Twenty years ago, Mercedes-Benz introduced the C36 AMG, its first fully sanctioned model with the aftermarket tuner it now wholly owns. An advertisement created for the Detroit Auto Show snickered, “If this were the fifth grade science fair, we’d be the kid who brought in a homemade atomic particle accelerator.”
True that – the car would keep pace with a Camaro Z28 thanks to its 276 horsepower V6. It’s still impressive, but nothing like today’s particle accelerator, the GLA45 AMG.
Keeping pace with today’s Camaros, the CLA45 AMG packs a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 355 horsepower and 332 lb.-ft. of torque. All of that testosterone is routed through all-wheel-drive and a quick-action 7-speed paddle-shifted dual-clutch transmission. Put it in sport mode and you’ll see 0-60 mph in 4.4s; slam down the Autobahn at 167 mph with our car’s performance package. Fuel economy, should you care, is rated 23/29-MPG city/hwy.
The AMG performance exhaust signals belly-cramping theatrics whether burbling in the driveway or wailing off the clouds with foot firmly planted. You’ll never get tired of exercising the turbocharger, but your backside and underside get a thumping from the sport-tuned suspension. While stiff, the chassis soaks up city streets relatively well, feeds the song of asphalt directly to your bones on the highway, and slurps up curvy two-lanes. I did a three-hour Interstate run and I’d do it again.
The GLA45’s design is much more shocking than the C36 was two decades ago, but Mercedes designers are genius at referencing the past without you really knowing. Twin hood bulges come from the 300SL Gullwing, five air vents with center twists on the dash come from the ‘70s/’80s SL roadster, and the big star in the grille identifies the GLA as a sporting ‘Benz. Carbon fiber replaces wood on the dash. If you’ve never driven a Mercedes, or owned them forever, you’ll slip right in.
Still, you know the car is special. It has that slammed AMG Hammer look that’s made the sub-brand so famous. As in the S63 AMG I tested last spring, people scatter from the left lane when they see your grille. Red brake calipers behind black 20” AMG alloys are especially fetching. So is the Northern Lights Violet paint. While they grip warm dry pavement like my daughter harpoons blueberry puffs, trade out the summer tires before the first flurry falls. All-wheel-drive won’t matter.
You’re reminded of the car’s seriousness when your butt and ribs are intercepted by the heated Recaro sport seats. Further confirmation comes from the leather-and-suede steering wheel with flat bottom. I’d keep the steering wheel (awesome), but opt for the standard sport seats unless track days are in your future. Either way, turn up the harman/kardon surround audio, open the panorama roof, and hit it. Mercedes’ joywheel-controlled COMAND system conjures up navigation with 3D maps and access to The Cloud while Bluetooth, USB, and voice controls add convenience. Check the blind spot assist and rear camera for safety.
Go for a ride in the GLA45 AMG and you’ll know your particles have been accelerated and that two decades have clearly passed. The GLA starts at just $33,300, but the GLA45 AMG rises from $48,300 to $63,775 as tested. That’s a lot of money, but not for a Mercedes with the full AMG treatment.
2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG
Five-passenger, AWD hatchback
Powertrain: 355hp 2.0-liter T4, 7-spd. auto trans
Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
Wheels: 20”/20” alloy f/r
Brakes: disc/disc fr/rr
Must-have features: Performance, Utility
0-60 mph: 4.4s
Top speed: 167 mph
Fuel economy: 23/29 mpg city/hwy
Base/As-tested price: $33,300/$63,775