26.1 pounds of boost. A seriously stiff suspension. Matte paint finish. Brash red-painted brake calipers. A showy wing. A silly loud exhaust.
Do any of those describe your mental image of a Mercedes-Benz product? Or, when presented with that combination of features, do you conjure a car rejected from one of the early The Fast and the Furious films?
When the Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 was revealed a couple of years ago, I recall writing it off as a pretender â€“ after all, itâ€™s a crossover! After spending some time in this absurd vehicle, however, I began to appreciate the magic of AMG.
Letâ€™s first acknowledge one large elephant â€“ the sticker price:
No, Iâ€™m not kidding. Base price of the GLA 45 is $50,600 plus destination charges. This tester has over twenty grand in options, which Iâ€™ll discuss shortly.
Forget the obvious all-wheel-drive hatch competitors like the Ford Focus RS ($41,120) and the Volkswagen Golf R ($39,375) â€“ once you option the littlest AMG like my test car, other performance models come into the picture.
Like I said, this â€œcrossoverâ€� (scare quotes because a crossover is just a hatchback with added ride height) starts at about $50,000, but quickly escalates with haphazard clicking of options:
Designo Mountain Grey Magno paint (the magnificent matte grey finish): $2,500
AMG Performance Exhaust: $650
AMG Performance Seats: $2,250
AMG Aerodynamics Package: $1,950
AMG Dynamic Plus Package (adjustable suspension, limited-slip front differential, RACE mode): $2800
Multimedia Package (navigation, smartphone integration, DVD player): $2300
Illuminated Door Sills: $350
Red brake calipers: $300
And so on. Some of these things are frivolous, certainly, but the performance seats, performance exhaust, and dynamic package turn this into a seriously fun car.
We return to preconceptions of what a Mercedes-Benz product should be. I expect wood, metal, and acres of leather when I open the vault-like door. The AMG GLA 45, however, betrays the mass-market crossover beneath, with plenty of hard plastics. The swath of suede-like material across the face of the dash, combined with the same material lining the steering wheel, conveys a racey feeling, and the red-trimmed dash vents and red stitching add to the atmosphere.
The Recaro-branded AMG performance seats might require acclimatization. As I sat in the perforated leather chair, I was certain my wife would despise riding in this car. The padding is seriously firm, and the high bolsters can be confining. She surprised me, however, by proclaiming these as some of the best seats sheâ€™s ever encountered. That firm padding was perfectly supportive, and the bolsters kept her contained as I explored what the GLA 45 could do in the corners.
She did complain about those high thigh bolsters, however, when it was time to get out.
The kids had plenty of room behind those sport seats â€“ leg room was plentiful, and the folding armrest helped divide warring sisters. Roomy too was the cargo area. A weekâ€™s worth of groceries had plenty of space, as did a weekendâ€™s worth of sports gear for the kids.
Even if you havenâ€™t had the privilege of traveling to Germany, weâ€™ve all heard the stories of Mercedes-Benz sedans being used as taxis in the Fatherland. The idea behind those tales is that they arenâ€™t seen as luxury conveyances â€“ theyâ€™re just cars. Max Hoffman, with great effort, made certain that the early Benz models to come to the States were sold as premium, exclusive cars with a price to match, and weâ€™ve taken the bait.
In other words, Americans donâ€™t buy a Mercedes-Benz product to blend in.
The GLA 45 fits that mold, with bold spoilers and big wheels, red brake calipers behind those wheels, and (in the case of my tester) velvety matte grey paint. Mercifully, this car didnâ€™t have the illuminated grille star, which is perhaps the most flamboyant way to tell the neighbors you can spend an extra $450 just because.
The GLA 45 is garish. Iâ€™m not sure how well the styling will age â€“ the lovely W201 sedan of the Eighties is simple and timeless, while this funky hot hatch has some youth-focused bits that will be dated in a year or two. But I dig it â€“ itâ€™s unapologetically goofy.
Want to wake the neighbors? Select Race mode in the GLA 45, and crank the engine. The AMG performance exhaust is decidedly unsubtle. In my week with the car, my wife didnâ€™t need an alarm clock. Yeah, I heard about it when I got home. For the sake of domestic tranquility, consider waiting until youâ€™re down the street to switch modes.
Even when set to the softest setting, the adjustable suspension was rather firm â€“ again, selecting the Race mode on the shocks set my teeth a-rattling on pockmarked Ohio interstates. But when I pulled off the slab to a twisty two-lane, the firm setting eliminated any hint of body roll, letting me enjoy every bit of the road.
No, I never got this car up to impolite speeds, but even when enjoying the back roads, I could feel the very effective limited-slip differential help pull the car through the corners. The rear felt like it wanted to step out a bit, but the all-wheel drive kept everything in check even on wet roads.
375 horsepower is incredibly addictive in such a small car. Launching from a stop was a clichÃ©-inducing affair â€“ neck-snapping, jaw-dropping, etc. One just doesnâ€™t expect to get off the line so rapidly. I did notice a bit of turbo lag when between gears, as the dual-clutch transmission doesnâ€™t have a torque converter to absorb some of that lag. Still, itâ€™s only noticeable when driving aggressively.
That transmission shifts very quickly, and perhaps a bit more harshly than other dual-clutch units Iâ€™ve sampled, though it works beautifully in automatic mode. Choosing your own ratio with the column-mounted paddles yields quick shifts that slam home at full throttle, but otherwise are nice and smooth.
Silly. Absurd. Bonkers. Iâ€™ve used some adjectives here that I typically wouldnâ€™t when describing a rather expensive car.
But Iâ€™m glad Mercedes-AMG offers this insane GLA 45. Itâ€™s a sign that, even though every car maker has shifted its focus to the dreaded crossover, there are companies willing to make driving those crossovers enjoyable.
The price is steep, though Iâ€™m sure with judicious option choices the sticker might become more palatable. But the sheer joy of driving this vehicle, knowing that it is fundamentally a crossover, makes me seriously consider what it would take to put it in my driveway for good.
[Images: Â© 2017 Chris Tonn/The Truth About Cars]