It can be a fine line between a quick SUV and a hot hatch these days. About four centimetres, to be precise. Exhibit A: the new Mercedes-AMG GLA45 S.
It has bones of the A-Class hatchback, the body of the GLA compact SUV and the world’s most powerful four-cylinder engine, creating a cocktail of personalities.
The GLA45 rides about 40mm higher than the A45 hatchback, delivering the elevated seating position that buyers crave — occupants sit about 14cm higher.
As well as the extra millimetres underneath, the GLA45 is taller and wider than the hatchback its based on, allowing for a roomier cabin.
So, more hat space, an airier cabin feel and a plethora of standard kit including matrix LED high beams, a panoramic sunroof, swags of leather and premium Burmester audio. There’s also a comprehensive suite of driver assistance features, including blind-spot warning, exit warning, auto braking, speed-sign recognition and a 360-degree camera.
Boot space is a respectable 435 litres, although rear knee room is tight.
That larger body also means more kilos, in the GLA45’s case about 105kg.
It’s also heavier than the car it replaces, so even with a smidgen more power (5kW) and an additional gear ratio (eight in total) the latest GLA45 would have accelerated no quicker.
Little wonder, then, Mercedes-Benz settled on the more powerful GLA45 S as the default option for Australia.
With 310kW and 500Nm (up 30kW and 25Nm) it’s easily the most powerful four-cylinder on the market (it even has more power than the last V8 Commodore SS, at 304kW).
The claimed dash to 100km/h lowers to 4.3 seconds, making it supercar quick off the line, something helped by Race Start and all-wheel drive so you can blast away in a flurry of revs and thrust.
It’s not quite as feisty as the lighter A45 hatch (0-100km/h in 3.9 seconds) but there’s enough fire to cement the GLA45 S at the pointy end of the performance SUV ledger. For a compact four-cylinder it can also be thirsty, easily surpassing the claimed 9.6 litres per 100km fuel use.
At about $117,000 it’s jumped almost 20 per cent over its predecessor and is about double the price of the cheapest GLA. It also now sits some $16K above its most obvious rival, the Audi RS Q3.
Despite the nod to practicality, the GLA45 is a wannabe racer at heart. A flat-bottomed steering wheel trimmed in fake suede and optional body-hugging bucket seats with yellow highlights set the scene.
Choose the $2990 aero pack and fins and wings hang off every corner.
The AMG Track Pace system houses data logging and telemetry with popular race tracks already embedded.
The 20-inch tyres suggest it’s more about slicing into an apex rather than dealing with the school drop off, although it tackles the latter well, provided the kids don’t mind jiggling over bumps. Adjustable dampers take the suspension from stiff to stiffer, the focus clearly more on unflappable high-speed stability.
The higher ride height of the GLA body means you don’t have to be as dainty over speed humps, although the initial shock of a sharp edge is a none-too-subtle reminder this SUV is built for speed.
Almost all of that is forgiven once you attack some bends. It points assuredly, while immense grip from low profile rubber ensures slick progress.
Dial up its sportier drive modes — Sport+ or Race — and it more aggressively sends drive to the rear then cleverly apportions it to the outer wheel depending on conditions, adding to the playfulness. Exhaust crackles and sharper upshifts are also part of those more focused modes.
Enormous red brake calipers and cross-drilled discs provide the final piece of a potent performance story.
The GLA45 S AMG may lack some of the pace of the A45 it shares so much with and some of the finesse some may expect in an SUV, but there’s a hot hatch-like feistiness that adds another dimension to Benz’s smallest wagon.
Hot hatch fury with some SUV sensibilities.
MERCEDES-AMG GLA45 S VITALS
Price: From about $117,000 drive-away
Warranty/servicing: 5 yrs/unlimited km, $4300 prepaid for 5 years/100,000km
Safety: Not rated, 9 airbags, auto emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise, traffic sign recognition, exit warning assist
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo, 310kW/500Nm
Spare: Repair kit