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Keep up ap­pear­ances and tackle the tough­est ter­rain in Benz’s $80K com­pact SUV

Herald Sun - Motoring - - ROAD TEST - JOSHUA DOWLING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING ED­I­TOR joshua.dowling@news.com.au

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).

DRIV­ING

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.

VER­DICT

If you want to keep up ap­pear­ances, climb the odd moun­tain or con­quer the ur­ban jun­gle — briskly — the GLA 45 AMG won’t dis­ap­point.

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