There's a big battle out there in the high-performance SUV world. In power and torque stakes, as well as the 0-100 km/h sprint, the new Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG eclipses the almost-new Audi RS Q3 compact SUV.
In garden-variety cars none of these figures matter a bit to most punters. But, these are no ordinary cars. And those figures do matter to those who buy high-performance vehicles.
The GLA 45 AMG has been launched because Mercedes-Benz seeks to cover all bases in the compact SUV segment – one of the fastest growing markets in Australia, indeed globally.
The new Mercedes GLA 45 AMG puts 265kW power and a huge, for this size vehicle, 450 Nm of torque onto the tarmac. The Audi manages 228kW and 420Nm.
The difference shows in the traditional sprint to 100 km/h. At 4.8 seconds the AMG gets there almost a full half second ahead of the Audi RS Q3. To the enthusiast this a massive gulf.
With the push into compact high-performance cars by all luxury makers, Mercedes says it is starting to see two car-AMG households. One is a traditional V8-powered car such as the C63 and sitting alongside is one of the compact AMGs. His and hers? No way according to Mercedes spokesman, David McCarthy. "They are both for the same driver," said Mr McCarthy.
Perhaps this is one reason why Mercedes has sold around 2000 AMG badged cars this year and could well reach 2500 be year's end. AMG sales now represent between eight and nine percent of all Mercedes sales in Australia. GLA 45 AMG hits showrooms at $79,900 before on roads, $2000 less than the Audi.
Mercedes let motoring journalists loose with the GLA 45 AMG at Melbourne's Sandown race track after a road trip to Yea and back. What you look for in AMG vehicles is the Wow! factor and the GLA 45 has plenty of this. Like the car it is based on, the Mercedes GLA 250, the AMG version is a hot hatch as much as SUV.
On road the GLA 45 has good manners and although the ride seems firm, it's not as rigid as the sibling A 45 AMG. This softer ride means more passenger comfort on lumpy Australian roads. As we found out at the Sandown, there appears to be no compromise in handling via the softer suspension. We were also impressed by the NVH compared to the GLA 250, although Mercedes say there has been no added sound deadening.
We also tested the race-start function. You put your left foot on the brake and right foot flat to the floor on the accelerator. Release the brake and the AMG takes of like a scalded cat with all four wheels gripping the black stuff beautifully. It's a handy function for track days, but we suspect hard on the car and would not be something we'd use all that often.
Where GLA 45 shines is in handling, steering and braking which you expect from a car that carries the AMG badge. It drives more car-like than SUV and the harder it is pushed the more capable it feels. Unless you defy the laws of physics and go into a corner, the car exhibits nil understeer, thanks to the inside-wheel soft-braking technology, pulling it into line.
While the engine is belting out torque it also offers 7.6 litres/100 km fuel consumption
The Mercedes GLA 45 AMG follows closely on the launch of the GLA 250 4Matic SUV a few months back. It is powered by a 1991 cc engine that AMG uses as the basis for the GLA 45 AMG. Power in the 250 4Matic is limited to 155 kW and 350 Nm that send the car to 100 km/h in 7.1 seconds. What AMG have achieved with that engine in the GLA 45 AMG is the most powerful series-production four cylinder engine in the world.
While the engine is belting out torque it also offers 7.6 litres/100 km fuel consumption and a combined CO2 of 177 g/km which gives it compliance with EU 6 emissions that come in effect in 2017. It is speed limited to 250 km/h. The AWD system also carries over from the GLA 250 4Matic and the transmission is an AMG Speedshift DCT 7-speed sports. DCT stands for dual clutch transmission, Mercedes having developed their own DCT system which is being introduced in the Mercedes range.
The 2.0-litre turbo-charged engine features spray-guided direct petrol injection via piezo injectors with an injection pressure of 200 bar. Also, this is no mass-produced engine. All AMG engines are assembled by hand, with the assemblers signature placed on an engine badge.
To reduce turbo lag AMG uses a twin-scroll turbocharger, maximum de-throttling of the exhaust system and the innovative injection system. In short the twin-scroll turbo provides an almost immediate build-up of charge pressure and utilises the exhaust back pressure and temperature as well as exhaust gas pulse. This adds up to providing maximum torque from just 2250 rpm.
The GLA 45 AMG is fitted with a sports exhaust that features an automatically adjusting exhaust flap. Hit the throttle hard and the flap opens wide to reveal a sonorous burble. Cruise at 110 km/h and the exhaust note is barely noticeable, giving drivers the best of both worlds.
The DCT transmission has three modes as well as a 'race start' mode for maximum acceleration off the line. Mercedes tells us the shift times in manual mode and sport mode are similar to those in the stunning SLS AMG sportscar with the transmission fully utilising the engine's direct injection technology.
For normal driving the GLA 45 AMG has a C mode (which carries the interesting tag of 'Controlled Efficiency') where the emphasis is on smooth driving and economy, it automatically activates the Eco stop-start function when the vehicle comes to rest.
The Electronic Stability Program is a three-stage system with ESP On, Sport Handling Mode and ESP Off. In addition the car is fitted with Curve Dynamic Assist which during hard cornering quietly brakes the inside wheel to reduce understeer.
While the GLA 45 AMG hammers off the mark, it also stops quickly thanks to an AMG high-performance braking system. The discs are vented, cross-drilled and grooved. The front 350 mm units have four-piston aluminium calipers while the rear 320 mm discs have single-piston calipers.