Mercedes-AMG GLA45 S 4Matic+ review

By topgear, 27 July 2020

Another smokin’-hot AMG?

Yup, AMG remains determined to put chilli up the chuff of pretty much every Mercedes. Although not every one. They’ve realised that a 400-plus horsepower track-ready version of the B-Class minivan isn’t really a thing that’d have buyers queuing. Nor of the seven-seat GLB.

This, though, is a thing. The GLA 45 S 4Matic+, and it’s a potent rival to the Audi RS Q3 and… oh, that’s about it. BMW doesn’t do an MX1, Ford isn’t up for a Kuga RS, Honda passes on the chance to give us a HR-V Type-R, there’s no Jeep Cherokee Trackhawk, and Toyota similarly resists a Gazoo Racing C-HR.

Are those other absentees doing the right thing by staying away, or has AMG found a seam worth mining?

In the sense that there is real driver appeal in the AMG GLA45, yes. And in the sense that it’s usefully roomier and more practical than the hot-hatch AMG A45 on which it’s based, also yes. So, with reservations, I guess that’s yes-squared.

Run through the mechanics could you?

Sure. It’s a four-cylinder engine, all new for this generation of small AMGs. Power is a frankly astonishing 421bhp from 2.0 litres. It has a twin-scroll blower. It’s fuelled both by direct injection for emissions and economy, and also port injection for power. It has a complex cooling system with separate pumps so the head can run cool (lower emissions) and the block warmer (lower friction). The turbo shaft runs in roller bearings. Like Ferrari’s.

The transmission is an eight-speed double-clutch job. The rear differential isn’t a diff in the usual sense, but has an electronically controlled clutch pack for each wheel, in the Focus RS manner. That allows, once you’ve dialled up the settings on the nerdily complex mode system, a bit of driftery. (Those clutch packs are denoted by the + in the 4Matic+ badge.)

There’s more. Brakes have grown. In search of steering precision the body is reinforced with an under-engine shear plate plus bay braces, and the subframes are rigidly bolted to the underside.

It has bucket seats, track telematics, yadda yadda. Pretty much everything from the A45 S hatch is here. No shortcuts in dynamics for the crossover.

The crossovery bits?

Well, 4WD and ground clearance tick the crossover boxes, but track-biased tyres don’t. It looks taller and bulkier than the first-generation GLA, which actually was no taller than a Focus. The dash is deeper and boxier than in an A-Class, to match your higher throne. It’s really handily roomy front and back, despite having no more wheelbase than the A hatch. So it’s a family car. But if the family’s on board don’t take corners at this car’s max.

What’s max cornering like?

On dry roads, I didn’t find out. The grip’s colossal, front and back, and I didn’t manage to breach it. Winding up the modes takes you through ‘advanced’ to ‘pro’ to ‘master’ which would probably get a wriggle on if it’s wet or you’re in a track chicane. But all I got was lots of grip, progressive if slightly dead steering, and good balance. A little body roll is the main feedback. It’s enjoyable, if in a rather stern way.

And the engine?

Far more interesting than most four-cylinder turbos, because of the way the power doesn’t just flatten off, but keeps rising with revs. Go to 5,000 and it’s rapid, to 6,000 and it’s seriously fast, to 7000 and it’s brutal. If you can find 4.3 seconds to spare in your busy life, it’ll get from rest to 100kph.

You can separately configure engine mode from chassis mode, so I kept the engine and exhaust in normal (no need for farts and pops) and the damping on the softer side (it was bumpy thereabouts) but the vectoring a little more edgy. There’s a handy mode switch on the steering wheel, but once set up that way I didn’t feel the need to switch between modes for different roads. It adapts itself to the conditions.

But you said ‘with reservations’?

Well, although the ride is fundamentally more supple than many hot hatches, you suffer from a lot of lateral head-toss because you sit higher. And the road noise is terrible, even at town speeds. Coarse motorways are a real ear-bender, ruining the excellent stereo’s efforts.

The double-screen dash system has so many configurations you’ll give up and settle on one. Then accidentally brush the steering-wheel touch sensors, change it, and nearly crash trying to find your old setting again. It’s even worse than the normal small-Mercedes, because you have more options. Track apps in a crossover - sheesh.

Most of all, it’s expensive. It’s £58,755 as pictured, or you can add a Plus pack with extra equipment and a crazed aero kit of front blades and a monster roof spoiler. That’s £64,755, but hey you do get both a + and a Plus in its name.

Still, you can get a bigger, better resolved Porsche Macan Turbo for that. Just saying.

Score: 7/10

Words: Paul Horrell / Photography: Barry Hayden