March 28, 2016 @ 05:40 PM

Review: Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG – Compact SUV less ordinary

Take a standard GLA, send it to AMG school of hard knocks and you’ll get an SUV that looks and feels ready for racing

Illumination from the digital clock beaming from the piano-black floating panel, which is stuck to the dashboard and still looks very much plucked from the aftermarket bin, has just flicked to indicate the change of time. Although not by a great deal, the hour upon which the minute had switched over from four to five tells me that there are 15 minutes left before two o’clock; the sun has many more hours before it rises. Excellent.

The sky is pitch black and the darkness that surrounds the outside of the vehicle have long intruded inside. Street lights attempt to break the black, only meeting with adequate success. Even then, there are pockets of blackness that the highway-supplied light fixtures unsuccessfully reach. For that, the Mercedes-Benz’s front-projecting LED torches throw much-needed light in front; enough that I could see, whether or not, the life of wild or supernatural is awaiting an ambush. The sonorous rumblings of the monster of an engine should give due warning not to strike out in front of the vehicle; it will lose.

The vehicle is the new GLA 45 AMG, the last three alphabets should be an obvious hint as to what this vehicle really is about — obscenely unbridled power. This GLA’s shape does not even try to humbly blend into its surrounds, preferring instead to completely be the beacon in a sea of mundane mobiles. If the test car came in black then maybe this GLA would have stood a higher chance of not forcing change into the current state of affairs. But the white of this body becomes an eyeball magnet, pulling stares wherever eyeballs seemingly exists.

Affalterbach certainly gave the GLA 45 AMG more sensory ammunition over the standard GLA, and then found places to include the AMG Night package and AMG Aerodynamic package as well. Not every AMG-tinkered GLA will get the opportunity to don the Edition 1 pack; it is only available within a year from the local market’s launch or until stocks are sold. You will want to consider getting the GLA 45 AMG with its Edition 1 guise. The contrast of the white of the body and the high-gloss black larger front splitter, very GT race car like canards on the either side of the front bumper and the large rear wing mounted where the roof meets the rear windscreen, lets the GLA appear more of a racetrack hero than a well-heeled city-street ruffian. The graphics on the flanks seems to highlight that impression even more.

A closer look at the front reveals red markings on the radiator grille, exterior mirrors and diffuser insert. The brake callipers painted in red peeks out from the multi-spoke AMG light-alloy wheels, which is finished in matt black with red rim flanges and wearing 234/40 R 20 threads on all four sides, looking every imposing.

As for now, the situation is calm and there’s nary a sign of life. By now, at the speed that I am going, the windscreen would have picked up smudges of what were unfortunate commuting flying-insects. Perhaps, the warm and humid night air outside is stifling the need to head out for meal and mate. Inside, the dual-zone air-conditioning is set at a just-right temperature of 21-degrees Celsius. The dashboard, centre console and the meter gauges are bathing me in a soft glow of amber and white, in spite of the lights are already toned down for night time.

The interior appointments are of the top shelf and AMG’s tinkering has moved the gear selector from Merc’s traditional place on the steering column to the usual position on the transmission tunnel. The skin-wrapped lever displays proudly the coat of arms of AMG and Affalterbach. Just below that; an Edition 1 nameplate.

Even in here, the Edition 1’s influences are evident by dominating the interior with colours of black and red. But instead of taking on the race car feel of its exterior, the interior’s decor suggests a gran tourer instead. A mixture of Artico man-made leather and Dinamica microfibre covers the AMG Performance bucket seats, armrests and instrument panel. The AMG Performance steering wheel dumps Artico in favour of a Nappa with Dinamica partnership. Skin, be it natural or artificial, is always a pleasure to touch. The material is always malleable to your own form and invites you to be one with it, one with the vehicle.

In a cruise, the GLA 45 AMG feels relaxed. The engine purrs like a sleeping big cat while the electronic synth and drum-beats of Neon Bunny streamed beautifully from my iPhone through the Harman Kardon Logic7 sound system. Nighttime driving does that to you sometimes. Nothing feels rushed, nothing is pushed to the limits. The rev needle’s hover just above the 1500rpm underlines my thoughts.

Although the engine may be turning just above idle, its equivalent speed would have wound up many a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine. If I didn’t know better, I would have said that there’s a V-configuration engine under the bulges of the bonnet.

In the creation of the 2.0-litre four-cylinder for the GLA 45 AMG — and all other 45 AMG cars as a matter of fact — AMG claims to have been inspired by the company’s own 5.5-litre V8 bi-turbo and 6.0-litre V12 bi-turbo, which are some of the world’s most powerful engines. For having just 1991cc of displacement, the engine is able to shift 360bhp and 450Nm out of the firing chambers. Putting it into a broader perspective, the four-cylinder puts out 181bhp per litre, placing it on the same scale as bona fide sports cars.

It needs to be said here, that in spite of the engine’s power, it is crafted together by one man. It is the company’s philosophy — One Man, One Engine — that does not discriminate even the smallest of the range. The name of that One Man is found where his handiwork belongs; in the engine bay itself. You’ve done great work here, Herr Niko Krüger. So let me apologise, Mr. Krüger, for not utilising the engine as how you would like me to. It is hard to find a long stretch of public roads that are safe and well-maintained in order for me to hit the maximum speed of 250kph. There are no Autobahn-equivalent roads here.

But do not for a second doubt the capability of the engine. A few months back, during the launch of the Mercedes-AMG GT S, I raced the GLA 45 AMG through what’s known as the South Track of the Sepang International Circuit. The speed that the so-called SUV accumulated and carried around the corners was nothing short of phenomenal. The rapid fire qualities of the AMG Speedshift DCT seven-speed makes it accelerates quicker than the ‘0-100kph in 4.8s’ of the spec sheet. The transmission evenly spreads power between all four wheels, which are working its mechanical marvels with the suspension system to put the optimum grip on the racetrack. Having said that, the tarmac on the track will always be better than the one on public roads.

Earlier in the day, I replicated the same kind of agility that I last felt in Sepang on a mountain pass that should by now be familiar to one and all. On the menu are fast corners, tight turns and multiple hairpins that are served up one after the other with great frequency. Just as it was on the racetrack, the GLA excels in roads like this. The firmness of the McPherson front and four-link rear suspension — all-new developments from Mercedes-AMG — adds the overall stiffness of the vehicle. Hurl it around any corner and the stiffness of the body endows the vehicle plenty of grip to complete the turn without losing speed. As you go around the corner, you’ll feel the centrifugal force pinning you to your seat, only to slingshot you out of the corner at a velocity ventured only by purebred sports cars. All this in a vehicle that Mercedes-Benz calls an SUV.

It is very predictable too. After numerous drives up and down the same road, the only thing that really kept me entertained was to fine tune my braking and turning points; each time driving a little better, going a little faster. With every passing lap, I soon realised that I was not driving on the ragged edge; never anywhere near it.

Herein lies the problem with the GLA 45 AMG, if you can call it that. So phenomenal is this machine that it makes roads that are, or were, exciting seem to lose hair-raising moments with each drive. You’ll always be on the hunt for another set of curves to drive on just so you can feel the addictive rush of the GLA 45 AMG.

 
CHRIS NG
 
SPEC: Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG

Price
RM375,888 OTR without insurance

Engine
1991cc, 4 cylinders, twin-scroll turbocharger, 360bhp @ 6000rpm, 450Nm @ 2250-5000rpm

Transmission
AMG Speedshift DCT 7-speed sports transmission, AMG 4MATIC all-wheel drive

Performance
0-100kph in 4.8s, 250kph max speed, 7.5l/100km, 175g/km CO2

Weight
1510kg

On sale
Now

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