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Auto review: Hot, hot hatch: Mercedes-AMG 45 is a more refined sport

Robert Duffer, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Automotive News

Kryptonite is known to drain Superman of his powers. The color kryptonite green has the opposite effect on mere mortals getting behind the wheel of the super AMG GLA45.

The No. 1 comment we got about this hot, hot hatch was about the color; the second was, Who is it for?

The second question is harder to answer, especially as a middle-aged suburban dad who got the kind of quizzical looks best reserved for a guy in a phone booth changing into spandex. After a week behind the wheel, I wanted to make excuses to drop off the kids here, there or anywhere just to take another spin. And when it left, I wanted to go with it.

Mercedes markets it as a small crossover, which may be true for the base GLA 250. They're never going to call it a hatch on these shores, no matter how hot. We so love our crossovers. But the AMG is an altogether different vehicle than the base GLA; it's an inch longer, 2 inches shorter, and powered by a handmade 2-liter turbo four-cylinder engine tuned to make a whopping 375 horsepower.

Starting at $50,600, it's a more refined hot hatch for drivers who are just a bit removed from their tuner boy Type-R or Golf R days. In all-wheel drive, it might be best compared to the bigger-winged Ford Focus RS.

As for higher-end hot hatches, AMG has the market cornered in the U.S. BMW does not sell a similar M version, and the Audi RS3 is not in the U.S. Yet.

Slap $20,000 worth of AMG upgrades, including a rear wing spoiler, and splash it in metallic Kryptonite green and it turns heads on the street as quickly as it lights up a smile behind the wheel.

It fit a hockey bag just fine, though the stick had to go through the pass-through in the 60-40 rear seats. At school drop-offs, it was well-behaved, though I probably wouldn't have opted for the aerodynamics package ($1,950) consisting of the wing, flics and a poutier, more protruding splitter. One option that was appreciated during our 350-mile round-trip weekend getaway were the performance seats ($2,250). Power bolsters can curve up the seat bottom or round out the side bolsters to sit as snug or relaxed as you like, and it made for easy snoozing for our passenger on the way home. The ride is quiet and smooth, thanks to the more sensitive but variable air suspension as part of the dynamic plus package ($2,800).

On the highway it's soft. Off the highway and onto a long, unbroken country highway flanked by corn and windmills as far as the eye can see, the GLA45 in sport mode turns into a rocket. The suspension firms up enough to ride the undulations as the all-wheel-drive system and 20-inch wheels ($850) hold the road with unshakable confidence.

The real difference is the high-whirring, handcrafted 2-liter turbo four-cylinder engine. The 2-liter turbo four is the engine of choice for most luxury compacts, but this rig far exceeds other turbo fours. Once it eclipses 2,000 rpm all that 350 pound-feet of torque throws you back until the cornrows are a wall of green -- beyond hitting 60 mph in a manufacturer-claimed 4.3 seconds.

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