Name your favorite new sports car under $60,000. You may have come up with a few cars, but I think none of you answered with the Mercedes-Benz AMG GLA45. Yes, the GLA45 is considered an SUV, and it is made by the conservative people at Mercedes, but it is one the most fun cars made today, and that includes many cars that cost a lot more money.

The GLA45 is a vehicle that you take on a twisty canyon road or a lap of your favorite circuit. It will easily handle the job while providing the driver with a lot of smiles. Unlike many other cars, it can carry five people and their cargo in comfort at the same time.

The fun starts with a beautiful exterior design that has compact proportions with short overhangs. It looks tidy and clean, yet aggressive. You have to take a second look because the GLA45 is based on the GLA, which is the entry level SUV from Mercedes Benz and is supposed to be something you buy because you can’t afford the more expensive options.

The GLA45 is powered by the M139 2.0-liter engine, the world’s most powerful turbocharged four-cylinder manufactured for series production. It makes 382 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque. The new engine is entirely assembled by hand on a new production line in the AMG engine production facility in Affalterbach.

The new engine features numerous intelligent design features. In contrast to the transversely mounted four-cylinder in the 35-series AMG models, this new engine has been turned around its vertical axis by 180 degrees. This change in position means that the turbocharger and the exhaust manifold are now positioned at the rear, on the side of the firewall. The intake system is positioned at the front. This configuration allows the flattest possible and most aerodynamically advantageous front section design. Furthermore, the new arrangement allows for improved air ducts with shorter distances and fewer diversions, on the intake and exhaust sides.

The new twin-scroll turbocharger combines good responsiveness at low engine speeds with high power in the upper rpm range. The shaft of the compressor and turbine wheel is mounted on anti-friction bearings, minimizing mechanical friction in the turbocharger. The turbocharger therefore responds quickly and reaches its maximum speed of up to 169,000 rpm rapidly. With a maximum charge pressure of 2.1 bar (30 psi), the 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo engine takes in lots of air to make its 382 horsepower.

The high power output requires a well-engineered cooling system. The GLA45 system is designed to enable the cylinder head and crankcase to be cooled to different temperatures. This innovative measure allows for a cool cylinder head for maximum output with efficient ignition timing, and a warm crankcase to reduce in-engine friction. Cooling of the cylinder head is ensured by a mechanical water pump, while cooling of the crankcase is via a second, electrically driven high-performance water pump. After a cold start, this pump remains passive until the engine has warmed up. In operation it is regulated by the engine control unit so that the crankcase is always cooled accordingly.

The standard transmission is an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission that feeds the power of the M139 engine to all four wheels. Power distribution is adjusted by the computer from front to rear and side to side via AMG Torque Control, depending on the conditions.

The result is a sprint from zero to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds and an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph. Mercedes-Benz claims that the engine has been tuned to be responsive and feel like a naturally aspirated engine, but you will know instantly from behind the wheel that this is a turbocharged engine. There is a slight lag from the turbo but once boost builds, there is a rush of power. The shifts are super quick and best of all the engine sounds wonderfully eager to rev.

Set the dial to comfort and the car behaves like a house cat. There are other modes such as sport and sport+, but forget them. Just go straight to race mode and leave it there. This is where the GLA45 comes to life and behaves like an AMG. Brake hard for a corner and the GLA45 downshifts rapidly, getting you in the right gear, blipping the throttle along the way. Floor it and it will shift at redline. Do this with the windows down because the exhaust note is so good that you will want to do this over and over.

The GLA45 engine is a work of art, but what really makes the GLA45 so much fun is the chassis. All suspension components have been thoroughly revised to achieve a higher maximum lateral acceleration together with easy vehicle control at the limits. A McPherson strut design is used at the front axle. The suspension includes one transverse control arm below the wheel center, one suspension strut and one tie rod respectively. The special axle geometry reduces torque steer for exceptional comfort and agile handling.

The new aluminum wishbone reduces the unsprung mass and enables a more sensitive response from the springs. Brake calipers at the front axle are radially bolted, a technology from motorsport that brings added stability. The front axle carrier is rigidly attached and thus additionally stiffens the front section.

The four-link rear suspension is also rigidly connected to the body via a rear axle carrier, and therefore torsionally rigid. There are three transverse control arms and one trailing arm, plus specific bearings per rear wheel. This design ensures maximum driving stability and agility.

The best part of the GLA45 driving experience is not about outright grip at the limit. A Corvette, a 911 or even a Mercedes-AMG GTC have more grip and produce more impressive numbers. What makes the GLA45 so much fun is that it feels small and light and it communicates with the driver so that you can push the car to the limit with confidence. The GLA45 feels as light and nimble as a Civic Si, but can run with the big boys such as M3s. And the driver always feels in control and the car never feels like it can break away suddenly.

As befitting an AMG vehicle, the GLA45 also offers tons of luxury features such as the Mercedes virtual assistant that helps you talk to the car without pressing any buttons. Just say “Hey Mercedes, call Mike at home” for example and it does the job. The only thing we really could find to complain about is the overly complex information system. If they could make a stripper version of the GLA45 with fewer luxury features, this would be an insane bargain.

The GLA45 is a lot of car, but it is still out of reach for many ordinary people. But then an AMG is not for ordinary folks. Prices start at $55,000 which is a great deal for what you get. Our tester listed for over $72,000, which is a lot, but if you are careful with options, you can get all of the good things such as the AMG performance seats, Burmeister 590-watt 12-speaker stereo, and more for just over $62,000. Then go out and blast around and enjoy life. There are more powerful performance cars out there, but not many are as much fun to drive as the GLA45.


Engine: 2.0-liter DOHC turbocharged inline four-cylinder
Horsepower: 382 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 354 @ 4,750 – 5,000 rpm
Front Suspension: McPherson strut
Rear Suspension: Multilink
Transmission: AMG SpeedShift DCT eight-speed dual clutch
Axle Ratio: NA
Curb Weight: NA
Base MSRP: $54,500
Image courtesy of AMG

Join the Discussion