As a motoring scribe, you quickly learn that manufacturers go to great lengths to make a point. Some sniggers escaped from the audience when the marketing folks described the off-road prowess of the performance-crossover GLA 45 AMG at its launch.
But the Mercedes team seemed to relish the last laugh. Cynicism dissipated after they encouraged us to let loose on some treacherous terrain and see for ourselves. Axle articulation was tested, wheels were airborne and ruts were conquered.
Much to my surprise, nothing broke.
Car for all seasons?
The modern crossover genre seeks to be all things, to all people. This GLA is no different: it wants to be a track racer, a comfortable daily commuter and a lifestyle companion for buyers who love to get adventurous on the weekends.
With prejudices cast aside, having experienced the car in two of the above conditions, it does seem to pull off this balancing act well. Our test schedule did not include real-world, urban and freeway driving conditions. So we will reserve judgement on that front until we get to spend more time living with the car.
Road less travelled
But back to the off-road bit. We can tell you confidently that the Benz will easily cope with Johannesburg’s potholes and rippled surfaces, despite its chunky alloys and sport-orientated suspension.
Our test units endured more treachery than most examples of the car will see in a lifetime. Maybe it was a tad pointless, driving the GLA through dirt roads and ditches. Most, if not all will spend their lives on tarmac. But the capability is there.
Back on track
It was a cool contrast, driving right off the dirt and onto Roy Hesketh Circuit in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal.
Providing mirth on the track is its forte.
Power comes from the same lauded two-litre, turbocharged engine in the A 45 and CLA 45 AMG models, with 265kW and 450Nm.
It is mightily fast. The fairly short main straight at the circuit discouraged any attempts at testing that 250km/h top speed. But it will dash from standstill to 100km/h in 4.8 seconds, fractionally slower than its siblings.
But you already knew that it would be fast in a straight line. Question is, how does this A-Class on stilts tackle the bends? I will not say that the taller ride height and higher centre of gravity is not noticeable. But at the same time, it never felt uncomfortable being chucked abruptly into the tight corners at Hesketh.
An eager, confident and surefooted feel defined the experience overall. Although, as you would expect, that low-sitting, seat-of-the-pants feel is not as prominent as it is in the A 45. But theatrics like the ferocious “brrrrraaap” between up-shifts never failed to bring smiles and giggles.
Both the A 45 and CLA 45 have taken flak for their harsh ride quality. The higher ground clearance and suppleness of the GLA 45 does add a feeling of greater compliance.
Paying the price
Mercedes-Benz opened the order books and announced pricing for the GLA 45 earlier this year. But the first units have only landed now.
The multi-talented baby AMG commands a premium. You will pay R755 000 to get into one. But that is before you start playing with the options list. And you simply have to: the standard model looks exactly like one of the humbler, cheaper GLA derivatives.
Is it worth the money? On first impressions, it does not disappoint as a performance car. And its resilience on the mildly rough stuff is surprisingly commendable too.
But you cannot discard the notion that you may well end up spending over R800 000, for a well-equipped example. With your practical hat on, it might make sense to buy two cars with the same money: an A 45 AMG for the thrills and a cheaper, rugged off-roader for your adventurous exploits?