Mercedes-Benz has just the ticket for the Toys R Us kids among car enthusiasts, the ones who don't want to grow up but are too successful not to.
You know the type. They wear loose jeans, a flat-bill baseball cap, drive a tuned Subaru WRX STI and live their life a quarter-mile at a time?
Well, that's all fine and dandy when you're in your 20s, but at some point, if you really want to make partner at the firm, you're going to have to step up your game. That's where the GLA45 AMG comes in.
Mercedes-Benz calls it its "smallest SUV," but it's more like the most expensive pocket rocket you can buy. For $49,225 you get a compact four-door hatchback with all-wheel-drive, a seven-speed paddle-shifted automatic transmission and a rip-snorting 355 hp 2.0-liter turbo that's currently the most powerful four-cylinder engine in the world.
It's wrapped in a tight little body that's mildly sporty, but can be dressed for battle with an aerodynamics package that includes canards on the front corners and high-mounted rear wing that gives it a killer rally car stance if you're not quite ready to let go of all of your fast and furious ways.
The interior is tight, as well, but four will fit if they're friendly. Compact crossovers are a hot ticket these days, but the GLA45 is so low and cozy that it barely qualifies as one. It's got the same round-vents, chrome-trimmed interior style featured on much of the Mercedes lineup, but since this high performance model is based on the entry-level GLA250 (208 hp, $34,225, can't keep them on the lot), not all of the materials are as classy as the price would suggest.
Unless, that is, you start checking the options boxes to dress it up with leather upholstery, stitching on the dashboard, deep racing seats and snazzy red seatbelts. Keep going and there's a panoramic sunroof, high-end audio system, flat-bottomed sport steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, all the bells and whistles. It's not hard to rack up a bill well over $70,000. Yeah, that's just crazy talk, but you can't blame Mercedes for trying. They'll probably snag a few bonus checks.
Even without the frills, the GLA45 is a very entertaining car to drive. That seriously-boosted engine exhibits epic, old-school turbo lag, but it delivers a kick that's worth the wait. Imagine a balloon slowly inflating, then suddenly popping and rocketing you away to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds. Surprise!
There's a bit of mature understeer dialed into the handling to try to tame you, but you can drive through it and swing the tail around if you try hard enough. Nevertheless, the ride isn't so stiff that you'll have to write yourself a prescription for painkillers at the end of the day, doc.
The one must-have is the $450 sport exhaust system. It's quiet when you're pulling out of the parking lot, but press the button to activate it when you're out of earshot of the boss and it starts growling like the soup can exhaust on the old Honda Civic Si you drove in college, while shifts are accompanied by a raspy bark. Every gear change will take years off of your life. Figuratively.
Look, you're not young anymore, and for the price of one of these you can get a nice, comfy E-Class sedan or ML-Class SUV and fit in perfectly with all of your peers, just like you're supposed to at this stage in your life. Then again, you're only young once. Might as well enjoy it while it lasts and you've still got the extra cash lying around.
Kids of your own might not be too far away.
- 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG
- Base price: $49,225
- Type: 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback crossover
- Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
- Power: 355 hp/332 lb-ft torque
- Transmission: 7-speed automatic
- MPG: 23 city/29 hwy