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 Mercedes-Benz 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 Mercedes-Benz A-Class or Mercedes-Benz 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.