For all its blistering pace and all-wheel drive trickery, the Mercedes-AMG A45 S has one problem that’s hard to ignore: the A35. Granted, the latter swaps the bombastic 416bhp full AMG inline-four for an Affalterbach-fettled lump from the A250 and loses the Drift Mode silliness, but 302bhp and 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds is hardly slow, is it?
It’s not just about the raw numbers, either - the A35 feels fast too, and is suitably dramatic for something wearing the letters A, M and G on its rump. Of the two, the A45 is the one I lean towards, but I’d always question whether parting with an extra £15,000 or so was really worth it. I thought it might be the same case with the new GLA 35 and 45 S, but after trying both on the same day, I discovered upping the ride height and the weight makes things go a little differently.
The GLA 35’s pace and ability can’t be questioned. Speed builds quickly, gears are swapped quickly and efficiently by the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, and the all-wheel drive system provides a shocking amount of traction. You need to be going in pretty hot to experience any understeer.
The trouble is, none of this is terribly exciting. The GLA 35 doesn’t feel fast and unhinged like a small car with 302bhp ought to. Lifting it off the ground takes away some of the sensation of speed while adding weight (it’s 100kg bulkier than an A35) blunts the acceleration. 5.1 seconds to 62mph isn’t bad, of course, but it never has the eagerness of its hatchback cousin. It’s admittedly been a while since I’ve driven the lower ‘35, but I could swear the GLA 35’s upshift bangs are a little more bassy and muffled.
After leaving the GLA 35 hot seat underwhelmed, I was worried the same might happen with the GLA 45 S. Not so. The gap between these two cars seems - in comparison to the jump from A35 to A45 S - absolutely cavernous. The ‘M139’ inline-four has more than enough shove to make up for the less ideal body it finds itself in here, firing itself off the line with particular enthusiasm if using the launch control system.
As in the A45 S, the 7200rpm redline is less appealing IRL than it sounds on paper, with a big, soft rev limiter meaning you don’t want to stray too close to the top end when in manual mode. With peak torque of 369lb ft arriving at a relatively lofty 5000rpm and peak power not felt until 6750rpm, you do still need to rev it out, though. It makes a muscular, if not particularly spectacular noise when you do so.
For reasons we’ve not yet been able to ascertain, the GLA 45 S doesn’t have drift mode. Does that matter? Not really - I’ve never been quite sure where you’re supposed to use such a feature, and in any case, you do still have the same ‘fully variable’ all-wheel drive system. This includes a pair of multi-disc clutches at the rear - one for each wheel - and unlike most modern systems powered by transverse engines, this setup is able to give a rear bias.
Get really greedy with the throttle, and you won’t have silly angles going on. Even if you are able to get the GLA 45 S out of shape to a reasonable degree, it’s all sorted out without the driver having to do a whole lot. Despite this, and the occasionally ‘fake’ feeling of the oversteer, it does make for a more interesting drive. The little pivot it does in the middle gives a more lively sense to proceedings while making the car feel more pointy.
It’s an unhinged, laugh-out-loud little crossover that’s ridiculously fun to drive fast. It’s just a shame AMG hasn’t used the GLA’s additional suspension travel to make something more comfortable than the rock hard A45 S. Instead, it seems like everything has been massively stiffened up to stop the taller ‘45 from rolling so much.
Admittedly, it fares well in this regard, but at the expense of comfort. Whatever driving mode you’re in, the ride on the adaptive dampers is punishing on rougher roads. The upshot is the damping is much better sorted here than it is on the ‘35 - yet another reason the ‘lesser’ hot GLA should be overlooked.
With a base GLA 35 weighing in at £43,565 compared to £58,755 for the cheapest GLA 45 S, we don’t take our recommending of the latter lightly, but the premium can be justified. If it’s a fast crossover you want, this is a strong choice. An even stronger one would be to get an A45 S and save £8000, but horses for courses, and that…