The Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 Hits High-Performance Bargain Territory

A big hot hatch with a hand-assembled engine for less than $30,000?

byPeter Nelson| PUBLISHED Aug 29, 2022 3:30 PM
The Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 Hits High-Performance Bargain Territory
Mercedes Benz
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Crossovers account for a large portion of the market, and although many of them are bland and uninspired, a handful of them stand out as fun drivers with some charming character. On the low-end, examples include the Mazda CX-30 and Hyundai Kona N, and on the high-end, the Mercedes-AMG GLA 45. Will these sway enthusiasts into loving compact crossovers en masse? Absolutely not, but I think it’s worth giving credit where it’s due.

Adding intrigue, these Mercs are starting to depreciate into the range of more modest budgets. The first iteration of the 45, the 2014-2018 X156, has depreciated quite a bit and could make it a really fun, entry-level luxury car bargain to keep an eye on. For several reasons, this could be an underrated pickup.

What Is It?

Let’s start with some X156 basics. The GLA is Mercedes’ smallest and most entry-level crossover. It shares the MFA platform platform with the A-Class, the brand’s smallest and most entry-level sedan that was discontinued for the U.S. market.

The GLA 250 isn’t much to blog about from an enthusiast's perspective. It has a 2.0-liter turbo-four, does zero to 60 in just over seven seconds, and has decent entry-level-luxe amenities—it’s a nice beginner luxe crossover buyers. The engine is Mercedes’ M270DE20LA that makes as much as 208 horsepower depending on when it was produced. But on the whole, it seems that the car offers a pretty milquetoast experience. Its looks are decent, but not exactly exciting—it has clean lines, but it just blends in with the rest of the compact crossover segment. 

AMG Spice

From the outside, the AMG GLA 45’s looks are substantially better. Bigger and sportier wheels, nice ground effects, a front splitter, some changes to the rear fascia around its sporty exhaust pipes, a wing, bigger bumper intakes, and more. There have been options to make them a bit more wild, but generally it seems like most don't feature any wildly bright accents like the photo above. On the inside, they seem to be similarly adorned with luxury as their non-hot counterparts, which, depending on one's luxury interior and infotainment preferences, ain't a bad place to be. Because it sits a bit lower than the pedestrian GLA 250 and features bigger wheels, it looks far more like a hatchback than a crossover. Though, that's up to the eye of the beholder.

Power output is significantly more appealing. The 2014-2015 models made a whopping 355 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque, whereas 2016-2018 models put down 370 and 350, respectively. This is all thanks to a hand-assembled, turbocharged M133 (2021+ got the revised M139 engine) 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine which sends power to the 4Matic all-wheel-drive via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. It's got 3,500 pounds to haul around, too. According to Car and Driver, more recent examples can hit 60 mph from a standstill in less than four seconds. Wild.

One Rowdy Little Hatchback, Er, Crossover

Photo by Rob Wilkinson

Naturally, this translates to epic fun on the road. With AMG-tuned suspension comprised of strut-type up front and fully independent multi-link out back, it's a grip-filled blast on twisty roads. Especially at corner exit when you plant your foot and let the turbocharged torque and all-wheel drive do their thing. Launching it is one of the most addictive vehicular joys I've ever experienced, and thanks to its larger size and airy interior it's a great daily all-rounder to boot.

Matt Farah of The Smoking Tire gave similar praise to the first-gen when he tested it a few years ago.

What’s more, it appears that its cooling system is up to the task for long-duration wheeling, bolstering its track-worthiness. It's based on the same design that cooled the SLS AMG, Mercedes-AMG’s former flagship sports car. It utilizes air-water charge cooling, a large front radiator and a supplemental radiator in the wheel arch, water cooling to the intake ports, and integrated transmission cooling to the water’s lengthy circuit throughout the engine bay. This could mean more full-throttle on track without the threat of intake charge, oil, and water temps creeping up too high. Speaking of track-worthiness, it's a bit of an underrated chassis in this realm.

"This is a car I can do lap after lap in, and it seems like I always put my fastest lap down after the tenth hot lap," Devin Herndon, 2016 model-year owner and Motorsports Coordinator at Fortune Auto USA, said via email. "The only time I have experienced overheating is the transmission temperature, but that was at New Jersey Motorsports Park when it was well over 100 degrees outside, and it took a little while to do so. Even when the transmission overheats, it puts it into FWD, and it honestly handles better."

Herndon also said that his is at the stock power level and only features aftermarket dampers, wheels, and tires, as well as better brake pads and fluid. The only issue he's had in almost two years of ownership and 40,000 miles is a wheel speed sensor. On track, it sometimes has a weird steering wheel issue where it clocks itself off-center for a while until the car stops quickly changing direction, and then it re-centers itself.

Pricing Is Enticing, But Your Wallet Could See Some Post-Purchase Splicing

Right now, it’s not hard at all to find early-generation GLA 45s for south of $30,000 with less than 90,000 miles. What’s quite wild is just seven-or-so short years ago, they went for nearly double, commanding a base price of $49,225, with well-equipped examples sitting just south of $68,000. What's also important to point out is it looks like the GLA 45 will be around for a while, which adds to the used car pool and will older models depreciate faster. The latest-generation GLA 45 hasn't quite yet been the victim of steep European luxury depreciation, however, as low-mileage examples fetch just over $50,000.

Like I’ve said in other bargain luxury performance stories on here, the more inclined a potential buyer is for DIY wrenching, the better. Modern Mercedes models are complex, and the proverbial Mercedes Tax (like the BMW Tax) on parts doesn’t help. As always, the best strategy is to find an example that has documented, substantial service history (remember: German cars' short service intervals are crucial to follow), is in good overall condition, and doesn’t have any title concerns.

Furthermore, researching some of the GLA’s common mechanical shortfalls is crucial. I did a little research and couldn't find many negative impressions, though with some modification, their cooling systems seem to become overwhelmed. But that's not surprising at all, considering how much power these little 2.0s put out from the factory. Known issues include clogged PCV valves, oil consumption, differential issues, interior squeaks and rattles, and broken exhaust flaps, but there doesn't seem to be much beyond that. From what I’ve seen, the GLA45 doesn’t have a ton of DIY resources out there, though there are some.

Still, if the idea of a big hatchback that can out-accelerate a lot of performance platforms for deeply depreciated money is appealing, and if European luxury amenities of this era are enticing, don't overlook the GLA 45 AMG as a potential candidate.

This article originally ran on CarBibles.com.