First drive: 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA

MALAGA, SPAIN —  A road conceived in an auto enthusiast’s dream might appear in the form of the N340 in southern Spain.

It’s a short jaunt from Malaga and meanders like an old-stage river. It combines kinks, bends and elements to keep you guessing what’s around the forthcoming apex. Does it tighten? Does it open up?

You pray that there isn’t any traffic around each curve. And if you’re driving during siesta, your wish just might come true.

Matched with a steep drop off and the Mediterranean Sea on one side, and jagged rock faces on the other, it’s an ideal proving ground for the all-new Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG. The road is narrow so precision is key, especially if you want to push a little.

When accelerating, the raucous belch — belch being used in the most flattering way possible — from its twin-pipe exhaust bounces off the rocks and fills your ears with delight.

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA
Alexandra Straub, Driving

While the posted speed limits might not be conducive to putting all the power onto the pavement, you can feel the competency of its AMG sport-tuned suspension in action.

The AMG Speed Sensitive Sports Steering requires a little elbow grease, but is worth putting in every ounce of effort. Its feel is as crisp and potent as the Mediterranean air first thing in the morning; one breath and you’re awake.

For an extra jolt of excitement, you need not look further than under its contoured hood with twin powerdomes. There you’ll find what Mercedes says is, “not only the most powerful series production four-cylinder passenger car engine in the world (in its class), but it also features the highest power density of all series production passenger car engines.” That translates into 355 turbocharged ponies and 332 lb.-ft. of torque.

Paired with the AMG SPEEDSHIFT DCT (Dual Clutch) 7-Speed Sports Transmission, you won’t be disappointed.

And while the GLA 45 AMG shares the same platform with the B Class and CLA, this particular model’s suspension is tailored to give it a less abrasive road feel in comparison to the CLA 45 AMG.

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA
Alexandra Straub, Driving

On long stretches of highway, it absorbs the bumps and jumps without a sweat. As for the 45 AMG version, unlike the CLA 45 AMG, Mercedes engineers mentioned that its tuning is less abrasive due to the sport ute mantra. I like the application much more on the GLA. It just works well.

That’s because the GLA is the first compact premium sports utility vehicle from Mercedes-Benz and it still wanted to keep some “cushiness” – if you could even call an AMG anything cushy – for the times when you’re not romping around a track. Or driving in southern Spain. It also makes it a much more favourable vehicle to drive, particularly on surfaces that are less than perfect.

Should you wish for a ride that combines elements of functionality and sass, you have the GLA 250 4MATIC.

Speaking of the fully variable all-wheel drive system, both trims – the 250 and 45 AMG – come with 4MATIC setup. It’s unlike the CLA and B Class – even though they share the same platform – which is a front-wheel drive vehicle, but has 4MATIC on the AMG rendition.

The GLA also has its own distinct flavour when it comes to styling. From the outside, Mercedes’s compact luxury SUV is distinguishable upon first glance. Furthermore, it has a raised roof, giving occupants inside more headroom and better visibility, in comparison to the CLA 4-door coupe. Yet the interiors look pretty much identical.

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA
Alexandra Straub, Driving

There’s a 5.8-inch free standing colour screen if you’re not opting for the navigation. If you do want to be told where to go, you’ll get at 7-inch screen instead.

Inside the 45 AMG, you’re hugged tightly by Recaro sport seats, but in the 250 4MATIC it comes standard with ARTICO leather (a faux leather trim but still comfortable to sit on nonetheless.)

And when it comes to comfort, for everyday driving, the 250 takes the cake with me. On the twisty roads in southern Spain, the 250 4MATIC still holds its own despite the lack of sport suspension or the 355 horses.

It is powered by a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which was first seen in the B-Class, then the CLA. There’s an output of 208 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. It also comes with the benefits of the ECO stop-start technology, helping reduced CO2 emissions and save on fuel when the vehicle comes to a complete stop.

The 7-speed dual clutch automatic transmission, in Sport mode, holds the revs and is treat to work with, whether shifting the gears yourself or letting the car do it electronically.

When it comes to practicality, there’s room for five inside. And even with its higher roofline, watch your head when getting in the back seats. And behind those seats, you’ll find 421L of storage on both trims.

Overall, the GLA 250 4MATIC and 45 AMG are both worthy contenders to look at if you’re considering this genre of vehicle, which competes against Audi’s Q3 and the BMW X1. Pricing will be announced closer to the on sale date, which happens this coming fall.

About Alexandra Straub