Keep up appearances and tackle the toughest terrain in Benz’s $80K compact SUV
THIS car could be the parkour champ of the automotive world.
The new Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG (you need to be fit just to get the name out in one breath) may not be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but it has a level of athleticism not normally found in SUVs.
The boffins in MercedesBenz’s fast-car division have seen fit to install the world’s most powerful 2.0-litre fourcylinder turbo engine in its citysized SUV.
The result is a vehicle that can reach the speed limit in a Porsche-like 4.8 seconds, can clamber over an obstacle course, and squeeze into the same size parking space as a Toyota Corolla. All without raising a sweat.
The obvious question: why does the world need such an oddball creation? The obvious answer: we still can’t get enough SUVs, of any shape or size.
Raising the ride height by a few centimetres gives a commanding view of the road ahead, also endowing air of superiority that appeals to buyers. As the marketers tell us, an SUV says to the outside world: ‘I can escape this mess if I want to … even if I happen to be stuck in the same traffic jam as you at the moment.”
Despite the dream of the great escape, few of these cars will get a pebble caught in the tread of their tyres.
Far from venturing off the beaten track, or a smooth dirt road heading to a campsite, most GLA 45 AMGs will be curled up each night in a concrete bunker under a block of apartments, or someone’s two-car garage (Mercedes reckons the GLA 45 AMG is the second “toy” car for its well heeled buyers).
Those who can afford to splash $80,000 on a GLA — the price of four Toyota Corollas or three Holden Captivas can expect a surreal experience once behind the wheel.
It is quite the missile. It even has a “launch control” mode, not unlike a Formula One racing machine.
Clearly this is a showroom gimmick and something that will probably never be used outside a demonstration day — first you need to crack the equivalent of the Da Vinci Code, by which time the traffic lights have changed back.
It goes like this: press a button on the centre console, press hard on the brake pedal with your left foot, pull on the two gear levers on the steering wheel at the exact same time, floor the throttle with your other foot, then let go of the levers and, within five seconds, take your foot off the brakes.
If you get that right, all hell breaks loose and you scream away (without a hint of wheelspin, it’s all-wheel drive) with one of the best exhaust snap, crackle and pop sounds in the business.
Or, if you don’t get it right (I put my hand up), you make quite a leisurely departure and have to pretend that you weren’t really trying to get the perfect start any way.
But for me the biggest surprise is how well the GLA 45 AMG corners, despite riding much taller than the hot-hatch counterpart, the A45 AMG, with which it shares underpinnings.
The massive 20-inch, lowprofile tyres help. The grip is prodigious. But AMG also has messed with the laws of physics.
Given its height, the GLA should lean in corners. It doesn’t, which is off-putting at first but it is truly remarkable.
Dislikes? Not many. The engine could benefit from a little more pulling power from lower revs but this is the tradeoff for making so much grunt when you floor the throttle.
And it’s not as roomy as some rivals. Mercedes-Benz has intentionally gone for style over space when it comes to the cargo area. The sloping roofline gives the GLA its good looks, which come at the expense of carrying capacity.
If you want a sensible alternative that’s just as much fun to drive (and has all-wheel drive, for those who head for the snow and don’t want to fit chains), with a roomier cabin and a bigger boot, consider the epic Volkswagen Golf R.
Priced from $51,990 it may be the most expensive Golf money can buy, but you’d also keep $21,000 or so in your pocket.
If you want to keep up appearances, climb the odd mountain or conquer the urban jungle — briskly — the GLA 45 AMG won’t disappoint.