Overall rating: 4/5
Merc's new GLA 45 is very much like its two closely-related AMG cousins: extremely fast, with a great soundtrack and good looks inside and out, but perhaps not the most involving car that has issued forth from Affalterbach.
In the metal 5/5
There were two versions of the 45 at the launch event - and the one that caught the eye was the Edition 1, with its white paint, contrasting black roof spoiler, side graphics and red pin-striping everywhere. It looked very much like the Concept version shown at the LA Auto Show late last year, minus the massive '45' number transfer on the door, and it's very pleasing to gaze upon. Sadly, the Edition 1 won't be coming to Ireland, so the 'normal' AMG version is all we'll get. Luckily, it's very good looking too, with enough clues as to its potential - such as the larger air intakes at the side of the front bumper, the silver twin-blade highlights in the grille and of course the traditional AMG quad-exit exhausts at the back - but the overall effect is wonderfully restrained and subtle, just the way we like our Q cars.
The interior owes a lot to the A 45 and CLA 45, with the same superb bucket seats in the front, red stitching all over the dash and a fantastic Alcantara-trimmed steering wheel to hold. It certainly conveys its intent clearly before you've even fired up the engine, and the final plus point is that the GLA's inherent lack of height (it's not the tallest SUV or crossover around) means you feel like you're sitting on the floor in the 45, further heightening the sense of anticipation.
Driving it 4/5
Again, very much like the A 45 and CLA 45 - the GLA has no shortage of pace and all the major driver interfaces seem pretty well sorted. The steering has a nice amount of heft and feel, the seven-speed DCT gearbox is excellent at blasting up and down the gears, and the brakes are suitably strong and well-weighted. The 4Matic all-wheel drive blesses the car with huge traction at all times and you can feel the GLA shifting drive to whichever wheel needs it most when cornering hard. This habit is not intrusive, just informative as it lets you know exactly when the GLA's limits are being approached.
The engine dominates, though, and it's no less stunning in the GLA than it is in its cousins. It makes a fantastic noise for a four-cylinder turbo and it's incredibly lag-free, considering there's just one giant turbo in there doing all the work. But while it was quick enough, the quoted performance stats (it's just 0.2 seconds behind the two smaller 45 cars on the 0-100km/h sprint, at 4.8 seconds) seem a little optimistic. It didn't feel as if it had quite as much thump as the CLA 45, although that may be because our test car's engine was a bit tight - more miles might unleash a bit more oomph.
What was best about the GLA 45 was its fantastic ride and general composure. It actually feels much more comfortable than the CLA 45, which in itself isn't some rigid nightmare. It may be that the roads in the south of Spain flattered the baby Merc SUV, but it was a strong showing from the GLA, made all the more impressive by the car's strong body control. Roll is simply not an issue when you decide to throw it into corners. What is of more concern is that it lacks that final degree of interactivity that robs the A/CLA 45s of greatness too - it's just too inert when you really go for broke.
What you get for your money 4/5
Prices for the GLA 45 AMG are yet to be revealed ahead of its June launch, but expect it to be in the region of €65,000 when it does go on 'special order' sale. It will come very well-specified as standard but there will still be the option of slotting in things like the Comand satnav system and other toys, pushing the car's price well up - hence why we feel we should consider the Porsche Macan S a rival.
Although the Edition 1 won't be coming to Ireland, the models on display in Spain showed off some of the AMG optional extras you can specify - and the performance exhaust is a must. It provides wonderful pops and bangs in Sport mode as it lobs unburnt fuel into the pipes to provide its naughty soundtrack. There's absolutely no reason not to pick it; in fact, it should be standard fit on all GLA 45s.
The Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG is a superb all-rounder for something this performance-orientated, with an excellent ride coupled with fabulous body control and good refinement. It is almost needless to say it is plenty quick enough for most needs and the four-cylinder engine remains an absolute gem. The GLA AMG is also the biggest of the three '45'-badged cars, so it will win buyers simply for its extra interior space and implied sense of increased security for occupants - but while it's an entertaining enough machine, it's not as sharp as either the A 45 or the CLA 45 and it will cost more to boot. Hence, it's likely to be just as rare. Shame.