Mercedes Benz GLA 45 AMG – Blowin’ in the wind

The only time I’ve been rallying was over half a decade ago. I got a crash course in reading tulips on the first day of the Raid-de-Himalaya, lost over two hours trying to get us to the end of the stage and that was that. My career as a navigator never took off once we crawled past the finish line. I’m happy because I hate reading a book in a car when I’d rather grab it by the scruff of its neck. But I should have brushed up on my navigation skills anyway because we were going to drive the GLA 45 AMG on one of the stages for this month’s Rally of Maharashtra. And I am the driver-cum-navigator. Oh, well!

Twin-scroll turbo feeds a high 1.8 bar of pressurised air, giving the GLA 45 a ballistic mid-range

So we set off from Pune, get to Nashik by late evening and catch up with Ashwin Pandit, the man behind the Nashik round of the Indian rally championship. He is about to hand me the tulip chart to get to ‘Windmill stage’ when he sees my puzzled eyes, and instead draws the route on a blank piece of paper to this picturesque location. We leave early the next day from our hotel off the Mumbai-Nashik highway, flat out over crests, cautious through a few hairpins, sharp left up the hill, flying past a small lake on the left to our starting point. Alright, I’ve overdone the rally talk.

Masive rear wing gives excellent stability at high speeds.

But we were excited to drive this rally stage. Me, because it’s a desolate stretch of road that starts alongside a series of windmills and ends somewhere in the next hill, snaking through the Western Ghats with the lush forests on one side and a plateau on the other. And the GLA 45 AMG because it is built for tight tarmac roads like these. With the drive set in Sport, the exhaust valve’s flap open to do a joyous drum roll, we drive up the hill climb and right into the clouds. The windmills are sighted high up on open ground to my left so that there is no obstruction to the flow of air. The air, sped up by a kind of Venturi effect by the surrounding mountains, spins the long and slender blades that in turn spins a turbine, to create kilowatts out of… nothing. Well not nothing; air. Windmills are like turbochargers in that sense, using air, blowing at high velocities and pressures, and turning it into (horse/electric) power.

Speaking of turbos, when you pop the hood of the GLA 45 AMG, you see an engine that’s about the size of the party-pack 2-litre Coke bottles you get during festivals, with a massive turbocharger in front of it. The hand-built engine is tuned for performance but you still can’t get 376bhp and 475Nm out of such a small block. That’s where the twin-scroll turbocharger comes in, turning the GLA into a sportscar that goes like the wind. With high charge pressure of 1.8 bar and twin-scroll technology, the turbo whistles through the mid-range with max torque available from 2250rpm all the way up to 5000rpm. Exhaust gases spin a turbine that in turn spins an air compressor to feed a larger quantity of pressurised air into the cylinders, delivering the torque of a diesel with the revviness of a petrol. More air burns more fuel, makes more power.

How quick then? The GLA 45 AMG does the 0-100kmph dash in just 4.4 seconds and maxes out at 250kmph, putting the compact SUV in sportscar territory. On this rally stage, it feels like a rally car from behind the wheel – a proper all-wheel drive rally car at that. Take over manual control of the gears via the paddles behind the steering wheel, keep the revs around 3000rpm at turn-in and mash the right foot at exit – it blasts out of corners with immense traction and a raucous top whack before it upshifts. And as it upshifts, the exhaust valves flap twice furiously, two shots are fired, the split times are murdered, the 45 gets a slight recoil and hurtles down to the next bend.

Fast flowing corners demand a lot of traction at high speeds and the AWD system delivers just that

You will enjoy tight corners, corners where you aggressively pile on to the brakes, where the GLA 45 AMG crackles on the overrun. You will enjoy smooth open corners that let you build up the revs and allow you to keep that right foot glued in for the following straight, two loud exhaust pops echoing off the mountain ranges as the 45 goes through the next gear. The route requires plenty of work through the gears, a deftness to the throttle, a flick-able car and the turbocharger on song. The GLA 45’s agility and its controlled aggression when it comes to delivering power on to tarmac makes it ideal for these roads. This is a modern day successor to the Evos that used to dominate rally stages; stages that suit the GLA wonderfully; a route that should be on the next AMG Performance Tour.

Outright speed doesn’t matter on these roads. Usable performance does – getting from one corner to another as quickly as you can, strong brakes and cornering grip, on and off throttle, and the GLA 45 AMG excels at them all. There’s the added benefit of more compliance in the suspension that ensures the GLA doesn’t get thrown about on the bumps.

Air plays an important part in generating power, both for the windmill and the GLA 45 AMG

The villagers in this area are used to loud machines reverberating up in these hills and they are used to watching fast cars tearing up these narrow roads but the puzzled look on their faces clocking an AMG road car doing competition times is the same as mine was when Ashwin handed me the tulips. A road car might have no business setting stage times but it feels right at home alongside these windmills. It charges out of corners as its turbocharger harnesses the energy of exhaust gases to make more power. Just like the windmills chomp on the freely available wind to make power out of nothing, the GLA 45 AMG brings a 1000-watt smile to my face.

Mercedes-amg GLA 45:
Engine: In-line 4, 1991cc, turbo petrol
Transmission: 7-speed DCT
Power: 375.48bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque: 475Nm @ 2250-5000rpm
Weight: 1667kg
0-100kmph: 4.4sec
Top speed: 250kmph (limited)
Price (ex-showroom, Delhi): Rs.73.4 lakh

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