The smaller end of the performance SUV market looks a lot more complex and interesting all of a sudden.
That’s mainly thanks to the introduction of the Porsche Macan - but some credit for the newfound richness must go to an offbeam alternative to the Porsche from Mercedes-AMG, which might just be good enough to make you wonder if you really need a performance SUV at all. It is the GLA 45 AMG.
This hot 4x4 sits squarely in the ‘crossover’ camp. It makes an Audi Q3 RS look like a bespoilered tower block, and has a silhouette much more like a generously proportioned family hatchback than a jacked-up station wagon. However, while it makes the GLA undeniably distinctive, that positioning does invite questions about exactly what’s on offer in this car.
You don’t get a particularly convenient hip point, nor particularly commanding forward visibility. Boot space is better than in a typical five-door hatch, second-row passenger space is likewise – and both are much more generous than in an A-Class or CLA. But neither is generous in absolute terms.
The GLA’s a second-generation sort of crossover. It has a layer of SUV versatility just thick enough to add flavoursome punch to the usual German premium-brand recipe, but – like fresh horseradish sauce on a salt beef sandwich – absolutely not enough to make you wince.
And, conveniently for Affalterbach, that makes the GLA a very credible candidate for a performance makeover: relatively light and low-riding, with little fat-on-the-bone or concessions made to unnecessary offroad suitability.
Fitted initially with a 355bhp, 332lb ft turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, identical to the powertrain found in the A 45 and CLA 45, the GLA is reputed to be capable of 0-62mph in 4.8sec and limited to 155mph. This was later upped to 375bhp in 2015, after Audi put Mercedes-AMG's nose out of joint with its more powerful RS3.
The GLA 45 also rides 15mm lower than a standard GLA (but still 40mm higher than an A45), and features a chassis modified with not just beefed-up springs, dampers and stabilisers but stiffer steering knuckles and bushings too.