Mercedes-Benz has walked a fine line to find the middle ground for its new SUV, bringing sporty performance and luxury style.
Mercedes-Benz has walked a fine line to find the middle ground for its new SUV, bringing sporty performance and luxury style.

Tested: The goldilocks SUV

Mercedes-AMG sells a lot of fast cars.

High-performance models represent one in five sales for Benz' local arm, which isn't surprising as customers have a staggering number of models from which to choose.

There are at least three dozen members of the Mercedes-AMG family, ranging from hotted-up hatchbacks to luxury sedans, supercar-baiting coupes, luxurious roadsters and family SUVs.

The new Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 is its latest effort.

Based on the GLA-Class crossover, a cousin to the entry-level A-Class hatchback, the new machine is the cheapest ticket to a new Mercedes-AMG SUV.

The Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 splits the difference between the family focused GLA250 and the bonkers GLA45.
The Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 splits the difference between the family focused GLA250 and the bonkers GLA45.

But the GLA 35 isn't a cheap car by any stretch, priced from $82,935 plus on-road costs, or about $90,500 drive-away before options are taken into account.

One with the lot costs well more than $100,000 in the driveway, as you'll have to pay for an Innovation package with a head-up display, premium stereo and clever augmented video sat nav, plus a Driving Assistance Package with active cruise control, cross traffic and lane change assistance, and a Vision Package with adaptive LED headlights, self-parking and a 360-degree camera.

People looking for a taste of luxury from a $90,000 Mercedes should expect some of those features as standard equipment.

Other options include ventilated seats, a sliding rear bench and racetrack data tools unlikely to be used by the GLA crowd.

AMG squeezes 225kW/400Nm out of a little 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine.
AMG squeezes 225kW/400Nm out of a little 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine.

But you do get plenty of standard kit, including twin 10.25-inch digital displays with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, sat nav and wireless charging. Leather-trimmed sports seats with electric adjustment are heated in the front row, where a high seating position affords a clear view of the road ahead.

You get a proper AMG-specific flat-bottomed steering wheel with shift paddles and a driving mode dial that changes the suspension, transmission, engine and exhaust to suit your mood.

The GLA 35 splits the difference between the regular GLA 250 family car and bonkers GLA 45 AMG model. All three cars have the same fundamental powertrain - a 2.0-litre turbo engine driving all four wheels through an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

Prices start at $90,000 but ticking all the boxes will push it to about $100,000.
Prices start at $90,000 but ticking all the boxes will push it to about $100,000.

GLA 250 customers get 165kW/350Nm outputs, figures that climb to 225kW and 400Nm in the AMG-fettled GLA 35, which benefits from a new turbocharger, intercooler and electronic tune. That's enough for the little SUV to reach 100km/h in 5.1 seconds, a brisk if not earth-shattering achievement, particularly if you've experienced the 310kW/500Nm thrust of the more potent GLA 45 model priced about $25,000 upstream.

Folks trading up from mild performance cars such as Volkswagen's Golf GTI will appreciate the GLA 35's smooth power delivery, all-wheel-drive traction and relatively muted exhaust. But it misses some of the things that used to make AMG-badged models feel special, such as a plaque signed by experts who single-handedly assemble its engines.

The GLA has plenty of practicality for small families.
The GLA has plenty of practicality for small families.

Unlike senior AMG models, safe handling from its front-biased all-wheel-drive system won't scare novices or thrill experienced drivers. The ride from its multi-mode suspension is appropriately supple in comfort mode and overly stiff in Sport +, the steering is light in weight and feedback, and the big brakes offer impressive stopping power.

Effortless shove from its turbo motor is blunted by soft shifts from a dual-clutch auto that lacks the whip-crack flair of sharper-edged 45-series models.

Customer responses to the model will depend on their expectations.

The GLA 35 will be a Goldilocks pick for folks who want a bit of go without committing to the full AMG experience.

But you could equally argue the GLA 35 is a fence-sitter, trading away the comfort and affordability of cooking models without delivering real fireworks. It's forgettable compared to the brand's best efforts.

Buyers expecting a taste of the bombastic experience offered by Mercedes-AMG's V8-powered models will be disappointed - this isn't that kind of car.

VERDICT 3/5

The Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 offers a small taste of prestige performance. But access to the full menu costs more.

Originally published as Tested: The goldilocks SUV


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