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Compact Benz SUV with plenty of bite

If Goldilocks was in the market for some new wheels, this might be the first tyres she would kick.

A car that’s exciting but not quite wild.

Premium, but not prohibitively so.

Sporty and edgy, but still practical.

Could it be that this Mercedes-Benz GLA35 AMG is juuust right? Quite possibly.

It’s yet another reminder that there’s always another niche machine hiding around the corner.

Not that hiding would be a priority in this latest little rocket from the German maker’s coveted AMG stable.

The GLA35 takes an already attractive machine, in this case the second-generation of Benz’s GLA baby soft-roader, adds some extra performance and style and equipment, but not to the point of excess.

It lands at a perfect mid-point between insanity and the mundane of a family shopping trolley.

The AMG badge means added performance from its highly tuned 2-litre engine, not to mention bigger brakes, sharper handling and upgraded sports seats and accessories. It also brings some added cache in the shopping centre car park – the ‘mum’s car’ that dads will grab at every opportunity.

As ridiculous as it sounds, the angry little four-cylinder, turbocharged engine that brings 225 kilowatts and a beefy 400Nm to the GLA35 is not the most powerful version offered on the compact GLA.

That belongs to the wilder, faster and more expensive GLA45, a car that brings an unlikely 310kW to the table, somehow teased from the same four cylinders.

Still, with 225kW the GLA35 will bring a grin to its driver’s face, becoming a smile stretching from ear to ear after learning this model is more than $20-grand cheaper than the fully-frantic GLA45. That’s money to put towards a radar detector or the first set of replacement tyres.

It’s AMG Lite, if you like: faster than a conventional model but not as explosive as the fully-fledged Affalterbach hot rods. Benz has performed the same trick with each of its recent AMG models – with each V8 version offering the choice of a slightly more sensible V6 alternative – meaning there are as many as 10 of its performance-enhanced models across the SUV range alone, and almost as many AMG sedans and coupes.

The GLA35 is also close to being the cheapest way to own an AMG badge. However the GLA35 still adds up to a solid ask of $83,000 plus on road costs – with not much change out of $100k after factoring in extras such as the AMG aerodynamics package ($2990) and Vision pack ($1190), as fitted to the test car.

Even so, pound for pound (or kilowatt per dollar) that makes it seriously good buying for a quick SUV.

It’s based on the second generation of Benz’s baby soft-roader, which landed in Australia a year or so ago – and the difference is night and day. This car feels larger and sturdier in every respect, is loaded with additional technology including Benz’s excellent MBUX infotainment system and its classy-looking twin display screens, and is an altogether more well-evolved, refined piece of kit than the model it replaces.

That refinement comes under some threat when the GLA35 is being driven with some intent, it must be said. The engine emits a raspy exhaust note with typical turbo crackle as it carves its way through the eight ratios on the sporty double-clutch transmission.

Yet it’s also a thoroughly civilised thing when asked to play nicely, with its well-resolved ride, plush sports seats and classy cockpit making the kind of impression expected from a car with this price tag.

The GLA35 looks and sounds special, but comes without many of the look-at-me aerodynamic wings and aggressive styling features that adorn the full-blown GLA45. Except, in the case of the test car, there’s a rather obvious spoiler that sits atop the rear hatch, not to mention the handsome 20-inch alloys, and pearl Lugano leather that are part of the standard GLA35 kit.

Inside, it closely mimics the classy cockpit of the latest A-Class and its GLA derivative, where those vivid twin video screens provide a virtual instrument panel plus instant access to infotainment as well as a drive select menu to adjust suspension stiffness, exhaust mode and engine and gearbox mapping.

With a 0-100km/h time of 5.2 seconds the GLA35 is sufficiently rapid, if not quite as rabid as its GLA45 cousin.

Keep in mind that cars like the GLA45 are rarely, if ever driven anywhere near the limit on Australia’s speed-regulated roads – and it’s doubtful that any GLA buyers would be bothered taking this toy on a racetrack to get a better sense of its capabilities.

Still, it’s nice to know that performance and handling is there, whether the occasion be carving the way around a nice curvy piece of road or playing boy-racer away from the traffic lights.

But with a substantially softer side also available to its occupants, it manages to deliver the best of both worlds. And anything wilder might be too much for Goldilocks to bear.


* HOW BIG? Based on the volume-selling GLA-Class SUV, the GLA35 is impressively roomy in both front and back rows, with plenty of cargo space in the rear hatch.

* HOW FAST? Able to reach the speed limit in 5.2 seconds, it’s as quick as just about any SUV on the market, but at a price that undercuts many similar performance machines.

* HOW THIRSTY? While the official consumption figure is 8L/100km, the right foot temptation will cost more.

* HOW MUCH? List price on the GLA35 is $83,700 plus on road costs. A couple of options swelled the test car cost to $88,470.

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