I have yet to see another model line where the performance-oriented version is more differentiated from the standard one without changing the engine’s actual displacement. The Mercedes-Benz GLA is a subcompact luxury crossover that can only be had with two variants of a turbocharged four-cylinder. The model tested here is absolutely a hot hatchback rather than a crossover, and is a boatload of fun to drive. We spent a week with the 2018 Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 4MATIC to evaluate just how varied the difference is between the entry-level GLA 250 (reviewed here) and its more powerful and sporty sibling.
First off; the GLA 45 has no real competition in the luxury segment. The powertrain and performance capabilities it offers will go to bat against hot hatchbacks like the Ford Focus RS (reviewed here), which is also priced similarly. This is the kind of car that Volkswagen Golf R or Honda Civic Type R buyers will opt for after they have grown out of the conventional hot hatch and want something with a premium badge.
Premium it may be, but the engine really is the sweet spot of the GLA 45. It has a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder, and the horsepower number it pushes is the highest of any 2.0T on the market today. Output is 375 horsepower at 6,000RPM and 350 lb-ft. of torque at 2,250RPM. This power is sent to all four wheels via the 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system and a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The gearbox was a weaker spot in the outgoing CLA and GLA 45 models, but improved tuning has made a significant difference in response and overall fun factor.
It makes excellent noises from the performance exhaust system (toggled via a button on the dashboard) on transmission upshifts and downshifts. The hand-built AMG motor puts down the high horsepower number thanks to 26.1psi of boost coming from the turbocharger. The 4MATIC system can split from front-drive mode all the way to a 50/50 torque split between the front and rear. Power delivery is smooth yet dramatic, which has always been a staple trait with AMG cars, and we’re glad to see things haven’t been toned down.
The transmission can be left to shift on its own, but we preferred to use the wheel-mounted paddle shifters. There is a dedicated button to change between automatic and manual mode, which should be a standard feature in performance vehicles. The drive mode selector can be adjusted into three more dynamic modes, which are Sport, Sport+ and Race. This will adjust transmission shift points, steering weight, engine mapping and of course, exhaust noise. AMG has also implemented a launch control mode that can optimize the 4MATIC system and put immense amount of grip down to the wheels, snapping off the perfect launch for a closed course setting.
Stepping into the GLA 45, the interior is quite nice if headroom isn’t a priority. The updated steering wheel feels great to hold, and the large eight-inch center screen is now capable of running Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. The GLA is still one of the few Mercedes-Benz models that still uses the old dash layout with the telephone number pad, but the classic climate controls are very easy to use and make for minimal confusion. The large panoramic sunroof helps bring welcomed light into the cabin, but it’s worth a mention that this is a fixed unit and does not open
The GLA 45’s seats are performance-oriented examples that are designed by seat experts Recaro, and provide the perfect amount of bolstering for my six-foot frame. The visibility is adequate, but it wouldn’t hurt to have larger windows to see out of. Ingress and egress is an area where the GLA’s lower ride height helps, as it’s higher than a sedan but lower than a conventional crossover.
The GLA 45, introduced for the 2014 model year, is also AMG’s first foray into the subcompact crossover category, and the 2018 model year marks a mid-cycle refresh. Subtle updates have made all the required changes to make for one punchy little machine. The front bumper and splitter have been fully redesigned, along with new headlights and grille. An optional visual package adds blacked out wheels as well as a gigantic rear wing that really does add to the fun appeal of this car, as ridiculous as this opinion sounds.
Mercedes-AMG rates the 2018 GLA 45 for 10.7L/100km city and 8.3L/100km on the highway. This amounts to a combined estimate of 9.6L/100km. Our week consisted of roughly 600km of testing in average conditions, and took place on the required premium fuel. The average came to 10.3L/100km in summer conditions with liberal use of the air conditioning. One thing we would like to see is an increase in the small 50L fuel tank, which will need to be refilled frequently if your commute isn’t almost entirely highway.
Sitting at a base price of $52,300, the 375-horse GLA 45 is a pretty wicked value for what you get. This test vehicle was optioned with a $4,300 Premium Package (dual-zone climate control, LED headlights, navigation, blind spot assist, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto) and a $2,900 Premium Plus Package (Active Park Assist, power folding mirrors, Harman/Kardon Logic7 sound system, power tailgate). The real icing on the cake is a $3,000 AMG Driver’s Package that adds 20” wheels, sport suspension, Nappa/Dinamica performance steering wheel, and the AMG Performance Exhaust. This almost fully loaded example stickers for $62,500.
The 2018 Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 4MATIC is by every definition of the term, a hot hatch. The very slightly raised ride height works to its advantage and for most, will add to the appeal over its CLA 45 counterpart. It sorts out many of the flaws of the GLA 250, such as the choppy ride quality and lack of urgency, and builds in a personality that is unlike the typical subcompact crossover. It may be an in-betweener between the hot hatch and subcompact crossover segments, but the result is a winning formula with engagement and raw enthusiasm.