The Mercedes-Benz GLA-class is very fresh on the market, with 2014 being its first production year and with 2015 models just beginning to roll into showrooms. The GLA comes in a variety of forms for different markets around the world, including a diesel-powered version. Here in the States, we’re left with only two iterations of this compact SUV: the GLA 250 4MATIC and the GLA 45 AMG.

The little terror you see above is that GLA 45 AMG – a 2015 model to be exact — and this monster is about the furthest thing from an SUV. Sure it’s got a moderate ride height and all-wheel drive, but that’s just the sheepish covering over this sinister wolf.

This villain packs a 355-horsepower punch under its hood thanks to a 2.0-liter four-cylinder packing 26.1 pounds of boost from its twin-scroll turbocharger. A seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission provides lightning-quick shifts while the sport exhaust burbles, pops, and cracks at every opportunity. The 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system employs torque vectoring to keep the Continental tires biting the pavement and the speed-sensitive steering keeps everything pointed in the right direction.

I recently spent a week getting to know the GLA 45 AMG and its bad-boy characteristics. It turned heads and perked ears everywhere it went, calling attention to itself like a narcissistic super genius — and perhaps rightfully so, because it somehow morphed itself from an SUV into a hot hatch.

Click past the jump for the full review of the 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG

  • 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG - Driven
  • Year:
    2015
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    inline-4
  • Transmission:
    Seven-speed Dual Clutch
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    355 @ 6000
  • MPG(Cty):
    23
  • MPG(Hwy):
    29
  • Torque @ RPM:
    332 @ 2250
  • Energy:
    Turbocharged
  • Displacement:
    2.0 L
  • 0-60 time:
    4.8 sec.
  • Top Speed:
    155 mph
  • Layout:
    Front engine; All Wheel Drive
  • Price:
    54405 (Est.)
  • Price:
  • car segment:
  • body style:

TopSpeed Garage

Exterior

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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With this GLA’s AMG treatment, it gets its own style grille with the satin double bars bisecting it.

The Mercedes GLA-Class has a unique look in general. Its roofline and greenhouse are proportionally tall comparatively, and its beltline rises high to match. It reaches tall, wanting to be an SUV, or even a crossover, but it just comes across more as a hatchback. That is certainly not a bad thing, however, as it gives ample room inside for four passengers to ride in comfort and five in a pinch. The taller ride height also eliminates that sports car on-the-ground feel while providing a good view outward.

With this GLA’s AMG treatment, it gets its own style grille with the satin double bars bisecting it. The beautiful 19-inch, AMG wheels really set the GLA apart and look even better with the drilled and slotted rotors with the grey brake caliper residing just behind.

Despite the GLA 45 AMG’s self-confusion with a hot hatch, it still carries a few visual cues that Mercedes classifies it as an SUV. The front and rear bumpers, along with the rocker panels sport satin-colored “armor” while the wheel wells are trimmed with black plastic to protect the paint.

Interior

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG - Driven Interior
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2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG - Driven Interior
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2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG - Driven High Resolution Interior
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The rear passengers aren’t treated to the same Recaro buckets, but they do get plenty of room in every direction.

While the GLA’s exterior might be confused about itself, the interior has no struggles about its sporty intentions. The optional Recaro seats have tall bottom and side bolsters that give bear hugs upon sitting down. The beautifully curved seatbacks feature chrome cutouts that look ready to accept a five-point racing harness.

The suede-lined steering wheel has perfect cuts at three and nine o’clock positions and fat grips at 10 and two. The dashboard is covered in carbon fiber with aluminum trim pieces. The carbon-fiber look extends to the AMG-branded gauge cluster where the weave acts as a dark background against the satin chrome and red-lined needles.

The rear passengers aren’t treated to the same Recaro buckets, but they do get plenty of room in every direction. I sat rather comfortably behind myself and had nicely padded places to put my elbows, both on the door and folding center armrest.

If more room is needed for cargo, the rear seatbacks fold flat. A ski pass-though in the center armrest allows for longer items with only the one seat being sacrificed.

Powertrain

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG - Driven Drivetrain
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The engine is mated to Mercedes’ seven-speed dual clutch automatic with paddle shifters.

Here is where the fun really comes in. The GLA 45 AMG is powered by a hand-built, 2.0-liter, inline four-cylinder with a twin-scroll turbocharger that puts out 26.1 pounds of boost. The combination is good for an impressive 355 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque.

The engine is mated to Mercedes’ seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic with paddle shifters. It offers three selectable modes: Controlled Efficiency (or comfort), Sport, and Manual. The shifts come quickly, especially when in Sport or Manual mode and the generous amounts of throttle are being used. The shifts are followed by a snappy pop and burble as the sport exhaust belts its loud song. Accelerating is a joy both physically and audibly.

Mercedes includes its 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system to keep the power under control. The system uses torque vectoring that will send up to 50 percent of the power rearward when the extra grip is needed. While that doesn’t sound impressive, the GLA 45 AMG will happily wag its tail in oversteer around corners. Under normal operation, the 4MATIC system sends the majority of power to the front wheels in an effort to conserve fuel.

Speaking of that, the EPA rates the GLA 45 AMG at 23 mpg city and 29 mpg highway. My heavy foot and thirst for hearing that exhaust crackle proved that the EPA numbers were more of an aspirational goal than a realistic target. I saw roughly 24 mpg combined over my 400-mile week. Keep it in Eco mode and stay off the throttle, and the SUV’s average does climb. Eco mode provides an automatic start/stop function for stop and go traffic, so by leaving that engaged and the lower-gear-holding Sport mode off, the mpg numbers do improve.

Driving Impressions

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG - Driven Interior
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The Continental tires are willing to grip and the beefy sway bars and coil-over shocks make body roll nearly non-existent.

The GLA 45 AMG proved to be an absolute riot to drive. It actually reminds me of the Fiat 500 Abarth in its ferocious noises, firm suspension, and outright surprise in power. Sure, the GLA would smoke the Abarth in nearly every competition besides parallel parking in downtown New York, but they both share a similar character.

When driving with purpose, the GLA firms up and feels taught, ready to leap forward or dig into a corner. The Continental tires are willing to grip and the beefy sway bars and coil-over shocks make body roll nearly non-existent. The dual clutch pops off quick shifts whether in Sport mode or Manual, and provides great downshifts at the proper moment when under hard braking in Sport mode.

I did take issue with the transmission in one area. When in Manual mode, the transmission will not shift automatically or hold the rpm when reaching redline; it actually has the engine cut power. This comes into play when letting the engine wind out and not up-shifting right before redline. Miss the mark, and your acceleration run is quickly put to an end.

Another issue I had was engaging launch control, or as Mercedes calls it, Race Start. The order of buttons to be pushed and the parameters that must be met are simply too complicated. Perhaps extra practice with ownership would overcome the dilemma.

Otherwise, the driving experience in the GLA 45 AMG is a fantastically sporty one with loads of fun and excitement to be had.

Pricing

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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Pricing for the GLA 45 AMG starts at a rather sizeable $48,300. My tester had several options that made quite a difference in the driving experience, but that did raise its price by some $6,000. Those were the Panorama roof ($1,480), the AMG Performance front seats ($2,250), the AMG Performance steering wheel ($500), and the beautiful carbon-fiber interior trim ($950).

Though my tester didn’t come with a build sheet for exact pricing, putting all these options together on Mercedes’ website showed my GLA to have a price of $54,405.

Competition

Audi RS Q3

2014 Audi RS Q3 High Resolution Exterior
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The Q3 as been on the market for several years, but it’s just now making its way to the U.S. for 2016. Unfortunately, the much sportier RS Q3 isn’t making the jump just yet. But like the GLA, the Q3 is the smallest crossover in its respective automaker’s lineup. Its compact size helps its scoot around with a fair level of sport, even with a moderately powerful engine.

While the Q3 might have six engine options in other areas of the world, the U.S. market only gets one — the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder. That’s not a bad thing as the engine puts out 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. Power is routed through Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system with a front axle bias. Of course the true competitor to the GLA 45 AMG is the RS Q3 with a 2.5-liter five-cylinder making 310 horsepower.

Pricing for the Q3 starts at $32,500 for the Premium Plus package and $36,400 for the Prestige package. There’s no official word on whether the RS Q3 will ever be offered Stateside.

BMW X1 M Sport xDrive35i

2014 BMW X1 M Sport sDrive28i High Resolution Exterior
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BMW X1 M Sport sDrive28i pictured here

The BMW X1 has been on American showrooms a few years longer than its competitors and has gained a strong foothold in the marketplace. Like its new challengers, the X1 comes in a variety of flavors, from soft luxury to the sportiest of the bunch, the X1 M Sport xDrive35i.

Power comes from the 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline six-cylinder making 300 horsepower. The xDrive portion of the crossover’s name means it comes with BMW’s intelligent all-wheel-drive.

Pricing for the X1 starts at $30,900, but the M Sport xDrive starts at $42,250.

Conclusion

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG - Driven Exterior
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The GLA 45 AMG proved to be a great driver’s car in terms of sporty handling, a strong powertrain, good grip, and an exhaust that just begs to be heard. The Alcantara and carbon-fiber bits on the interior, along with the Recaro seats, match the mechanicals’ soulful purpose. Like the Fiat 500 Abarth, the GLA 45 AMG is a heck of a hooner, but the GLA just works better as a regular car when the need arises. It’s the five seats a decent cargo hold that make this SUV turned hot-hatch into a usable sports car, but they don’t take away any of the fun.

  • Leave it
    • "Race Start" can be complicated to engage
    • Blind Spot gave a few false alarms
    • Starts getting pricy with options
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