Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 S Plus 2020 UK review

As with the old car, the GLA 45’s mechanical make-up is pretty much wholly reflective of its hatchback cousin.

With the UK again not receiving the 382bhp ‘base’ variant, there’s only the GLA 45 S, which extracts an extremely stout 416bhp from its 2.0 litres and four cylinders. It’s the most powerful four-pot in series production, with an impressive specific output of 209bhp per litre.

Crucially, Mercedes-AMG has worked to calibrate the delivery of its full 369lb ft of torque to come in at a surprisingly high 5000rpm. The intention is to remove the linear power delivery common with many turbocharged cars and introduce a more peaky, naturally aspirated-style top end. 

What this translates to is a car that perhaps feels less muscular than you might expect in the low- to mid-range. There’s still ample pick-up once the needle clocks 3000rpm, but there’s none of the thump-in-the-back drama of Audi’s five-cylinder unit. It doesn’t sound as characterful either, despite the theatrical pops and bangs in the angriest drive modes, but it’s more engaging than the old GLA 45’s engine as the reward is a crescendo of power as the rev needle swings across the dial, catapulting you forward at a startling rate.

While our road driving didn’t allow for properly timed launches, if the A45’s performance is anything to go by we’d confidently say the quoted 0-62mph time of 4.3sec is conservative – this should be a four-second car (perhaps even less) in the right conditions. 

But this isn’t the one-dimensional driving experience that some all-wheel-driven performance models deliver. Sure, it can be neutral, approachable and unflappable if you want it to be, with limpet-like grip levels even in damp weather. Only a touch of torque steer is occasionally evident if you plant your foot in a low-speed corner exit, but otherwise the rack itself is accurate, naturally weighted and more feelsome than most performance hatchbacks or crossovers.

No, the GLA 45’s most impressive feature is the electrohydraulic four-wheel drive system’s ability to chuck up to 100% of power not only to the rear axle, but individually to each rear wheel. This means a more neutral, balanced cornering stance aided by strong stability, and virtually no understeer. Of course, you can also drift, which is novel in a small SUV, but in a more natural and progressive way than some similar systems. Once you trust that the back end will swing round (and it will), you’ll find that even someone of modest talent can have fun moments of rear axle rotation that are managed effectively by the electronics. 

It’s so entertaining that it’s easy to forget you’re carrying more than 100kg more (with a body a full 190mm taller) than the A45. Really, the only noticeable difference is a smidgen more lean on initial turn-in, and a more SUV-like driving position detracting slightly from the overall experience. 

Familiar low-speed compromises remain, too. Like the A45, there’s a not insignificant amount of driveline shunt from that otherwise quick-changing dual-clutch gearbox when crawling around town or parking, making smooth manouevres a learned art. The ride is taut, though not uncomfortably so in the softest setting of our car’s (you guessed it, optional) adaptive dampers. And the turning circle isn’t great, either. 

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