When Europe turns to winter, we testers who live here start getting invitations to go tear across various swathes of rural Spain, and on Spanish tracks, in cars that are entirely too fast and flashy for either a journalist’s budget or the evening church social. I’ve tried to transport a large hot casserole to a social occasion in one of these cars before, and I’ll never do that again.
We travel because generally the rest of the continent suffers from wet and cold winters unconducive to tearing around in borrowed 7,000-horsepower cars. This time, we're harnessing 355 horses from an all-new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine built by Mercedes-AMG. This power generator lives under the hood of the Mercedes GLA 45 AMG 4Matic which arrives in North America in September of this year. As engines go, this new wee AMG firecracker possesses the highest specific output per liter of any series-produced engine on Earth. Next stop: Spain.
I’ve had the benefit of ripping around a track all day in Germany in both the not-for-North America A 45 AMG 4Matic hatchback and CLA 45 AMG 4Matic coupe-sedan-with-trunk. I definitely enjoyed the stink out of the CLA version with this whole AMG mondo setup, but came away whining that not enough Americans have sympathy for costly hot-rod hatchbacks like the stellar A45. That car just crushed my soul and nailed every apex with oodles of glee and completely controllable tail-wag.
But the GLA 45 AMG makes for a worthy substitute. The GLA gets the same tune of the engine and same Speedshift 7G automatic gearbox. It stands 2.4 inches taller than the A45, is just slightly wider, and has 4.9 inches of added length while sharing the same wheelbase of 106.3 inches. Weight on the GLA 45 is up 66 pounds on the A 45, which borders on negligible here, but there is that higher center of gravity to explore.
Mercedes has fiendishly quoted an acceleration time from 0 to 60 mph of 4.7 seconds, but the seat of my pants tells me it will nail the run in 4.3 seconds easy. The launch of the GLA is also the occasion for launching the very latest version of Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel drive. This 4Matic is developed specifically for the new front-drive biased compact chassis shared with the A-, B-, and CLA-Class. It was about time, too; this new 4Matic for the front-drive architecture favors the front driven axle 100 percent under everyday conditions, but can rapidly and imperceptibly jump to a 50:50 split of torque between the front and rear axles. In addition, the rear axle on compact 4Matic models has a differential that uses brake-torque vectoring in order to balance the spinning energy at the rear axle properly between the left and right wheels.
Many will look at the GLA 45 version seen in these photos and wrinkled up your nose a little. To each their own, but this pimpin’ trim is called the Edition 1 and it has everything on it except maybe necklaces of plastic beads thrown from balconies on Bourbon Street. I like the aero treatment front, side, and rear a lot, but…decals? Mercedes-Benz North America is currently weighing whether to bring this even more expensive setup to our shores. You’d be looking at about $57,000, compared to the stock GLA 45 AMG which will come in at around $49,000.
Stick-ons aside, my time driving this 2015 Mercedes GLA 45 4Matic over skinny mountain roads was decidedly gripping. Whereas at the wheel of the 208-hp civilian GLA 250 4Matic I came away telling myself that it was just fine if not very revelatory, kind of nice but blah, the GLA 45 snagged me by the noogies and wouldn’t let go. It is a glaringly different vehicle from the trims below it.
There was rain hitting me most of the way from Granada inland down to Malaga on the coast; as often happens here, though, around thirty miles from the coast the clouds evaporated and the sun shown bright, drying the mountain asphalt under my 20-inch low-profile Continental summer tires.
This AMG calibration of suspension, thicker anti-roll bars, adaptive 7G Speedshift automatic with paddles, and 4Matic, were spectacularly in sync with the conditions. There was little backing off the throttle really. Each punch of that pedal had the 4Matic front-favoring chassis hauling us through the nasty curves with a world of more surety than we would ever have trusted in a typical AMG rear-wheel monster. The 335 hp and then 332 pound-feet torque in the 2,250 through 5,000 revs sweet spot were pure bravura. The chassis — even with the taller bodywork of the GLA — filled me with confidence I was sure I wouldn’t be allowed on this weather day in a different model.
The GLA 45 AMG will strike most people in the United States especially as silly expensive. The even more silly Edition 1 in all of its forced hotness would do fine here because it only needs to sell a few hundred to make the business case. If you value small sports car thrills while having a truly premium German interior, however, this AMG is a sheer blast, feeling as though it has nearly nothing to do whatsoever with the higher-selling GLA 250 4Matic. It's the hot luxury hatch of the moment — at least until the Porsche Macan Turbo gets its passport.
Full disclosure: The manufacturer provided meals, air transportation and lodging for this review