The Mercedes-Benz GLA is the smallest crossover that the brand produces and it was just recently updated. But what happens when it gets stuffed with the most powerful 2.0L turbocharged engine that Mercedes produces? You get the bonkers 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG.
Engine – The 2.0L turbocharged engine under the hood of this GLA is one that will be with us for a while. Next generation C-class AMG vehicles will utilize it – albeit with some hybrid assist – so it’s a good thing then that this is one powerful little engine. In North America, it produces 382 hp (285 kW) and 354 lb-ft (480 Nm) of torque. In Europe, the GLA 45 is available with a 421 hp (314 kW) version of this engine. But even with 382 hp, the GLA 45 AMG can hit 100 km/h in just 4.4 seconds according to Mercedes-Benz. An impressive time but getting the most out of this engine requires you to be in the correct rpm range.
At low rpms, the boost threshold is quite high. As in, if you put your foot down without letting the transmission downshift, you’ll be waiting a while until the turbo builds boost to accelerate the car at a decent pace. Above roughly 2,500 rpms, the turbocharger spools up almost immediately when you put your foot down. However, let the transmission do it’s thing and you’ll never run into the problem of boost threshold.
At the other end of the spectrum, the engine could return decent fuel economy numbers if you’re gentle with the throttle. It is rated for 11.6 L/100km (20.3 MPG) in a city and 8.8 L/100km (26.7 MPG) on a highway. I wasn’t as gentle as I could have been and only managed 11 L/100km (21.4 MPG) during my time with the GLA 45 AMG.
Transmission – This new generation of the GLA comes equipped with a new 8-speed dual-clutch transmission. Just like the 7-speed that it replaces, the shifts are lightning fast and smooth, of course depending on which drive mode the car is in. But where the new 8-speed is improved is when setting off from a stop. The clutch engagement is smoother in this 8-speed when compared to the old 7-speed. It also feels less hesitant and like as though the car is learning to drive a manual for the first time. Of course if you engage the launch control system, the computer basically dumps the clutch at launch and allows the GLA 45 to hit its impressive 4.4 second 100 km/h mark.
Braking – This being an AMG vehicle, the 2021 GLA 45 comes to a stop like as though it crashed into a tree. In everyday driving situations, it takes very little effort from your foot to bring the car to a stop. Thankfully, the brakes don’t feel overly sensitive so you can perform smooth stops. When driving more enthusiastically, the 4-piston front calipers clamp hard on the discs providing tremendous braking force; like as though you crashed into a tree, for lack of a better metaphor.
Handling – The 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG has the same powertrain as the CLA 45 AMG I drove last year. But because this is considered a crossover and is taller than the CLA 45, it does have a bit more body roll through corners. However, this doesn’t mean that the GLA 45 isn’t fun around twisty roads because it is.
The 4MATIC+ AWD system can send quite a bit of the engine’s power to the back wheels where a limited slip differential will then distribute the power to the wheel that needs it. This can make the back end of the GLA 45 feel as though it’s going to get away from you when pushing hard through corners. But the excellent stability control will ensure that you stay in control at all times. Of course if you turn it off, you can feel more of the back end of the GLA trying to rotate more. Overall, although this is not a hot hatch in the traditional sense, it does feel like one at times.
Ride Comfort – The Mercedes GLA 45 AMG is equipped with standard adaptive dampers with three modes. While there is a noticeable difference between the softest and stiffest settings, the ride is still on the firm side. In Comfort mode, you’d be Ok for longer drives but you may want to try to avoid the deeper potholes. In Sport+ mode, the suspension lets you feel the texture of the road, which is great for driving around a smooth race track, but not so good when driving over unmaintained roads.
Interior Space – This being a crossover SUV, headroom is plentiful thanks to the taller roofline. Legroom is also plentiful in the front two seats. In the back, you’d expect the rear legroom to be tight. Not so, surprisingly. Behind my 6’4” driving position, I can fit relatively comfortably. It’s not a place I want to be for a long road trip. But for a quick drive through the city, taller adults could sit in the back of this compact crossover. Trunk space is rated at 435 L (15.3 cu-ft) with the rear seats up and 1,430 L (50.5 cu-ft) with the seats folded.
Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – The standard GLA 250 is a pretty quiet little crossover. However, this race inspired GLA 45 AMG is not subtle at all when it comes to noise. The good noise that it makes, comes from the exhaust system…. sort of. It does have a valved exhaust that gets louder at the push of a button. The engine has a deep and throaty 4-cylinder tone with pops at certain rpms when upshifting. However, inside the cabin, some of the exhaust noise is amplified by the audio system. It’s a system that Mercedes-Benz calls “AMG Real Performance Sound”.
The bad noise that this car makes is very evident when driving on a highway. Tire noise from the tires is very tiring. Sorry, didn’t mean for that to rhyme. But the high performance summer tires produce a noise that is always evident.
Odds and Ends
Gadgets – With a starting price of $60,500 CAD ($54,500 USD), the 2021 GLA 45 AMG is not a cheap subcompact crossover. Furthermore, the base price is over $8,000 CAD more expensive than the base price of the last generation GLA 45 AMG. However, standard features on the 2021 GLA 45 include a panoramic sunroof, 19-inch alloy AMG wheels, automatic emergency braking, LED headlamps, heated front seats, leather upholstery, and dual 10.25” driver & infotainment screens to name a few.
But features like navigation, Apple CarPlay & Android Auto, wireless phone charging, garage door opener, power tailgate, lane departure warning & keep, blind spot sensors, surround view cameras, head-up display and a few more are optional extras. So this little “hot hatch” can easily end up costing more than $85,000 CAD ($78,000 USD)!! Of course it’s worth noting that the standard and optional features differ between Canada & the United States. Base models are equipped differently in the United States as are the features available in different packages.
Interior Design – The cabin of the GLA 45 AMG is not all that different from the GLA 250. The only key differences are the AMG performance steering wheel, the AMG Performance seats (if equipped), and the red seat belts (if equipped). Other than that, the cabin of the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG is nearly identical to all other GLA models, and in fact, the GLB, CLA, and A-class vehicles. It sounds like I’m complaining but I’m not. It’s a very good looking interior, especially at night with the ambient lighting.
Exterior Design – The GLA 45 AMG sits a bit lower than the standard GLA 250 but is still higher off the ground than the CLA 45 AMG. This demo vehicle came equipped with optional 21-inch wheels that fill the wheel gaps very nicely. In the front, the AMG has a more pronounced front bumper and the Panamericana grille that many other high performance AMG models receive. Around the back, it has a subtle diffuser and a subtle roof mounted spoiler.
Warranty – The 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG has a basic 4 year / 80,000 km warranty in Canada. It also comes with 4 years / unlimited km roadside assistance, 4 year / 80,000 km surface corrosion, and 8 year / 130,000 km warranty for certain emission parts. Click here for more Mercedes-Benz warranty information.
Overall, I’m a little bit perplexed by the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG. On one hand, it’s a very fun, exciting, and over the top car. On the other hand, it’s a very expensive hot hatch. In Canada & the United States, it does fill a gap that is left empty by the A45 AMG Hatch which is only available in Europe. However, for the exact same price as this demo vehicle ($73,540 CAD, $68,690 USD), you can get the GLC 43 AMG with the Technology & Premium packages. So that’s why I’m left feeling a bit perplexed by this car. It’s a lot of fun but for the same money, I can get something more practical for day-to-day life.
Thank you to Mercedes-Benz Canada for providing the vehicle. www.Mercedes-Benz.ca