesn’t know its place in the world yet, and that’s what makes it so angry.
Though some automotive publications have called both the GLA45 AMG and German automakers in general cold and soulless, their argument is flawed. It simply has some underlying issues, and people that we regard as having personality and soul also often have underlying issues, too.
But the GLA45 AMG doesn’t expect you to understand its plight. It just wants you to share its cause, which is simply to go very, very fast. It has the all necessary resources to pursue that cause, and if you have the ability to use those resources properly, you’ll both achieve your goal together with phenomenal results.
It may not earn your affection, but it will earn your admiration.
Price as tested: $62,655
0-60mph: 4.8 seconds
1/4-mile time: 13.3 seconds at 106mph
Lateral skidpad acceleration: 0.95g
60-0 braking distance: 109ft
Torque: 332 ft-lbs
Weight: 3,457 lbs
Fuel economy: 20.5 mpg
Test vehicle provided by Mercedes-Benz USA.
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