AMG wasted no time getting its hands on Mercedes’s smallest crossover, the new GLA. Compared to the 221-hp GLA250, the AMG GLA45 seems to be cut from entirely different cloth. There is an intermediate AMG GLA35 with at 302 horsepower, but the range-topping GLA45, with its 382-hp M139 engine, is the focus of this review.
This same engine can be found in the GLA’s platform-mate, the CLA45. AMG extracts the 382 horsepower from a mere 2.0 liters of displacement. Force-fed by a single twin-scroll turbocharger, peak power comes at 6500 rpm, while maximum torque—354 pound-feet—is on tap from 4750 to 5000 rpm. Compared to the 302-hp GLA35, the 45’s cylinder head is completely different; its intake and exhaust ports are opposite to that of the GLA35. The turbo now occupies the real estate near the firewall, and the intake plenum sits out front. This setup optimizes airflow to feed this engine’s voracious appetite for oxygen and to better serve the powertrain’s cooling requirements.
If you think that a single large turbo is a recipe for turbo lag, the GLA45 may dissuade you of that notion. Mated to an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic, the engine is so responsive that it largely resembles a naturally aspirated unit, except there’s great power at low rpm. Ripping through the gears, the GLA45 will charge to 60 mph in a conservative claim of 4.3 seconds—a 2018 GLA45 did the deed in 3.9—and the rush continues up to its terminal velocity, a claimed 155 mph. Even in quieter settings, the engine remains somewhat raspy and aggressive.
Our GLA45 came with the AMG Dynamic Plus package that offers six driving modes that adapt the suspension, throttle-pedal feedback, sound, shift strategy, front-to-rear torque distribution, steering assist, and the permissiveness of the stability control. Switch to the Master setting, and the GLA45 will allow you to coax the crossover into an easily controllable drift. The Dynamic Plus package also includes adaptive dampers and larger front brake rotors clamped by six-piston calibers instead of four-pot binders.
The Dynamic Plus package highlights and helps optimize the GLA45’s chassis hardware. Stiffened and fitted with body reinforcements, the AMG version has a tauter suspension with struts up front and multilink in the rear. The steering is ultra sharp and direct while the body control is firm and tight. It feels at the ready, attentively waiting for any driver input to translate into rapid moves. The variable torque split between the front and rear axles is controlled by an electronically controlled clutch pack, and a torque-vectoring rear differential distributes power between the rear wheels.
The same interior that looks so clean and simple in the GLA250 is transformed by AMG with a somewhat-sportier steering wheel, firm and supportive performance seats, grippy microfiber elements, standard red stitching, and red seatbelts. The 10.3-inch instrument cluster features an AMG-specific Supersport gauge cluster that looks great, although it is not more informative than the regular gauges, which can still be selected.
AMG seems to think that owners might take their GLA45 to a track. For those select few, there’s a Track Pace program that serves as a personal instructor, allowing the driver to record their favorite racetracks. Take it on the track, and the system feeds data into the instrument cluster or the head-up display to help improve lap times.
What we don’t like about the GLA45 is common to all GLAs. We’re still fighting with the imprecise touchpad that operates the infotainment system, and even the GLA45 has a decidedly un-sporty column-mounted shifter. There’s also the matter of the GLA45 S, which isn’t available in the United States. At 415 horsepower, 369 pound-feet, and capable of 168 mph, it ladles out the power even more generously. But even without the S treatment, we can’t think of another crossover this size that’s more fun.
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