Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: September 24, 2021
No one expects a soft, handsome, and petite little crossover like this GLA 45 AMG to harbour nearly 400 horsepower. In fact, the only distinguishable features that give its credentials away are the somewhat subtle AMG badges and that vertical-slat front grill that leaves a lasting visual signature.
This is the second-generation GLA 45 and it has clearly been stripped down of its masculinity for a more understated and restrained demeanor. Far from the macho, streamlined, and butch first-gen GLA 45, it’s an unfortunate departure that rings true with pretty much the entire crop of current AMGs. With tapered light designs, rounded shoulders, and a silhouette that is more subdued than it is shouty, the GLA 45 has become soft on the eyes. Even the classic AMG quad exhausts that are typically integrated into the lower bumper have been changed to a tailpipe design with the quad pipes sticking out individually instead. It’s lost some of its identity.
The interior takes a turn for the better, receiving welcome revisions over the outgoing GLA. It’s a tech haven inside with a beautiful dual-screen arrangement on the dashboard and an exquisitely crafted steering wheel embedded with metallic switchgear and flanked by beautifully rendered paddle shifters. There are clearly more features and cabin drama than the button-laden BMW M2 and contrastingly bare Audi RS3. The column mounted gear lever works well and clears up a lot of space in the center console for the two cup holders, trackpad, and wireless charging pad. Do note that most 2021 Mercedes models exclusively use USB-C outlets, so those who haven’t made the upgrade from USB-A should do so.
The GLA 45 utilizes the MBUX infotainment system paired with an Apple-like trackpad instead of the outgoing rotary dial and archaic number buttons. Users can tap, slide, pinch, and scroll, much like the inputs that command your smartphone. And while the rotary dial was the gold standard for interface control, this new trackpad is intuitive enough to use on the fly. The learning curve is small and the menus are simply laid out with large button prompts. It’s similar to the Lexus interface that also uses a trackpad, but the MBUX unit is less complicated, the screens are not overloaded, and the input sensitivity level is more fluid and consistent. Every screen can also be controlled via the steering wheel’s haptic thumbpads on each side.
The GLA’s elevated seating position over the CLA and A-Class lends itself superior visibility all around with minimal blind spots. For a performance vehicle, we find the seating too high up though. We like to sit as low to the ground as possible and prefer the CLA 45 instead in this regard, but if you need the room, or if the spouse demands it, the GLA 45 will fit the bill just fine. That’s because it drives like it’s out for blood.
Looks may point the GLA 45 towards the softer side of the visual spectrum but the powertrain begs to differ. Rambunctious is a good way to describe it. The GLA 45 utilizes a hand-built, 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that punches out 382 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque. That’s enough for it to sprint from 0-100 km/h in a speedy 4.4 seconds. It’s an eager engine that loves to rev and is a willing partner when pushed to its grip limits. The four-cylinder even rumbles and reverberates the car during idle - reminds me of a Dodge Charger with its HEMI V8.
And while the noise is loud, proud, and properly aggressive for a 45-Series AMG, the acceleration is even better. If this engine can make a GLA chassis feel taut and agile, then I can’t wait to see what it can do in the upcoming Lotus Emira, which will also use this AMG engine unit. There’s a bit of turbo lag below 3,000 rpm but once the needle swings past that marker, you’re golden. Just don’t let the four-pot fall asleep, and keep it in peak boost for the optimum experience.
As with most of the other AMGs, the 8-speed dual-clutch gearbox is a tad clunky and janky at low speeds, coming off as somewhat unrefined during low-speed creeps and rolling stops, but the tradeoff with this rough patch is insanely quick shifts. Letting the gearbox row itself or taking charge via the paddles makes no difference - shifts are fired off with lightning speed, and while it’s not as polished between transitions as a BMW’s 8-speed ZF, it feels more ferocious and purposeful, just like a racing car should feel like. Ever drive a MINI Countryman JCW? This feels better with a more willing chassis, significantly less understeer, and a rowdier exhaust.
The ride quality is tolerable even when bouncing on its large 21-inch wheels, and it isn’t as stiff as the CLA 45 thanks to its higher center of gravity and superior ground clearance. The GLA is better sorted and quite comfortable too, adding to its road trip capability and daily driver appeal. It’s perilously stiff when you engage Race Mode but it still stays grounded and stable when hitting pockmarked roads and bumps.
Choose the AMG Driver’s Package and you get an three-stage sport suspension, more exhaust noise piped in through the speakers, a leather and alcantara AMG steering wheel with dials budding out the sides, and a Track Pace app that lets you dive into track details should you take your GLA 45 to such locales. A more hardcore Track Package takes the top speed up to 270 km/h, adds Race and Drift modes, larger brakes, and a full alcantara steering wheel.
The GLA 45 is a wickedly capable crossover that will appease small families wishing for a dual-purpose product. Quick when desired, functional when required, and relatively comfortable where it counts. It’s not our particular favourite when it comes to compact AMGs - the CLA 45 is still our pick of the litter - but its handsome and softened appearance should appeal to the masses, as should its rambunctious exhaust note and racecar-like powertrain.
Model: 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 4MATIC+ SUV
Paint Type: Digital White
Base Price: $60,500
Price as Tested: $76,430
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,436 / 1,849 / 1,588
Curb weight (kg): 1,755
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
Horsepower: 382 hp @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 354 lb-ft @ 3,000 - 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed dualclutch automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway ) L/100km: 11.6 / 8.8
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 12.0
Tires: Continental ContiSportContact 6; 21-inch