As far as SUVs are concerned, there aren’t too many that live up to the “sport” tag in the acronym. Sure, they’re utilitarian enough to support a sporty lifestyle – being able to cart the kids to the footy, carry the skis to the slopes or lug a mountain bike to the bush – but very few are genuinely sporty enough in the way they get you there.
Those that do – the Porsche Cayenne, BMW X5M and Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG – trade more on their brutish power than overall agility; when pushed hard through a twisty back road, it’s obvious they are still compromised by their sheer size and high-riding underpinnings.
The Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG is the opposite. Having sampled it over a series of challenging mountain passes in southern Spain this week, it seems the boffins at Affalterbach forgot it was meant to be an SUV at all.
Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG
Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG.
Sure, being a few sizes smaller than those previously mentioned would naturally make it feel more nimble anyway, but once behind the wheel it is hard to pick any differences between how it drives and its rapid little brother, which itself has raised the bar for hot hatch performance well beyond its rivals.
While it sits a little higher off the ground than the Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG with which is shares so much, there is no penalty to the way it handles with pin-sharp steering and huge reserves of lateral grip thanks to its larger 20-inch alloys that are wrapped in Continental ContiSport rubber.
Like the hatch, the ride is relatively stiff but well controlled and it still can’t hide its front-drive underpinnings when driven towards its sky high limits as the front-end will push wide during heavy cornering under a trailing throttle. But, get back on the gas and engage the part-time four-wheel drive system (which had an occasional grinding noise on our test car) to send up to 50 per cent of its power to the rear wheels and the GLA45 bolts out of the corner with fantastic traction.
The high-pressure 2.0-litre turbo engine, which produces 265kW and 450Nm to claim the title as the world’s most powerful four cylinder, and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic are amazingly flexible in how docile they work together around town yet how manic they can be at full noise.
Using the brutal launch control function, the GLA45 AMG can rocket to 100km/h in just 4.8 seconds, which is only marginally slower than the A45 AMG and Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG (the sedan version of the A45) but puts it near the top of the list among the fastest SUVs on the planet.
In standard comfort mode, the engine is reasonably quiet and has great low-rev pulling power to allow the gearbox to shift early and improve fuel economy. But flick it into Sport or full manual mode, and the sport exhaust is more vocal as it whooshes towards its 6500rpm redline, then cracks like a stockman’s whip on the upchange and gargles unburnt fuel when you back off.
While that level of similarity in the driving experience prompts a few questions about why the GLA45 AMG even exists in the first place, it looks different enough to forge its own character and the marginal increase in rear space and cargo-carrying capacity may appeal to some over the A45 AMG. But, in reality, the GLA45 AMG is a high riding hot hatch more than a SUV.