The Mercedes-Benz trio of ’45’ cars completes itself with the Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG. The tiny (by AMG standards) 2.0 litre engine, which finds itself in the A-Class, CLA and now the GLA, has opened up a whole new audience for Mercedes-Benz and the AMG brand. We went to Spain to find out if it lives up to our expectations!

The Mercedes-Benz GLA shares its platform with the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class, the B-Class and the CLA. With the GLA Mercedes-Benz aims at people that want the looks and practicality of an SUV, but not the size.

The Mercedes GLA 45 AMG Engine & Performance

To start at the heart of the package, the Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG gets the same familiar M133 2.0 litre inline 4-cylinder engine as the rest of the ’45’ cars. This engine features aspects drawn from AMG’s ’63’ series engines as well as their motorsport counterparts. It comes directly from the M270 family of petrol engines which populates the rest of the range. Featuring 360 hp at 6,000 rpm and 332lb ft of torque between 2,250 and 5,000 rpm, the GLA 45 AMG is not short of performance.

Performance is aided by the inclusion (as standard) of the Mercedes-Benz 4matic all wheel drive system. As with most modern four-wheel drive systems, the Mercedes-Benz system is intelligent. Under normal driving conditions, the GLA 45 AMG uses front-wheel drive for optimal efficiency. When required for extra traction, the drive system splits the torque between the front and rear axles up to a ratio of 50:50 percent.


The Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG accelerates from 0-100 km/h in 4.8 seconds and has a electronically limited top speed of 250 km/h. It also complies with EU6 emissions legislation which enters into effect in 2017.

Suspension

The suspension rides 40 mm higher than the A45 AMG, at the same time the ride height is 16 mm less than a regular GLA. The actual components differ from the standard GLA-Class in that they feature stiffer steering knuckles, a set of modified spring/damper units and bigger anti-roll bars. To provide greater feedback, AMG speed-sensitive sports steering is fitted to this car.

Brakes & Wheels

The Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG gets a unique set of 5-twin-spoke AMG light-weight alloy wheels painted titanium grey. They hide a set of red AMG brake calipers – optional for the GLA 45 AMG. Our car featured a set of larger 20 inch 10-spoke AMG wheels which fill the swollen wheel arches much better.

Design

Visually, the Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG gets the usual AMG refinements. Compared to the standard models, the AMG features extra brake vents, a set of side skirts, a new front bumper arrangement and a new rear bumper complete with aggressive rear diffuser. Our example came fitted with the Edition 1 package which includes an enormous roof spoiler, flashy graphics and several other premium components.

A few notes generally about the design of the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class. The car looks visually similar to the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class. It sits higher than that car though and doesn’t share a single body panel. Instead, the GLA-Class has a distinctly muscular appearance, looking a little more squat than the A-Class too.

Interior

The interior is a pretty special place to be too. It features the same style of new-era Mercedes-Benz dash layout. The sports seats are comfortable and the surfaces all feel special. The materials include ARTICO man-made leather, DINAMICA microfibre with red contrasting topstitching and red designo safety belts are on board. Red and black is the predominant colour theme.

Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG Edition 1

During the first 12 months of the GLA’s life cycle it will also be made available in special Edition 1 trim. We drove the Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG Edition 1 from Malaga to the Sierra Nevada and although the Edition 1 doesn’t include any performance upgrades it steals all the looks. The Edition 1 package includes more aggressive styling including a revised front facia with larger front splitter, little side wings, matte black 20″ wheels with red accents, red brake calipers and a huge rear wing.

Additionally AMG added silver grey/red AMG racing stripes on the side of the GLA 45 AMG below the so called “dropping line”. These are complemented by further red highlights on the radiator grille, exterior mirrors, a diffuser insert and a rear aerofoil. The GLA 45 AMG Edition 1 is availalbe in Cirrus White, Cosmos Black, Polar Silver and Mountain Grey metallic.

The interior of the GLA 45 AMG Edition 1 is dominated by the colors black and red. Red stitching across the AMG Performance seats, the door centre panels, the dashboard and the AMG Performance steering wheel. Altogether the Edition 1 design adds significant visual impact and flavor to the GLA 45 AMG.

For the regular Mercedes-Benz GLA there is another Edition 1 package available but that is significantly different from the AMG Edition 1 package. Both the GLA 45 AMG Edition 1 and GLA (200/250) Edition 1 package can be ordered from today until March 2015.

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4matic vs GLA 45 AMG

During our time in Spain we also had the opportunity to drive and review the GLA 250 4matic. The 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 is powered by the Mercedes M270 engine, a two liter four-cylinder turbo engine. This particular engine develops 211 hp and maximum torque of 350 Nm from 1200 to 4000 rpm in the GLA 250 spec. We drove the GLA 250 4Matic with the optional all-wheel drive. Acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h is managed in 7.1 seconds and a top speed of 230 km/h is accessible. Fuel consumption is class leading, rated at just 6.5 liters per 100 kilometers. More on the GLA 250 4matic’s dynamic performance is covered in our driving experience below.


Driving Experience

Our driving experience with the GLA 45 AMG Edition 1 starts in the center of Malaga. At the courtyard of the stunning Museo Automovilistico de Málaga, which houses the private collection of Portuguese car fanatic Joao Magalhaes, over 25 Mercedes-Benz GLAs await our arrival. Among them a dozen or so GLA 45 AMGs and a handful of Edition 1’s. After a short welcome and briefing we receive the keys to our companion for the day: a cirrus white GLA 45 AMG Edition 1.

The Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class has a 50mm higher ride height as the A and CLA and the seating position is 6cm higher. In city traffic you will notice that you sit a bit higher than most surrounding cars, but it is still lower than an Audi Q3 per example. The interior feels very solid and comes across as the most modern in this segment – if Apple were to design a car interior this would be it. Our particular GLA 45 AMG Edition 1 ticks nearly all the option boxes. There are plenty of options to connect phones and multimedia devices to play music via USB and bluetooth or make some calls. After we connect our iPhone 5S and set the navigation to our first destination its time to fire up the engine.

The two-liter four-cylinder engine comes to life with a similar rumble to that of the A 45 and CLA 45 AMG. In the GLA 45 AMG you engage drive with a small AMG gear lever in the center console compared to an automatic gear lever behind the right side of the steering wheel for the normal GLA automatic. Right below the AMG gear lever is the button to engage Park and a little button with C-S-M on it. But more on that later, we leave the Museum behind us and head to the highway on the outskirts of Malaga. The weather is beautiful with 20 degrees and sunshine, the ideal conditions to put the dynamic capabilities of the Mercedes GLA 45 AMG Edition 1 to the test.

The main difference with the A 45 and CLA 45 AMG becomes clear almost immediately. Thanks to its increased ride height and slightly modified suspension setup the ride is much more comfortable. The GLA 45 AMG takes bumps and changes in surface in a much more subtle manner. This might fuel a certain fear that it will be less capable in the corners, but the AMG engineers have done a pretty good job at keeping body roll to a minimum and cornering capabilities on par with what we are used to from the A 45 and CLA 45 AMG. We leave the highway and head down to a twisty coastal road with beautiful views over the Mediterranean Sea, here the GLA 45 AMG seems to really be in its element.

Using the little C-S-M button we select the Sport mode, which allows for quicker shifts and opens the exhaust flap for a much better sound. Under hard acceleration every up shift is accompanied by a loud bang from the exhaust, similar to when an empty milk carton explodes. Lift off the throttle and you will hear a concert of pops and rattles. The 7-Speed DCT Speedshift gearbox changes gear flawlessly and quickly, according to AMG, as quick as in an SLS AMG GT. It only seemed the second gear was quite short, preventing downshifts from 3rd to 2nd gear for certain corners.

With two convenient aluminium shift paddles directly behind the steering wheel it is impossible not to overrule the automatic gearbox at least a dozen times on any journey. In C and S it will hold the gear you select for a decent while before switching back to the automatic program again. We however spent most of our journey in M. M is the GLA 45’s manual mode which also allows for an entertaining Race Start – or launch control. To launch with Race Start all you have to do is engage M, set ESP to Sport, left foot on the brake, pull both paddles at the same time, pull the right paddle to confirm, put your right foot all the way down and release the brakes. Maximum acceleration and fun guaranteed! 4.8 seconds from 0-100 km/h puts the GLA 45 AMG in the same range as a Bentley Continental GT V8, Audi RS4 Avant and Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Convertible.

The first destination of our journey with the Mercedes-Benz GLA is the Hacienda Senorio de Nevada, a beautiful Spanish country house located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. From the Spanish coast we follow a combination of swirling B-roads and highway to the hacienda. Our first impressions after a combination of city driving, b-roads and highways is very positive, but the real challenge still lies ahead. At the hacienda the car receives a quick wash before we set off to our next destination with photographer Dirk Weyhenmeyer: the Sierra Nevada ski resort.

The Sierra Nevada is home to the highest mountain in Spain, the 3,480 meter high Mulhacén. This is just one of over 20 peaks that tower out more than 3,000 meters above sea level. From the shores of the Mediterranean Sea it is just a two hour drive to the Sierra Nevada ski shores, a unique feat which allows you to ski in minus temperatures with views as far as Morocco during the day and spend the evening in shorts and t-shirt at your hotel on the beach. We sadly don’t have time for this and head up to Sierra Nevada to witness another spectacular feat; the sunset!

The road leading up from Granada sweeps its way through the mountains and is of perfect condition. About half way up the mountain a small dirt track brings us to the unofficial Spanish national symbol, the Osborne bull. Few foreigners know that originally these 14 meter high bulls were advertising of a brandy but in 1994 the bulls were painted black to comply with new advertising laws. About 90 of them remain today throughout all of Spain and one of them is located along the A-395.

The little dirt road leading up to the bull is the first opportunity to test the off-road capabilities of the GLA 45 AMG. The road leads up a steep path with strong traces of erosion from rain and melting snow. The GLA 45 AMG, not equipped with the optional off-road package, deals with it very well and even with two wheels off the ground it retains grip and traction. Ground clearance is enough to go over most stones and obstacles, only on the way down the front splitter scrapes the ground. After a few photos we continue up the main road.

Its 4pm and the ski day for most skiers is over which means a solid stream of cars and buses heading down the mountain, with some traffic in front of us we can see if the GLA 45 AMG Edition 1 is getting any looks. And yes nearly every second car turns its head to see more of the GLA 45 AMG. Especially with the Edition 1 trim it has quite a significant presence. Driving through villages pedestrians often encourage us to put our foot them and create some noise, we were of course more than happy to oblige!

Nearly at 2,000 meters, a plateau at the side of the road offers beautiful views of the valley and mountains in the distance. We manoeuvre the GLA 45 AMG between some rocks right on the edge. The views are breathtaking and the GLA looks stunning in the sunlight. Cars stop and go and people keep coming over to take some snaps with their smartphones, it seems the car really hits a nerve. Despite the high altitude we still haven’t exactly found what we came to the Sierra Nevada for; snow!

Luckily we haven’t run out of road yet so we get back in the car and continue to drive up. We reach the village of Pradollano, the main town of the Sierra Nevada ski resort, the streets are narrow and the traffic a nightmare so we leave it for what it is as soon as possible. At over 2,300 meter the temperature has dropped to below zero and a beautiful road opens up in front of us. We left the Hacienda in the sun but now the entire area surrounding the Sierra Nevada is covered in clouds leaving us speechless.

We drive the same road up and down a dozen of times, towards the top there are some areas still snow covered. The 4matic all-wheel drive takes it all with ease and the GLA without a doubt a capable wintersport car, the size of the ski hatch between the rear seats our only concern. Brakes are solid and even when pushed hard consistently they don’t fade. The 4matic sends maximum 50% of the power to the rear which means most of the time the power is primarily distributed to the front. This makes the GLA 45 AMG prone to understeer but in most conditions it offers a quick, tight line through corners without any drama.

With a weight of 1,655 kilogram it weighs exactly the same as the Audi RS Q3, but thanks to the GLA 45 AMG’s lower ride height and lower center of gravity it handles and feels more like a hot hatch than a compact SUV. It is this particular characteristic of the GLA and GLA 45 AMG that sets it apart from the competition and puts it in a segment of its own. On one side it offers the usability and versatility of a SUV but on the other side it supplies the performance and handling that many – if not all – compact and full-size SUVs lack.

We park up on a platform marked Zona Militar – no idea what that means – and witness one of the most incredible sunsets I have ever seen. While Dirk works his magic behind the camera I try to find things about the GLA 45 AMG I don’t like. That proved harder than I initially thought. Yes, it doesn’t have seat cooling as an optional extra, nor does it have lane assist (a funcionality I particularly enjoyed on the E and S-Class) and its not possible to adjust the sound, throttle responds, steering and suspension individually – but that is just a reminder of the segment the GLA is in and nothing really that I dislike about the car itself. Fuel economy than? Yes, when you push the little four-cylinder to its limits you will be back at the pump sooner but it can also do 8 liter per 100 kilometers with ease. I even dare to say the GLA 45’s ‘fun per liter’ level is much higher than most other cars that are capable of a 0-100 km/h sprint in under 5 seconds.


The sun drops behind the horizon and darkness surrounds us, time to head back to the Hacienda for dinner. By chance we find one of the best roads to one more time enjoy the strengths of the GLA 45 AMG. A temporary no-entry sign nearly had us turn around but the navigation insisted this was the quickest way down – oh boy was it fun! Some parts were still snow and ice covered offering an interesting challenge. Half way down a group of mountain dogs suddenly surprise us with their presence on the side of the road, followed by a cow not much later. We had enough action for the day!

The next morning a new day awaits, to see how the GLA 45 AMG compares with the regular GLA we pick up the keys for a GLA 250 4matic. It is finished in the same white as our GLA 45 AMG Edition 1 the day before. But without the AMG and Edition 1 exterior parts it looks a lot more normal. We set off from the center of Granada with a route set out through the Spanish hills that takes us back to Malaga. The first part is mainly highway, very comfortable to drive with Distronic Plus set at the speed limit. The weather is nothing like the day before and the cold and rain makes us want yesterday back.

The GLA 250 4matic adds another layer of comfort over the GLA 45 AMG with other seats, softer suspension and smaller wheels. Its two litre four cylinder engine with 211 hp is still very capable though. The 2015 Mercedes GLA 250 4matic does 0-100 km/h in 7.1 seconds and has a top speed of 230 km/h. The GLA 250 has a similar C-S-M button as the GLA 45 AMG, only the position has changed from the center console to the bottom of the dashboard. Behind the steering wheel you will find slightly smaller paddles to shift up- and down paired with a 7-speed DCT double clutch transmission.

We follow a predefined route leaving the highway behind us and head to the town of Colmenar. This town marked both the return of the sunshine as the start of one of our new favorite roads in the world. Road C-345 lead us along the Parque Natural Montes de Malaga, a stunning area of nearly 5,000 hectares with small valleys and pine forests. The C-345 offers scenic views of the natural reserve, the Mediterranean Sea and the city of Malaga. The road was also in excellent condition, rarely have we come across a mountain road which is as well maintained as this one.

Along the road we also had time to test the off-road capabilities of the GLA 250. Our test car came with an off-road setting and hill-descent control (DSR). We reversed up a steep hill without problems, the real challenge was climbing out of the car to take some photos. On the way down we engaged DSR set the speed to 6 km/h and released the brake. At the point the car takes over and brakes at will to maintain the desired speed – impressive capabilities for a car that will most likely cover most distance in cities and on the highway.

On the entire 30 kilometer drive from Colmenar to Malaga we saw only a handful of cars – you can imagine conditions couldn’t be better. The GLA 250 lacks the punch of the GLA 45 AMG, but completely to our surprise it was nearly as much fun to drive the GLA 250 as the GLA 45 AMG. One key issue with our GLA 250 was the comfort suspension. The steering was very indirect and in tighter corners we had to turn the steering wheel way further than we would like to to get around the corner. Mercedes however assured us on arrival in Malaga that they offer more direct steering and sportier suspension as an optional extra for the GLA 250.

Also in the GLA 250 the brakes held up well but the addictive signature GLA 45 AMG exhaust tune is missing for us. But those who wonder what to get when the GLA 45 AMG is a bit above budget, look no further: with the right extras ticked on the options list the GLA 250 serves as a very good, affordable and and fun alternative for the GLA 45 AMG.

Competition

The Mercedes GLA 45 AMG opens up a new niche of performance compact SUVs. The main competitor in this segment is the Audi RS Q3, it has one cylinder more but 50hp less. The RS Q3 is also more SUV – less performance car compared to the GLA 45 AMG. Between the two the GLA 45 AMG appeals more to us mainly thanks to its looks, lower seating position and handling. If we look what is further available in this price range the Porsche Macan S comes up as a main competitor for the GLA 45 AMG. The Macan S offers more space for the money but its size and weight have drawbacks for performance and for the same price as a well equipped GLA 45 AMG you will have to comprise on extras with the Macan S.


Conclusion

The GLA 45 AMG offers a near perfect combination of versatility and performance. Its styling appeals to a new and younger audience and especially the Edition 1 turns heads like no other in the compact segment. Following the success of the CLA Mercedes-Benz has yet another winner in its hands with the GLA!

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