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One Week With: 2018 Mercedes-AMG GLA45

A hot hatch with a price tag worthy of a Mercedes

Eric Weinerwriter, photographer

When I last drove the GLA45 nearly three years ago, I walked away wondering a lot of things. Why Mercedes didn't give it more power never crossed my mind, but lo and behold, the 2016 models arrived with 20 more hp and 18 more lb-ft of torque. Its 0-60 time dropped by half a second, too, to a seriously impressive 4.3 seconds. Then I saw the 2018 Mercedes-AMG GLA45, with its more gaping front diffuser, fat rear spoiler, and flashy Mountain Grey Magno matte paint. All I wondered was why didn't the GLA45 look this good in the first place?

Truly, this German hot hatch finally looks as wild and crazy as it drives. The matte paint has a handsome sheen. There's a chunkier and more purposeful look to the front end, with its redesigned front splitter and air intake grilles, while the rear gets a touch of boy-racer with its huge roof-mounted spoiler and new rear diffuser insert. Kitted out with the $750 AMG Night Package that also adds black chrome AMG tailpipes, it's a mean-looking machine to be sure.

I wish I could say I enjoyed driving it as much as I enjoyed looking at it. No doubt the GLA45 is a riot in Race mode, foot to the floor, the turbocharged engine riding a torrent of jowl-rippling boost, as the seven-speed dual-clutch runs through its shortened gear ratios with the zeal of a skittish squirrel climbing a tree. The brakes have a ton of good bite, the steering is accurate enough, and the engine sounds sinister with its delicious braps and pops from the $650 AMG performance exhaust. The problem is that the Ford Focus RS offers similar performance (and similarly atrocious ride and interior quality) for nearly $30,000 cheaper, with a 0-60 time of 4.5 seconds and a top speed of 165 mph. Hell, a VW Golf R will rattle off the same 4.5-second sprint with just 292 hp, and you'll enjoy skipping the trip to your chiropractor to boot.

"Fun car to blast around in, but the transmission starts to act jerky when you slow to a stop, especially in Sport and Sport+ modes," notes Detroit bureau chief Todd Lassa. "Suspension crashes uncomfortably on bumpy metro Detroit roads, too. I just don't find the GLA45 distinguishing itself much from other far more affordable hot hatches, aside from the three-pointed star."

I felt much the same as Todd on that point, which is why the GLA's interior is such a letdown. With an as-tested price of $71,185, I expected to be blown away by German luxury compared to a Focus RS, WRX STI, or Golf R, but no amount of faux aluminum, MB-Tex slathering, or contrast red stitching can hide dated design and cheap plastic on key touchpoints. The infotainment screen and interface, for example, is still clunky and difficult to use compared to the elegance and advancement seen on the new E-Class. And while the $850 Dinamica interior package adds a softer touch to the overly fattened steering wheel, it's a small consolation for an otherwise lackluster interior. It's best, too, to avoid the $2,250 AMG performance seats, which would be a lot more useful if my commute was on the Hockenheimring. Sadly that's not the case, and the seats deep bucket shape and hardness take their toll even on short commutes, while also making ingress and egress a chore.

You won't hear me argue that the GLA45 is an impressive performer, and when pushed to its limit, offers a fabulous agility and manic attitude not found elsewhere in Mercedes-AMG's U.S. lineup. This German hot hatch, however, demands quite a bit more sacrifices in the way of comfort, technology, and cost, than I'm willing to overlook.

If you want a freakish performance version of a pedestrian premium small car, look instead to the just-released Audi RS3. It holds an equally unique place in the market, and both outperforms and outclasses the GLA's CLA45 sibling.

2018 Mercedes-AMG GLA45 Specifications

PRICE $51,595/$71,185 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/375 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 350 lb-ft @ 2,250-5,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD crossover
EPA MILEAGE 22/28 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 175.0 x 79.6 x 58.2 in
WHEELBASE 106.3 in
WEIGHT 3,461 lb
0-60 MPH 4.3 sec
TOP SPEED 167 mph