The elephant in the room
Sadly the model I drove may become fairly redundant soon with the upgrades recently unveiled on the A-Class for next year, most likely filtering down to the GLA series. Expect power to be bumped up to 280kW and torque up to 475Nm. There will also be suspension, electronics and gearbox improvements.
On the track
Back to the car that I drove, I remember driving the GLA around the track; it was pouring with rain and although there was the obligatory under steer associated with all-wheel-drive cars there was also a sure-footed character to the way the GLA pulled around the circuit. It is also insanely fast in a straight line (0-100km/h in 4.8 seconds). I hit 180km/h down the back stretch of Redstar Raceway, which is really moving; the brakes handled track-driving well, too.
On the road
The GLA made more sense that its A-Class sibling; it rides a whole lot better and if my memory serves me correctly the seven-speed dual clutch unit from the A45 that I drove, seemed a bit more hesitant than the GLAs which also emits that gunshot crack from the exhaust on up-shifts in manual mode. The launch control function in the GLA was also happier than in the A-Class, which often wouldn’t engage this function.
Does it stack up?
Having driven the Porsche Macan and Audi’s RS Q3, the Mercedes still feels sharp on the road with flat cornering characteristics and good feedback from the wheel. It is a far better road car than a track car, and the road is where it will be, most of the time. Just beware of the consumption; the best that I could achieve during my tenure was 13.5 litres/100km versus the 7.5 litres/100km claim.
The car is noticed everywhere it goes. Those massive AMG wheels, off-set by blistered arches, roof racks and door sill guards mean you have a car that was designed to look like it would be an accomplished pavement hopper. Inside, the GLA is very much business as usual for Mercedes-AMG, with lashings of leather, suede and brushed aluminium. There are a few surfaces that exhibit poor quality plastic though.
The GLA is some R120 000 more than the A45 AMG at R790 843, which is quite hefty. It is also R20 000 more than the updated Audi RS Q3 however, the Porsche Macan S is almost R110 000 more than the GLA.
I was left slightly cold by the A45 AMG when I first drove it, but coming in to the road test of the GLA I had lower expectations and therefore the car exceeded them. I enjoyed my time with the GLA; it is fast, relatively comfortable, looks fantastic and stacks up well against its rivals.