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Mercedes-Benz GLA 2018 review: GLA45 AMG

EXPERT RATING
7.1
The AMG A 45 is Australia's most unhinged hot hatchback. So does putting the same turbocharged engine in a more grown-up SUV body make the Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 more mature? Or more mental?

Buuuuuuuur, parp, buuuuuuuuuuuur, parp. Anyone who knows anything about cars immediately recognises the sound of a 45-engined A-class derivative. It's the sound you hear in a tunnel as old mate blasts past with a giant carbon-fibre wing atop his hatchback. It's the sound you hear at 3:00am on a summer morning (if your suburb has no speed bumps, of course).

In short, that sound means big power from a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, a seven-speed transmission, and a bunch of Germans who clearly had a sense of humour in charge of tuning the exhaust note.

Sure, the GLA compact SUV is probably a slightly unexpected source of all that noise. But then, Merc's Ingolstadt rivals stuffed Audi's stupendous five-cylinder engine into a Q3 to make the hugely improbable RSQ3, so why not do the same with their skirts-lifted A-Class?

To be honest, my expectations for this car were low. So do I owe Mercedes a grovelling apology? Or can I still claim the moral high ground after a week of GLA 45 "ownership"?

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class 2018: GLA45 AMG
Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L
Fuel Type98ron
Fuel Efficiency7.5L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price fromNo recent listings

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   7/10

The GLA 45 lightens your wallet by no less than $89,211 - more than double the GLA 180 front-wheel drive, and about $5000 more than the bonkers (and ancient) RS Q3.

Packed into the GLA's kit bag are 20-inch alloy wheels, a 12-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, comprehensive safety gear, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, electric and heated front seats, sat nav, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, leather trim (some real, some not), auto parking, powered and heated folding mirrors, a massive sunroof and dynamic dampers. There's no spare tyre, just a tyre-repair kit.

Packed into the GLA's kit bag are 20-inch alloy wheels. (image: Peter Anderson) Packed into the GLA's kit bag are 20-inch alloy wheels. (image: Peter Anderson)

The multimedia system is Mercedes' COMAND unit and it is as user-unfriendly as ever. It does, however, power a very decent stereo, and also offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Thankfully our car was bereft of both the carbon-fibre package ($990) and the aerodynamics package ($1990).

The brightwork in the cabin is still a bit odd looking, and it's still overcooked with its red detailing. (image: Peter Anderson) The brightwork in the cabin is still a bit odd looking, and it's still overcooked with its red detailing. (image: Peter Anderson)

Is there anything interesting about its design?   7/10

The GLA45 isn't a looker, but then, none of the GLAs are. There's a certain blobbiness to it. A bit of Teletubby mixed with...um, another Teletubby. It's not ugly, it's just not particularly attractive. The 20-inch wheels do much to lift the appearance and negate the effect of the raised ride height compared to the A45/CLA45.

The GLA45 isn't a looker, but then, none of the GLAs are. (image: Peter Anderson) The GLA45 isn't a looker, but then, none of the GLAs are. (image: Peter Anderson)

The body kit stops just short of lairy, which is heartening. So if you want to stand out, venture out into the aftermarket world.

Inside was a mild surprise. The last time I drove a CLA 45 I used the word "gaudy". While the GLA isn't amazingly better, the texture of the Alcantara replacing the brushed metal-look plastic, or the carbon of the option pack, was much more pleasant. The brightwork in the cabin is still a bit odd looking, and it's still overcooked with its red detailing, but it is an otherwise beautifully built and well-detailed interior.

There's a certain blobbiness to it. A bit of Teletubby mixed with...um, another Teletubby. (image: Peter Anderson) There's a certain blobbiness to it. A bit of Teletubby mixed with...um, another Teletubby. (image: Peter Anderson)

How practical is the space inside?   7/10

The front seats are utterly brilliant and feel as good as they look. On first acquaintance they may feel under-padded, but once you've adjusted them to your liking, you never want to leave. The AMG cars also feature one vast improvement over a normal GLA - the ergonomic disaster of a column-mounted shifter is removed, with a console-mounted shifter added where a small cubby once lived. It's so much better, although the Park button is oddly difficult to press.

  • The GLA's boot holds an entirely reasonable 421 litres. (image: Peter Anderson) The GLA's boot holds an entirely reasonable 421 litres. (image: Peter Anderson)
  • Boot space rises to 1235 when you drop both rear seats. (image: Peter Anderson) Boot space rises to 1235 when you drop both rear seats. (image: Peter Anderson)

When luxuriating in those snug front seats, you'll have access to two cupholders and door-mounted bottle holders, as well as a console bin (where the USB ports are) and a tray under the climate controls. Rear seat passengers will find legroom tight but headroom good, even with the huge sunroof.

The GLA's boot holds an entirely reasonable 421 litres, rising to 1235 when you drop both rear seats.

Rear seat passengers will find legroom tight but headroom good, even with the huge sunroof. (image: Peter Anderson) Rear seat passengers will find legroom tight but headroom good, even with the huge sunroof. (image: Peter Anderson)

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   8/10

AMG's fabled 2.0-litre turbo four lurks under that higher bonnet, still kicking out an improbable 280kW and 475Nm. Drive reaches the road via Merc's own seven-speed twin-clutch transmission and all four of its wheels.

All that power and grip translates to a 4.4-second dash to 100km/h for the slightly tubby (over 1600kg) GLA, but just between you and me, anything under five seconds feels scorchingly quick.

AMG's fabled 2.0-litre turbo four lurks under that higher bonnet. (image: Peter Anderson) AMG's fabled 2.0-litre turbo four lurks under that higher bonnet. (image: Peter Anderson)

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

The official combined-cycle figure suggests the GLA45 will consume 7.5L/100km. Obviously that figure is largely irrelevant, and not just for the usual reasons, but because you don't buy a GLA45 to potter about in. I got, uh, 12.5L/100km, so you can imagine how much I was enjoying it.

As you might expect, you'll need to feed it 98RON.

What's it like to drive?   7/10

When the 45-badged cars first launched, they were something of a revelation. BMW's turbo six-cylinder fans sniffed at the 2.0-litre's staggering outputs and all-wheel-drive chassis, but this car really captured the imagination. The GLA45 might be slightly unexpected, but it's better in almost every way as a daily driver than the A or CLA.

For a start, its higher ride height seems to translate to a much better ride quality. Anything on 20-inch wheels should have an appalling ride, but the GLA45 manages to be firm yet comfortable. Put the other two in Race mode and you'll need to up your private health insurance extras to include osteo, physio and whatever "o"-ending specialist fixes your back.

The ergonomic disaster of a column-mounted shifter is removed, with a console-mounted shifter added where a small cubby once lived. (image: Peter Anderson) The ergonomic disaster of a column-mounted shifter is removed, with a console-mounted shifter added where a small cubby once lived. (image: Peter Anderson)

The improved ride quality meant I was far happier to chuck this car around. While it doesn't have the same ultimate overall performance of the lower cars, it's far more comfortable whether you're on it or just driving around. The front seats are supportive and comfortable, and the steering is excellent.

As for the engine...well, it still farts like toddler during a moment of silence at a funeral, but you can't deny its technical brilliance and huge power outputs. I remember the CLA45's engine as being a bit highly strung. Perhaps I couldn't separate the overall high-strung nature of the car from the engine, but I felt the same engine in this car wasn't as jumpy.

The way it propels this car into triple figures is tremendous fun. It's not as charismatic as the Audi five-cylinder, perhaps, but that doesn't matter in the end - it's properly fast, attached to a better chassis and offers a cabin with a driving position fit for humans.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / unlimited km warranty

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   7/10

The GLA comes with nine airbags (including driver's knee), blind-spot sensors, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, forward-collision warning and mitigation and driver-attention detection.

The GLA does not have its own ANCAP rating, but the A-Class on which it is so heavily-based scored five stars in 2013.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   7/10

The Mercedes standard warranty is three years/unlimited kilometres with roadside assist to match. Service intervals are a very reasonable 12 months/20,000km.

The company also offers capped-price servicing - first service is $576 but the second and third are a whopping $1152 each. Three years will set you back $2880.

Verdict

My wonderful wife, who is not really into this kind of car, admitted to me in a quiet voice that she really liked the GLA45 as long as it was in Sport + mode. And I have to agree. While I'm very fond of the ridiculous Audi RSQ3 (that turbo five-cylinder sounds amazing), I think I'd stump up the extra for the GLA.

Importantly, it can be comfortable, it can be quiet and it's a better fit for most humans than the A or CLA. It is getting on a bit and could do with a further clean-out of the poor ergonomics, but in what is likely its final year on sale, it's still a belter.

Has Peter finally lost it? Can the GLA45 be the best of the A-side 45 trio? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Pricing Guides

$48,990
Based on 167 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$36,900
Highest Price
$65,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
GLA180 1.6L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $36,900 – 59,990 2018 MERCEDES-BENZ GLA-CLASS 2018 GLA180 Pricing and Specs
GLA 180 1.6L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $38,800 – 56,800 2018 MERCEDES-BENZ GLA-CLASS 2018 GLA 180 Pricing and Specs
GLA 180 NIGHT EDITION 1.6L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $40,700 – 47,850 2018 MERCEDES-BENZ GLA-CLASS 2018 GLA 180 NIGHT EDITION Pricing and Specs
GLA 220 d 2.1L, Diesel, 7 SP AUTO $43,890 – 51,040 2018 MERCEDES-BENZ GLA-CLASS 2018 GLA 220 d Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.1
Price and features7
Design7
Practicality7
Engine & trans8
Fuel consumption7
Driving7
Safety7
Ownership7
Peter Anderson
Contributing journalist

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Pricing Guide

$89,211

Lowest price, based on new car retail price

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