What is a sport tourer for India?
For me it's an automobile that blends the essential qualities of a sports car with that of a long distance tourer and works in the Indian context. It must have a strong and thrilling engine. It must handle well. It should have strong brakes. It should sound awesome. It should have adequate ground clearance. It should have a good sound system. It should be comfortable enough to drive 10-12 hours a day. It should look good. It should be compact enough to cut through traffic on our congested highways. It should make you feel special every time you get in. It should have comfortable seating for 4 with some decent luggage capacity. It should make you smile every time you start it up. It should fill your heart with joy every time you take it for a spin. It should make you grin from ear to ear every time you put your foot down.
This may seem like an impossible list for one vehicle to check off. I've been driving sports cars for years now. I must say there are very few cars that can meet even 50% or 75% of these qualities, especially for our Indian conditions.
My previous top pick for this was the Mercedes C63 AMG or maybe the BMW M4. But I think I've found a vehicle that beats both of them when you consider all these qualities and that is the Mercedes GLA 45 AMG.
I've just driven over 1000 km in this beauty over the past 3 days. We went up to Almora In UP. The roads were terrible - 80% undivided highway broken all over. The traffic was insane - trucks, cars, bikes, cycles, bullock carts, hand carts and people walking all over the place. Both these factors don't make for an interesting and enjoyable road trip. But the AMG turned out to the proverbial "rabbit out of the hat" and turned what would have been endless misery into what become one of the most enjoyable drives I've had in India.
I will keep this blog simple. I will describe what I loved about the car and what I did not like.
What I loved
#1. The engine - the GLA 45 AMG is powered by the most powerful production 2 liter engine in the world. It's a turbocharged 4 cylinder motor that puts out about 360 hp and 450 nm of torque. But the most amazing thing is the way it puts out the power. There is absolutely no turbo lag and put your foot on the throttle and she darts forward like a little go kart. The acceleration is absolutely insane and she keeps reviving to an amazing 6500 rpms, which is phenomenal for a turbo charged motor. The thrill of this engine is amazing regardless of pushing it on a highway or darting through traffic in the city. The power is just instant and insane. This has to be one of the most thrilling engines ever produced - and that it's a 2 liter engine is just incredible. Take a bow the engineering team at AMG for producing such a thrilling low capacity motor.
#2 The noises - yes, she makes plenty of incredible noises. First is the glorious rumble of that exhaust. Being a blown motor the engine almost does not make any noise, but the exhaust more than compensates for that. From a cold start to when you push your foot down (especially in sport mode), the exhaust serves up the most delicious sound ever and will fill your ears and heart with joy. Then there are the pops and crackles. They appear when you upshift with your foot on the accelerator or downshift under hard braking and boy are they glorious. It always sounds like a bunch of shotguns were fired. I first experienced pops and crackles in an Audi RS5 a few years ago. But trust me, the AMG engineers have taken it to another level. I kept accelerating, up shifting, braking and downshifting again and again, like you hear your favorite song on repeat, just to hear those pops and crackles. But wait, that's not enough. There is a third incredible noise this machine produces and that's from the blow off valve of the turbo. Every time you press down hard on the accelerator and then take your foot off, there is this awesome whistling sound you hear. It sounds very similar to the whistle of a supercharger but it's actually coming from the turbo. It a small detail but I feel the engineers at AMG have deliberately gone the extra bit to enhance this sound. It's a wonderful little nerdy type of detail that pertroheads like me will just love.
#3. Handling - technically the GLA 45 AMG is a cross over. So the handling should be compromised. And to some extent it is. But on an absolute level, the handling is incredible for our roads. The suspension is very well tuned. It's firm to give it that taught sports car character, but the damping is brilliant so you don't feel the harshness of our bumpy roads. It's fitted with 19 inch wheels and 235/35 profile tyres that are awesome. It comes with the fourmatic all-wheel drive system that can send as much as 50% power to the rear wheels under load. It has an amazing steering that is electrically assisted but still has that heavy feel of a sports car steering and is very direct. These 4 aspects combine to deliver exceptional handling on our bumpy and undulating roads. She moves like she is on rails and turns on a time. I was pushing her post 200 kmph on UP highways that has lots of crevices made by overloaded trucks, and she was leaping ahead like a panther with amazing levels of stability. I also got a chance to push her in the twisties a fair bit and she came up right on top. She had minimal body roll (very surprising for a cross over) and danced from side to side like a true blooded sports car would. I was incredibly impressed and can't wait to push her on a track. If you're a sport car enthusiast, I dare you to try this vehicle and not come out really impressed with how she handles.
#4. Looks and interior - these are always subjective, but I instantly fell in love with the GLA 45 AMG on these aspects. It's a beautifully designed and styled car. I love the aggressive stance that looks like a sprinter about to start a 100 meter dash. I love the arched fenders, especially the rear ones. I love the 19 inch wheels that completely fill up the wheel arches. I love the sporty front grill and the quad exhaust vents at the rear. I the roof spoiler.
The interior is even more impressive. First is the steering wheel. I always believed that Porsche used to make the best steering wheels, but the new ones in the AMG are next level. It feels incredible to hold in the hand. Is beautiful contoured in the right places. Has Alcantara on the sides (where you will hold it most of the times) to maximize grip. And then it's has beautiful contrast red stitching for that extra special effect. Next are the seats. They are made by Recaro (specialists in racing seats). They look incredibly sporty and act the part too. They are well bolstered around the thighs and torso with adjustable levels so that you can fine tune the bolstering. When done right they absolutely hug you which makes pushing the car in corners even more special. Then is the dash. It's a proper 2 circle set up with a speedometer and a rev counter with a digital display in the center. The counter look stunning especially at night with the red needles. The digital console is very crisp and high res and can display all sorts of information. It's also highly customizable. Then there is the central display. It looks like a iPad mini and is very sharp and crisp. The command system is also very easy and intuitive to use. The rest of the interior is also very high quality and ultra special combining black, grey and red to create the ultimate sporty ambience. The piece de resistance of the interior has to be the red colored seat belts that come standard. They create an incredible contrast against the black theme of the interior and are a sport car lovers delight. This has to be one of the most exciting interiors I've experienced in a car - period. Every time I enter the car, I feel delighted like a little child. And that's a pretty extraordinary thing to achieve. Kudos Mercedes !!
#5. Practicality - this is where this vehicle impressed me the most. It has adequate seating for 4 adults. You can carry enough luggage for a 3-4 day trip. The ground clearance is amazing. It did not scrape the ground even once. One of the paces we stayed at had a very treacherous climb to get to. It was a broken road with a lot of stones and a steep incline for almost 3-4 km and she handled it without a hitch. I dare you to find me another sports car / cross over that can do this. The sound system is amazing. It's has 2 moon roofs that make the cabin feel spacious and airy, one of which also doubles up as a sun roof. The ride quality is very well balanced. It's stiff enough to not compromise handling and soft enough to not send shudders up your spine every time you hit a bump - this balance of the ride quality is very very difficult to achieve especially in a country like India and AMG has done a stellar job with it.
What I did not like
Well there is only 1 thing. There are a lot of noises that creep into the interior. The car I have has done only about 3000 km but has all sorts of noises and rattles in the interior. Now I understand that being a sport oriented vehicle the suspension is on the firmer side and given our bad roads, this will mean lots of rattles. But I do feel that MB can go the extra bit to put more damping materials to take care of this. The rattles really come in the way of what is otherwise an incredible soundtrack and spoil the party. Maybe a visit to the workshop can get this issue addressed.
What can I say. I am a sports car enthusiast who loves to drive long distances in India. And I can say with confidence that the GLA 45 AMG is going to my my preferred weapon of choice for this. She is incredible to drive long distances. At the same time she is very practical for the city. All this with those incredible looks and extra special interior. If you have the spirit of touring in you. If you like to push your car. If you like the thrill of a twisty and windy road. If you can afford her - this is the automobile you should opt for.
I have always felt that among the Germans, BMW used to make the best driving machines. Machines that put the "driver" first and did everything to get your AdrenaSense going. I am increasingly of the view that Mercedes and AMG are coming to the party and producing some of the most special "driver" focused automobiles out there. The GLA 45 AMG is a perfect example of that - thrilling, special and (relatively) affordable for the sport car enthusiast who loves to drive long distance in India. And for that Mercedes and AMG, I salute you from my heart !!!