Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 review: something starting with A
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Mercedes-AMG GLA 35
- Cheapest AMG-SUV you can buy
- Crackling powertrain
- Fast and grippy
- Still quite costly
- Firm ride for a city SUV
- Occupies a strange niche
Are there too many Mercedes-AMG models? It seems that every sub-category in the German maker’s lineup has its own AMG variant. Sometimes two.
It’s kind of confusing. But on the other hand, why not? With M-B’s absolute mastery of platform and component sharing, it has a versatile box of bits to choose from, creating niche models at very little research and development cost.
Which brings us to the Mercedes-AMG GLA 35. The GLA is essentially an SUV version of the A-Class hatchback, albeit with a bespoke body shape. You sit around 140mm higher and get 110 litres more bootspace, for example. So that makes sense.
There are AMG versions of the A-Class, including the A 35 and A 45. So naturally there are performance 35 and 45 iterations of the GLA, although when you start reducing ride height you’re half-way back to making it into a hatchback again, surely?
Perhaps it doesn’t pay to overthink it. People want choice and Mercedes-AMG certainly offers that.
As with the standard A-Class, there’s still a huge gulf between GLA 35 and 45. The former still has an engine breathed-on by AMG, but it’s much more of an everyday machine. The GLA 45 boasts that hand-built screamer under the bonnet (the world’s most powerful production four-pot engine) and an extra 85kW, for example.
The different focus is reflected in the prices. The GLA 35 featured here is $99,990, the GLA 45 $126,400. So there’s the best part of a Suzuki Swift Sport between them.
As a compact SUV with a bit of extra crackle and pop, the GLA 35 certainly fills a niche. It’s unusual-looking but you’d never say dull – especially in the very bright red and very bright chrome of our test car.
Auckland | Auckland City
$652.52 p/w $2,610.09 p/m
It’s far more than just a dress-up: there’s that 225kW/400Nm fettled engine, AMG Ride Control adaptive suspension, lots of AMG bits on the outside (including the all-important Panamericana grille) and those crucial AMG touch points, including a “Performance” steering wheel, leather sports seats and special instrumentation.
You also get the current rotary drive-mode selector on the steering wheel with a digital graphic in the centre. With apologies to Porsche, presumably.
So, flashy urban SUV or backroads blaster? The GLA aims to have a foot in both camps.
Forget the AMG aspect and the GLA works well in a practical sense: high driving position, ground clearance for that lumpy urban stuff (vehicle entrances and potholes) and pretty decent cabin space for a small-medium SUV.
The powertrain is plenty strong enough to cruise around at low revs, but it’s simply not possible to escape the world of AMG completely. The soundtrack is ever-present, the eight-speed dual-clutch is very busy in its first four ratios and the ride is pretty firm. Or downright solid in Sport+ mode.
All of the above will entertain if you’re after an AMG experience (it is pretty fast, with 0-100km/h in 5.1 seconds), but might not appeal so much if you simply wanted a GLA and decided to get one of the more expensive models.
I realise I’m sounding a bit reactionary – like an SUV shouldn’t try too hard to be sporty. But while I totally see the point of an aggressive AMG-enhanced GLC or GLE, I suspect there might be a slightly different set of expectations from buyers of a smaller, more city-friendly SUV like the GLA.
The other thing is that the GLA 35 is still an expensive proposition; although any GLA is. Even the non-AMG 250 (165kW) is $86,500, so you could argue that the 35 is still good value.
Here’s the main takeaway: the GLA 35 is officially AMG’s cheapest SUV. That’s going to get it plenty of attention straight away.
MERCEDES-AMG GLA 35
ENGINE: 2.0-litre turbo-petrol
GEARBOX: 8-speed automatic, AWD