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[REVIEW] 2014 BMW 320i xDrive – Filet Mignon at Swiss Chalet prices

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BMW 320i xDrive BC Place 1

As many of my readers know, I’m a fan of European cars. Specifically that of German cars. Having spent most of my life in one, riding (and throwing up) in one as a kid, and finally owning one, I just like the bank vault-like feel of German vehicles.

Full disclosure, we did have Japanese cars growing up too, but riding in “the other” car (incidentally Mercedes-Benzes) was almost for special occasions only.

Being a car enthusiast, I’ve come close to buying into the “Ultimate Driving Machine” mindset and becoming a BMW owner myself. However for various reasons, be it timing, cost, or availability, the furthest I’ve gone is actually being a part of the BMW Car Club of British Columbia, mainly due to their excellent member-organized driving events.

So when BMW Canada offered me the keys to their latest 3-series, internally dubbed as the F30, I graciously accepted the opportunity to see what the fuss was all about.

OVERVIEW

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The sixth generation 3 Series has grown moderately in size compared to its predecessor. Its track has been widened (front + 37 mm, rear + 47 mm), and increases to the car’s length (+ 93 mm) and wheelbase (+ 50 mm) are all designed to accentuate its sporting allure. Inside the new BMW 3 Series sedan, rear passengers will appreciate the noticeable increase in space made possible by the larger dimensions.

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The entire BMW 3 Series range is now also available in a variety of trim and equipment variants. They are called the Sport Line, Luxury Line, Modern Line, and M Sport respectively. Each presents its own individual take on the character of the car with different interior colours/material combinations and different exterior wheel/trim designs.

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Drive and chassis technology have always been key areas of expertise for BMW, and therefore agility and driving dynamics remain outstanding attributes of this latest generation 3-series. The new car is up to 88lbs lighter than its predecessor despite being larger.

My tester was a 2014 BMW 320i Sport Line sedan with the company’s newest xDrive permanent all-wheel-drive system. This is the smallest engine that you can get and the cheapest 3-series that you can order (with the exception of the rear-wheel drive 320i).

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Normally I don’t like base model cars because I spend a fair amount of time behind the wheel of any car. Therefore I enjoy an vehicle environment with all the modern conveniences and technology available.

However, it could be argued that a stripped down model is the greatest way to enjoy the best of a car’s particular chassis goodness for the least amount of money. Especially with a chassis as revered as that of the 3-series. All you need is a key, a heater, and air conditioning, don’t you?

But the big question was whether BMW can make a sub-200 horsepower car still worth of the “Ultimate Driving Machine” phrase. Keep reading to find out!

HISTORY

Ah, Bayerische Motoren Werke (aka BMW). Founded in 1916 in Munich, Bavaria, this German company was formed following a restructuring of the Rapp Moterenwerke aircraft manufacturing firm in 1917.

At the end of WW1, BMW was forced to cease aircraft engine production in 1918 due to the terms of the Versailles Armistice Treaty.

Ever notice how the BMW Roundel (logo) looks like propellers? That’s no coincidence!

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These days, the company is well known for its Ultimate Driving Machines – luxury cars with a sporting edge, designed for people who like to drive.

EXTERIOR

As the lowest rung on the 3-series ladder, the 320i xDrive that BMW Canada lent to me wasn’t tarted up with a whole lot of options.

My car included the $2,000 Navigation package, and the $2,800 Sport package (which includes the Black Dakota leather trim upgrade with Coral Red highlights among other things).

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BMW also equipped my press car with Pirelli 210 Winter Sottozero run-flat high performance winter tires and 17” BMW wheels. A rather unflattering looking combination, but well suited for the winter weather.

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The face of the BMW 3-series has constantly been evolving over the last 30+ years of its existence. With this latest iteration, designers were faced with the challenge of incorporating the traditional BMW stylistic values while still incorporating modern but yet future-orientated design.

Visually, my 320i lacked a couple of the fancy BMW elements that are in the glossy brochures and television commercials. The most obvious missing element were the signature LED angel eyes as my test car was only equipped with halogen headlamps. You need to spring for the more expensive Bi-Xenon or LED headlamps to get those distinctive rings.

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However the classic BMW kidney grill is present, and in this latest F30 3-series body style it’s more prominent than ever. BMW says that new face, with elongated headlights reaching along as far as the kidney grille, emphasizes the sense of width and strengthens the car’s athletic overall profile.

While I admit that I’m still not a raving fan of this look, it has grown on me since the F30 3-series was introduced in 2012.

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The rest of the 320i’s shape is pure BMW, pure 3-series. It retains the luxury compact sports sedan look that many continue to judge as the benchmark in the industry.

Since the 3-series is a major part of BMW’s bread and butter, it’s clear as to why they didn’t want to mess around with it too much from the previous model.

INTERIOR

The driver-orientated cockpit makes its return back to the 3-series with this latest generation. The previous vehicle was heavily criticized by both former owners and the media for its expanses of black plastic and generic design.

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In the F30, the wrap around cockpit is angled towards the driver by 7 degrees as part of its natural design. BMW says that this puts all the important controls within easier reach and exudes a feeling of “active driving”

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More importantly, the dashboard lines on the driver’s side of the cockpit are laid out to converge on a single point behind the steering wheel and to guide your eyes towards the road. Even the driver’s side of the centre tunnel is grained with a different trim surface than the passenger’s side.

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Whether or not you believe the marketing spin, the cockpit is a very nice place to be. There is no question that the driver is of significant importance here.

Larger front door pockets mean that they now even accommodate 1-litre water bottles. There are also two large drink holder binnacles ahead of the gearshift knob. Anyone who has spilled a drink due to the flimsy pop-out cupholders in the previous 3-series will rejoice.

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If this is too much cupholder overload for you, a clever oddments tray can be fitted to cover them up. It even has its own special net pocket in the glove compartment when not in use. I found the tray to be the perfect spot for my iPhone to rest without sliding around.

Rear seat and legroom has never been a 3-series strong point. However I’m happy to report that passengers will now enjoy significantly more space than in the outgoing model. There is an extra 0.71” (18mm) of extra legroom, +0.6” (15mm) of extra knee room, and +0.31” (8mm) of extra rear headroom. My only complaint was the lack of front seatback map pockets, which looked a bit cheap.

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Golfers can now rejoice as well because with careful packing, the luggage compartment can now hold as much as 3 golfbags. This is all thanks to a trunk capacity that has been increased by 20 litres to a total of 480 litres.

The lift-in height has also been lowered and is now at 66 cm from the ground. For bulkier items, the 40/20/40 spit rear seatbacks offer extra versatility for longer items such as skis.

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INSTRUMENTS AND TECH GOODIES GALORE

The cockpit’s four circular dials (fuel gauge, speedometer, tachometer and oil temperature gauge) are classic BMW but have now been updated with a multi informational black panel display.

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The previous versions of iDrive required a PhD to understand. This latest version of iDrive is easier to use than ever. While it is still a complex system integrating everything from multimedia and vehicle settings/info to a built-in owners’ manual, it is a vast improvement over previous efforts. Thankfully BMW has seen it fit to keep the climate control settings as a separate panel still.

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The freestanding iDrive monitor with its slim, transreflective, wide screen high-resolution display recalls the latest flatscreen televisions normally found in living rooms rather than cars. Very nice.

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New for 2014 is a touchpad on top of the iDrive controller that lets you write out letters of the alphabet with your finger rather than have to twirl the wheel endlessly while spelling out a street or city name. Clever.

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BMW’s navigation map graphics as of late have been a step above the competition, perhaps with the exception of Audi and Cadillac’s newest CUE system. This latest iteration is no different. With high levels of detail, smooth transitions and fast refresh rates between turns and zooming in/out, this is certainly a system that other manufacturers should use as a benchmark.

I was slightly disappointed that despite having Bluetooth connectivity in my test car, I still had to plug my iPhone into the USB port to enable music playback. Evidently there is a separate option you have to order for Bluetooth audio streaming.

My test car was also not equipped with the excellent rearview camera, Park Distance Control ultrasonic parking sensors, or auto dimming mirrors. All 3 options are ones that I would highly recommend if you are going to purchase this car for yourself.

SO, HOW DOES IT DRIVE?

The 320i is equipped with a direct-injected four cylinder engine which gets its extra kick from a single twin-scroll turbocharger. This is the same N20 engine that powers the 328i except that it’s rated at 180 hp and 200 ft-lbs of torque versus the 328i’s 240hp and 255ft-lbs of torque.

The good news is that the 200 ft-lbs peaks at a low 1250 rpm. This means that the 320i never feels slow. The twin scroll turbocharging technology results in minimal turbo lag, and performance more than adequate for daily commutes.

However, because the 320i’s engine doesn’t feel overly torquey or quick when pushed harder, the 328i’s uprated engine is still the way to go if you want to lean into the performance side of the 3-series without going to the turbo 6-cylinder goodness in the 335i.

Designed with BMW’s standard formula of a longitudinally mounted engine, 50/50 balanced weight distribution,and a torsionally stiff chassis, the 320i feels agile. I was surprised as to how fun it was to drive despite being down on power compared to other BMWs I’ve tested.

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The suspension feel and handling are what you expect from the 3-series. Solid, quiet, composed but not wallowy. BMW has made great strides in the adjusting their suspension tuning with the stiffer run flat tires in mind and the ride quality is back to what it should be.

A wheelbase of 2,810 mm (+ 50 mm) and a front and rear track width of 1,543 mm (+ 1.46 37 mm) and 1,583 millimeters (+ 48 mm) gives this new F30 3-series a more road-hugging stance than its predecessor.

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However I’m still not a fan of the electric power steering. While supposedly this has been quietly fettled for the 2014 model year, it still lacks the feel and weight of the previous legendary BMW’s hydraulic steering rack. I guess this is the price that we pay for increased efficiency.

Although we don’t get much snow here in Vancouver, we do get a whole lot of rain throughout the year. Therefore I’ve always felt that the added safety and security of all-wheel-drive is a huge plus.

My test car was equipped with BMW xDrive intelligent permanent all-wheel drive system, perfect for Canadian climates. According to BMW, more than 80% of all BMWs sold in Canada are specified with xDrive! A huge uptake rate.

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This latest generation system has been recalibrated for greater agility and precision, with benefits also for cornering and not just after slippage has occurred. The electronically controlled system is rear-biased for the typically sporty BMW rear wheel drive feel.

However it can vary the torque split between the front and rear wheels with split-second speed to ensure power is transferred to the wheels that grip. This allows for optimal power management whatever the weather and road conditions.

One major highlight of the 320i, and in fact any F30 3-series, is the new ZF sourced 8 speed automatic transmission. Not only is it the only 8 speed transmission offered in this class, but it is even more efficient than even the 6 speed manual transmission.

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BMW engineers have also managed to keep the size and weight to a minimum. So despite the two additional gears, the unit is comparable in weight and size to the previous generation 6 speed automatic gearbox.

Despite a larger overall spread, eight gear ratios mean that the spacing between them is smaller, so that the optimal ratio is available in virtually all situations. This helps to explain why, when fitted with the 8-speed automatic transmission, the 3-series has  even lower fuel consumption than when equipped with the 6-speed manual transmission.

With its optimized control technology, the 8-speed transmission boasts extremely fast shift and reaction times and direct downshift capability. It’s almost as quick as a dual clutch transmission, at least from behind the wheel, when the car is in Sport+ mode. The electronic transmission controller can also alter the shift characteristics to cater either for a sportier or a more relaxed fuel-saving driving style. If you want paddle shifters though, you’ll have to spring for the Sport package in the 328i, the 328d, or he 335i.

ADJUSTABLE DRIVING DYNAMICS

Drivers are now also able to vary the overall character of the car depending on the driving situation or to suit their personal preferences.

Using the Driving Dynamics Control switch, the driver is able to customize accelerator response characteristics, engine response, the power steering characteristics and the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) thresholds.

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The modes are defined as ECO PRO, COMFORT, SPORT and SPORT+. Each of these predefined setups activates different settings for the relevant powertrain and suspension components (if so equipped with adaptive dampening).

In SPORT mode, for example, throttle response is very sharp and the steering becomes even more direct. On vehicles with automatic transmission, the shift points are altered to provide a significantly sportier drive.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, ECO PRO mode is designed for maximum efficiency. It changes the accelerator mapping so that the same pedal travel delivers less power than in the standard mode.

In other words, to discourage inefficient quick throttle changes, the accelerator pedal is dulled as if it has been to the dentist and shot full of Novocain. Bad for performance but fantastic for fuel economy.

In Eco Pro mode, the automatic transmission control strategy is also modified so as to upshift as soon as possible and to delay downshifts. Intelligent energy and climate management reduces the mechanical power consumption and also the consumption of electrical systems such as heated mirrors and seats.

However since the driver’s own personal driving style is the biggest influencer of fuel consumption, special displays in the instrument cluster act as a training coach. The instrument cluster display lets the driver know how much the driving range is being extended and the fuel consumption for the specific driving situation. Tips and incentives on a more economy-conscious driving style as even offered. It quickly becomes a game to see how much you can extend the range of the car.

I was particularly intrigued by Eco Pro’s Coasting mode which seems to automatically shift the transmission into neutral to maximize rolling distance. A quick stab at the throttle pedal brings the revs back up. This mode works well for long distance cruising as long as you don’t have to make any passing maneuvers.

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BMW claims that ECO PRO mode allows average fuel consumption to be reduced by up to 20%, with a corresponding increase in driving range. Impressive for a non-hybrid vehicle!

BMW rates the 320i xDrive at 8.9L/100 kms in the city, and 5.6L/100 kms on the highway. Over my time with the BMW 320i xDrive, I averaged a very respectable 8.7L/100 kms in mostly city driving. So not only is it relatively inexpensive to own and maintain, but it’s also surprisingly fun to drive.

WRAP-UP

Perhaps one of the most intriguing parts of the BMW 320i is its price. Price for a base 2014 BMW 320i xDrive starts at only $39,990. This is a car you can get into for V6 Camry or Accord money, and as good as those are, they aren’t available with all-wheel-drive.

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Furthermore, a quick call to Kristoffer Ong at BMW Langley reveals that a base 2013 BMW 320i rear wheel drive currently leases at $479 a month for 48 months/78,000 km limit. This includes the 4 years/80,000 kms free schedule maintenance that BMW includes with all of their vehicles.

That’s almost the same as what a well equipped Toyota Camry or Honda Accord leases for. Kristoffer tells me that many customers who shop for the aforementioned two cars also frequently cross shop for the 320i. Why not get the prestige, engineering, technology, and safety in BMW for Toyota/Honda money?

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While there are faster/better equipped 3-series models or larger cars for the same money, there is no denying the quality teutonic feel of a BMW. While I occasionally craved for more torque and more toys, I grew to enjoy the 320i over my test week with it.

If you’re looking for a fun to drive sports sedan that can actually function in the snowy roads up to Whistler/Blackcomb but doesn’t cost a boat load of money, the BMW 320i xDrive is an excellent choice that deserves a top spot on your shopping list.

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Andrew is a proud car and tech geek who has worked in Surrey for over the last 10 years. He comes from a communications/marketing background and has worked for automotive-related companies such as Edmunds.com, BenzWorld.org since 1999. From track driving, to rally driving to autocross, he has done it all. When he’s not reading or writing about the latest automotive news, he can be found outdoors snapping pictures at various events around town. You can contact him at Andrew (at) surrey604.com

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[REVIEW] 2022 Mercedes-AMG E53 4MATIC coupe

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Mercedes-Benz has had a long history with B-pillarless coupe. Starting from the 1968 Stoker/8 Coupe with its frameless and fully retractable side windows, the B-pillarless design was intended to create a generous and less restricted overall appearance. In 1992, AMG got involved in tweaking what was then known as the W124 300CE E-Class-based coupe.

If we look back at the timeline, from a 51 percent takeover in 1998, the influence of Mercedes-Benz continued to grow until AMG became a wholly owned subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz in 2005.

Although today AMG is known to the vast majority of younger car fans as the Mercedes-Benz sports department, the fact that this company from Affalterbach was once an independent tuning company has been almost forgotten in many places. Officially, the present day name of the division is now “Mercedes-AMG”.

Before the cooperation agreement came into force, AMG took a 300CE (E-Class coupe) and fettled it with their specially tuned 6.0-litre V8 from the S-Class and SL. Featuring 381 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque, this car was aptly named “The Hammer” and accelerated to 100 km/hr in just 5 seconds. Even by modern day standards that is an impressive time.

With only twelve such cars produced, the Hammers are highly sought after by AMG collectors today.

Is the E53 coupe a Modern day AMG Hammer?

It has taken until this latest generation of E-Class coupe for Mercedes-AMG to be involved once again with an E-Class.

Mercedes’ newish 53-badged AMG vehicles are supposed to represent a perfect halfway point between the standard models and the much more expensive fire-breathing 63 variants. While it’s not a full-blooded eight-cylinder kind of AMG, since there are no plans for a 63 version of the E-Class coupe, this is currently the most powerful model that you can get in either E-Class coupe or convertible form.

To differentiate the 2022 Mercedes-AMG E53 coupe from its non-AMG stablemate, the former is marked by unique tailpipes, AMG badging, the new Panamericana-grille with vertical chrome slats, and unique AMG 20” wheels.

The large outer air inlet grille features two transverse louvres and a new front splitter. The grille also features inner Air Curtains, giving an overall aerodynamic advantage, and a subtle similarity to the AMG GT sports car family.

Kitted out in black and blacked out wheels, my car’s “murdered out” looked positively aggressive.

Under the hood is the now familiar 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder twin scroll turbocharged engine mated with an electric-starter-alternator combo for 48 volt mild-hybrid assistance. Known as EQ Boost, this system can boost fuel efficiency slightly but is really more designed to eliminate turbo lag.

The electric hybrid technology can add 21 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque on its own to supplement the high-tech inline-6 which produces 429 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque from 1,800 to 5,800 rpms.

With power flowing to all four wheels via a 9-speed AMG Speedshift dual-clutch automatic transmission and the company’s 4MATIC+ all-wheel-drive system, 0 to 100 km/hr runs can be accomplished in just 4.4 seconds, a whole 0.6 seconds quicker than the mighty “Hammer”.

The AMG DYNAMIC SELECT modes lets drivers fine-tune the E53’s performance via controls on the console or the standard steering-wheel AMG DRIVE UNIT. Five driving modes, one customizable, adapt the throttle, shifting, chassis and more from Slippery to Sport+.

The fully variable AMG Performance 4MATIC+ can send torque to the wheels that can best turn traction into action. From launch grip to cornering, 4MATIC+ can go from 50/50 front/rear, up to 100% rear-wheel-drive.

My car’s optional AMG Sport Exhaust, included in the AMG Driver’s Package, turns the rise and ebb of rpm into a rousing soundtrack. With multimode internal flaps, the different drive modes and the exhaust button lets you heighten the crescendos, or tone them down.

How does it drive?

All this tech and all of these numbers translate into impressive performance in the real-world. While the E53 coupe lacks the V8 engine and exhaust soundtrack of the AMG 63-models, the way the E53 coupe builds speed is still very impressive. Sure, it won’t pin you back in your seat like its four door E63s sibling, but it’s still very involving. The E53’s exhaust is rather unique but still pleasing under hard acceleration, particularly in Sport+ mode.

The car’s AMG RIDE CONTROL+ turns pressurized air into agility by adapting within milliseconds to changing roads, loads, and the modes of AMG DYNAMIC SELECT. It’s self-lowering and self-leveling and totally automated. At speed, the system gently supports the body while leaving it largely impervious to body roll.

Although it might be a mild-hybrid system, the E53 does not have the ability to cruise around emissions-free around town. Apart from the improved responses, you rarely notice the EQ Boost system working its magic. Aside from the very visible EQ Boost digital gauge in the speedo, you might notice that the engine shuts down earlier than you might imagine as you come to a halt.

My test vehicle was fitted with Mercedes’ semi-automomous driving system which now features a steering wheel sensor mat to recognise if you’re “hands-on”. If the driver does not have their hands on the steering wheel for a certain time, a warning is displayed in subsequent annoyance until Emergency Brake Assist.

Compared to other Mercedes models, I found the system too sensitive, frequently telling me to keep my hands on the wheel when they were already indeed on the steering wheel.

Aside from these little niggles, the E53 coupe is perfectly at home cruising at 200 km/hr on the autobahn or carving up some backroads on the weekend. You could easily drive this car from dusk till dawn and still feel relaxed on the other end. In this sense, it is a proper E-Class.

On the inside

Although the cabin is shared with other E-Class models, the extensive optional carbon fibre trim fitted to my test vehicle was drop dead gorgeous. It truly brings a different vibe to the cabin when compared to the open pore wood trim option that was fitted to my 2021 Mercedes-AMG E63s wagon test vehicle.

The sporty and comfortable seats provide strong lateral support which translates into comfort during long drives. They come in either Artico man-made leather or Dinamica microfibre in black with an AMG-specific design, red contrasting topstitching and the AMG badge, characteristic for the 53 models.

Aside from the AMG Drive Control unit on the latest AMG Steering wheel, the AMG badging in the virtual dashboard and the AMG apps in the MBUX Infotainment system, there is little else to give the game away (on the inside anyway) that this is special AMG model.

Some people may like this, but others may subscribe to the thinking from BMW’s M Division. That is to say that M cars have a bit more glitz, glamour, and pantomime.

The 2022 E53 coupe’s four seats and a 435-litre trunk give it more than adequate practicality for four adults and their luggage. There are all the accoutrements you could possibly need, from seatbelt extenders, to heated/ventilated seats.

Curiously, Mercedes-AMG also chose to leave in the AirScarf neck warmer option from the E-Class cabriolet. While this system is designed to warm-up passengers during top-down motoring, it was nonetheless a welcome but unexpected addition to the E53 coupe.

On that point, the addition of 4Matic+ all-wheel-drive also means that the E53 coupe is an all-weather vehicle, able to hit the ski chalets’ snow covered driveways or the golf course with equal comfort and presence.

Final thoughts

While it may lack the exclusivity of the 300CE Hammer, the 2022 Mercedes-AMG E53 4matic+ coupe is worthy at taking up the baton as the latest AMG four-seater two-door E-Class coupe.

Although coupes and cabriolets are sold in relatively small numbers compared to SUVs, this vehicle seems to be a worthy successor to continue Mercedes-Benz’s long tradition of producing sporty and elegant two-door cars with style and performance.

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[REVIEW] 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS63

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There are many products out there that were invented despite nobody initially wanting them. The bicycle, for example, was initially a curiosity that was quick transformed into a necessity.  Even the automobile faced general public skepticism about its feasibility.

In 1895, Thomas A. Edison insisted, when interviewed, that the horseless carriage was going to doom the horse. He was ahead of his time in thinking that one would be able to buy a horseless vehicle for what people were paying for a wagon and a pair of horses. Horse and wagon owners thought that he was totally off base, and that the horseless fool’s contraption would never displace the horse. Of course, history now speaks for itself.


The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 SUV is one such example of a modern-day horseless carriage that no one asked for. Based on the largest and most luxurious SUV sold by Mercedes-Benz, the GLS63 displays what the German automaker’s AMG performance division is truly capable of. Nobody asked for it, but Mercedes built it anyway because it could, and customers have been flocking to it as quickly as Mercedes-AMG can build them.

The G in GLS denotes “Gelandewagen”, German for off-road vehicle and homage to its father, to the military SUV that the GLS was supposed to replace. The Gelandewagen was never phased out because Mercedes found a new set of buyers for the GLS while the G continued to soldier on with its loyal following.

The 2021 GLS63 is the newest addition to Merc’s SUV portfolio that already numbers well over a dozen.

Does the world need another three-row SUV variant?

I’m a huge fan of the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class, having reviewed the GLS450 early this year. While the GLS450 was opulent, comfortable, and luxurious, the 362 horsepower 3.0-litre EQ Boot mild-hybrid turbocharged inline-six cylinder engine is best described as smooth and linear. It has more than enough power for 90 per cent of the GLS’ clientele with 0-100 km/hr runs are accomplished in a quick 5.8 seconds.

But for those who want more horsepower, for towing purposes or otherwise, Mercedes offers the GLS580 with a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, also with the EQ Boost mild-hybrid system. This is good for 483 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque mated with the same 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission. This combo is good for a 0-100 km/hr run of 4.8 seconds, just two tenths of a second slower than a modern day Ford Mustang GT V8.

Model year 2021 introduces two specialized variants of the GLS, with the ultra-luxe Mercedes-Maybach GLS600, and the subject of our review, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS63.

The GLS63 competes with other full-sized three-row SUVs such as the Cadillac Escalade and the BMW X7 M50i, though it bests all of them when it comes to horsepower rating thanks to it’s 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 which has been tuned to over 603 horsepower and 627 lb-ft of torque between 2,500 to 4,500 rpms.

To ensure the full-fat GLS is not mistaken for a lesser model, it gets the largest grille fitted to any AMG vehicle. The GLS63 looks the business with the new chrome grille with vertical louvres similar to those on Mercedes’ Panamericana-style grilles.


Standard Multibeam LED headlights, a more aggressive power dome hood, tweaked front and rear bumpers, flared wheel arches, a rear diffuser and four rectangular exhaust pipes also differentiate this model from the non-AMG units.


Standard wheels are 21-inch ten-spoke, but six other styles are available, including a 23-inch option as fitted to my test vehicle.

How does a 603 horsepower hybrid SUV ride and drive?

Like most top end Mercedes-AMG models as of late, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 also benefits from a 48-volt power system and the EQ Boost starter-alternator mild hybrid system. The latter is good for 21 horsepower and a very substantial 184 lb-ft of torque fill for the V8 engine.


The EQ Boost integrated starter generator system is also there for fuel economy, not just performance, but does help to make this nearly 3-ton truck take off from a dead stop with authority. Due to the weight, the feeling is more that of as a jumbo jet taking off down the runway versus a drag strip launch though.

Floor the throttle in Sport mode and an all-mighty V8 wall of noise makes you jump out of your seat. But yet, in comfort mode, the GLS63 is so refined that you can still have an executive meeting over the Bluetooth system and no one will ever know what you’re piloting.

The boffins at AMG claims that the GLS63 can hit 0-100 km/hr times of 4.1 seconds, topping out at a German autobahn legal only speed of 280 km/hr. The nine-speed auto’s tightly space gearing helps the big AMG rush forward seamlessly.

Due to its size, the GLS63 isn’t really suited for canyon carving. But with its air suspension system tuned to Sport or Sport+ and the 48-volt system powering the active anti-roll bars, the big Benz will surprise you with its responsiveness.


It’s surprisingly tossable on mountain roads, and there is plenty of front-end grip in tighter bends. In Sport and Sport+ modes, the suspension even lowers by 10 mm. The rear-biased 4Matic all-wheel-drive system is also further enhanced with a standard limited-slip rear differential.

Moreover, the prodigious amount of grip from the absolutely massive 285/40ZR23 front and 325/35/ZR23 rear Michelin Pilot Sport 4s tires is just ridiculous!

My test vehicle was also fitted with the optional matte black $7,000 optional AMG Monoblock wheels, which were made famous on the W210 E55 AMG sedan. Despite the huge wheel size, the Airmatic air suspension system smoothens out the GLS63’s ride very admirably.

Step inside

One of the first things that you’ll probably notice upon stepping into the GLS63’s cabin is the built-in air ionizer and air freshener. Borrowed from the S-class, this system also makes its appearance (as an optional extra) in the GLS, giving up to seven occupants the luxury of Mercedes’ in-car fragrances.

Thanks to an increase in wheelbase, second-row passengers receive a whopping extra 87 mm of legroom over the previous GLS. The power folding third-row fits adults without issue, though the seat cushions are a bit flat. When all the seats are folded, the GLS swallows a ridiculous amount of cargo, perfect for moving stuff from one mansion to another.

You’ll find a 64 colour two-tone ambient lighting, anthracite limewood trim, the latest MBUX infotainment system with two massive 12.3-inch screens, illuminated AMG door sills, a standard Burmester sound system and much more. The driver and front passenger are treated to heated, cooled, massaging, and actively bolstered AMG seats, and there is the latest AMG three-spoke nappa-alcantara steering wheel.

While it may seem out of place in the GLS, the MBUX infotainment system also offers AMG-specific content includes specific details such as the AMG start-up menu with three selectable AMG display styles.

The Supersport mode is particularly striking, with a central, round rev counter and additional information presented in the form of bars to the left and right of the rev counter. Via the AMG menu, there are various special displays such as Warm-up, Set-up, G-Force and Engine Data.


The touchscreen multimedia display can also present drivers with telemetry data, visualizations of various driving programs, and AMG TRACK PACE race track telemetry.

Final thoughts

What a time to be alive. As the most powerful three-row SUV on the market, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 is able to beat a C7 Chevy Corvette to 100 km/hr. Equally ridiculous is the fact that you can do all this with a six-member rock band piled into it and they will all be comfortable. No Mercedes-AMG GLE63 can do that, and no Porsche Cayenne can do that.

This recently redesigned ballistic people mover astounds with its combination of luxury, technology, speed, refinement, and power.

While automakers are always looking for white space in the marketplace so as to find a niche they haven’t tapped into before, Mercedes-Benz is the OG in this field, having first created the ML55 AMG SUV over 20 years ago.

If you’re in the market for a 603 horsepower luxurious horseless carriage for your extended family, the 2021 GLS63 will set you back a cool $190,000+, and you’ll even look good enjoying it too.

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[REVIEW] 2021 Mercedes-AMG E63s wagon

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If money was no object and there was only one type of vehicle I could own, a wagon would probably be pretty high on the list. The critical boxes that would have to be ticked on this “only one vehicle” list would include exclusivity, practicality, performance, quality, and character.

Not many vehicles have the ability to have be fun to drive, turn heads, but yet be able to transport the whole family in complete comfort and style, whether it’s to the latest restaurant in town, or up to Whistler for a weekend ski trip.

The 2021 Mercedes-AMG E63s wagon sits in this rarified air as one of the few vehicles that can cruise on the Autobahn for hundreds of kilometres, scaring other cars out of the fast lane with its LED matrix headlamps. Yet, this German muscle car / wagon is equipped with comfortable yet sporty seats and has space for a decently long road trip for five people.

The AMG engineers in Affalterbach have somehow managed to tune this heavy-ish $140,000+ 4MATIC all-wheel-drive wagon to move with the agility of a car much lighter while still being genuinely entertaining in the process.

Better than the sum of all its parts?

People may regard SUVs as a more interesting way to transport peoples and their stuff. Wagons were purported to be uncool with a lameo-o mommy-mobile image from yesteryear. However, I think that the times are a-changing as I received mostly nothing but positive comments and admiring looks from people of all ages during my week with the 2021 Mercedes-AMG E63s wagon. Thanks to shows like Top Gear, it is the age of the Euro wagon once again.

The latest E63s wagon sticks with the grand AMG tradition of having a model name that does not actually relate to the engine displacement. Under the hood is an AMG hand built 4.0-litre V8 engine producing 603 horsepower and 627 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to all four wheels through an AMG-tuned 9G-Tronic automatic transmission and AMG’s 4Matic+ all-wheel-drive system.

The AMG wagon rides on standard air springs and adaptive dampers and claws at the pavement with 20-inch Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summer tires. This sticky and expensive rubber is sized 265/35R-20 in front and 295/30R-20 at the rear.

Like most modern cars, there are five driver selectable modes. In AMG-speak, they’re Comfort, Sport, Sport +, Individual, and Race. There is also a Drift mode that disconnects the front axle and directs the power solely to the rear tires. Yes, that’s right boys and girls, moms and dads, this wagon can do burnouts and power slides (only on private roads, of course).

While 2021 isn’t the first year for the E63s wagon, the model year brings updates across the E-Class line-up. With the E63, this includes a new front fascia and an AMG GT-like Panamericana-grille with vertical chrome slats.  Optionally available AMG bits include a carbon fibre front splitter, rear bumper insert,  side sills, and a gloss black rear diffuser. Not quite your typical family wagon’s bits and bobs.

There is also an updated interior, with the latest AMG Sport steering wheel with capacitive touch buttons and the latest version of the MBUX infotainment system. Some say that the 2021 model’s exhaust is quieter than before, but none of these updates seem to take away from the E63s’s stunning performance or racy feel. In Sport mode, it feels positively rowdy but in a refined way.

The Mercedes-AMG E63s wagon’s main competitor is obviously the new RS6 Avant. However, it has less power (sub-600 horsepower) and is arguably more showy with its aggressive fenders and sharp edges. It just depends on what you’re into I suppose.

What’s it like to drive?

Nothing quite prepares you for the supercar-rivalling acceleration, made even more hilarious when enjoyed in a wagon. The rear-biased 4MATIC+ system results in the 4,200 pound wagon accelerating from 0-100 km/hr in 3.4 seconds. That’s faster than most Ferrari 599 GTBs or F430 Scuderias, both of which are hyper-focused supercars.

The AMG twin-turbo V8 combined with the EQ Boost starter-motor alternator provides you with an unending wave of torque at any speed and essentially at any revs. There are masses of low-down grunt like what you might expect from a forced-induction motor, but the delivery is linear and without any turbo lag.

Part of the credit for this instant response is the 48-volt electrical system that powers both the adaptive suspension plus the EQ Boost mild hybrid system. The latter is good for an additional output of 21 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque in short bursts.

The dual-clutch gearbox punches home through the nine ratios with unrivalled immediacy, and its closely spaced ratios allow for muted cruising when the occasion presents itself.

At full chat in Sport+ mode, the turbocharged V8 is as loud as a thunderstorm. But in comfort mode, the ballistic engine is just a soft gurgle at start-up.

Happily the incredible acceleration and pace is matched by a really involving driving experience. While the ride is firm, it’s never punishing despite the large 20-inch wheels. The three chamber air suspension system and the adjustable dampeners are well tuned with the adjustable anti-roll bars. It’s truly impressive how the setup can handle anything from track use to daily commutes.

The E63’s steering also has a high level of precision, giving the driver a lot of confidence when driving quickly on twisty roads, or even just around parking lots.

It is even all the more impressive that this is accomplished in the heavier wagon version of the E63s. In short, the E63s wagon is far more agile, alert, and enjoyable than you’d expect in a car not just of this size, but in any size. I found it deeply involving, exciting, and one of the highlights of the cars I’ve driven this year.

 

What about the interior and the tech toys?

Despite being an AMG vehicle, my 2021 E63s wagon wasn’t kitted out to be overly sporty. Yes, you can get a rather expensive carbon fibre trim package but perhaps it is a little too “try hard” in this vehicle.

The wagon’s interior was a mix of high quality materials (nappa leather, open pore wood), a well designed dashboard and comfortable seats. Sure, there are the typical 64-colour LED ambient lights, the latest AMG steering wheel featuring two tiny colour LCD screens and configurable buttons/dials, as well as the latest MBUX Infotainment system.

One of my favourite features was the active bolstered front seats, which feature dynamic side bolsters to push you on the opposite side of the curve in which you are cornering. This allows the seat to be both supportive and comfortable at the same time.

Look beyond the upholstered sections of the cabin and you’d be hard press to spot any areas of cheap plastics, even around the centre console area or door mouldings. There’s even a retractable pet divider that rises from the cargo area tonneau cover. I also liked the motorised cargo cover which conveniently lifts out of the way when the tailgate is open.

Coming full circle on a personal note

Despite its ridiculous amount of power, the E63s wagon is as practical as the standard E-Class wagon. I used it to help my parents to move out of our family home of over 20 years. Two decades ago when we moved into the house, it was in our W124 Mercedes-Benz 300TE wagon. Although it has been years since I lived in that house, it seemed only fitting that I helped my folks to move out in another E-Class wagon.

I was thankful for the E63s’ 640-litre load bay that expanded to a class-leading 1,820 litres with the rear seats folded flat. This meant for less trips from the old house to the new house, which also meant less trips to the fuel pump.

You see, one of the downsides of the wonder AMG V8 is that you’ll want to feel and listen to it all the time. This resulted in high 16L/100 kms average fuel consumption for the week that I had the E63s wagon. With a light right foot, in comfort mode, and at highway speeds, the E63s can deactivate four of its eight cylinders to save on fuel.

Final thoughts

Although the 2021 Mercedes-AMG E63s wagon may fly under the radar for most onlookers, the E-Class wagon holds a special place in my heart.

From the driver’s seat, it’s often easy to forget what it is. And what “it” is, is a 603 horsepower family-friendly rocket with room to spare. Yet it’s also a luxurious track car that accelerates and brakes like a supercar and has bragging rights to match.

There aren’t too many other vehicles that can boast 18.9 psi of turbo boost, a 3.4 second 0-100 km/hr time, and yet also 1,800+ litres of cargo hauling capacity.

While it may not be as flashy as its main competitor, the Audi RS6 Avant, with no BMW M5 Touring wagon planned, the E63s wagon is my pick for one of my favourite cars I’ve driven this year.

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[REVIEW] 2022 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye

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The days of the old-school large rear-wheel-drive American sedans are largely over. Ford basically doesn’t sell sedans any longer in North America, Chevrolet bowed out of that market years ago, and Dodge? Well Dodge is the last man standing with the Dodge Charger.

Loved by the police force in Vancouver, which has an entire fleet of them, the Dodge Chargers look mean, brash, bold, and very much in keeping with the Dodge design language. So bold was the design that there was a small pocket of Vancouverites that complained that the Charger police cars looked much less approachable than the VPD’s Ford Crown Victoria’s that they replaced.

Based on an old platform inherited from Mercedes-Benz from the DaimlerChrysler days, the Charger has become a fully developed large car.

The boldest and most brash of the line-up has got to be the subject of this review, the 2021 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye widebody.

What’s in a name?

The “Charger” name has been around since 1966, a throwback from the muscle car era. At that time, Dodge was trying to create a larger pony car and the Charger was the result of their effort.

In order to make it stand out, the company wanted to create a more expensive and luxurious car that had more space for four, unlike the Ford Mustang which had compromised rear seating. Available only as a two-door fastback, the very first-generation Dodge Charger was also available with an optional 426 cubic inch Hemi V8. And thus, the union between the Charger name and the Hemi engine was born.

Anyone who watched television back in the 1980’s will tell you that America’s most favourite car is the Dodge Charger, thanks to the likes of the cult series “The Dukes of Hazzard”.

Fast forward to 2021 and the seventh generation Dodge Charger is still alive and kicking well over half a decade later (albeit there was 20 year hiatus). Now only available as a four door sedan, my test vehicle is the top dog model, created by Dodge’s former “Street & Racing Technology” high-performance automobile group within Stellantis North America.

This same group began in 1989 and was responsible for developing the first Dodge Viper, therefore the pedigree is unquestionable.

Although all of the core elements of the SRT performance engineering team have now been integrated into Stellantis’ global engineering organization, the Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye is a fitting tribute as one of the team’s last projects.

To differentiate the Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye further from the standard car, Dodge has tweaked virtually every panel on the car and added functional hood vents and unique front and rear bumpers.

Styling cues taken from other models include a black matte texture roof and hood, a cold air intake that echoes that of the original Viper coupe, as well as creases in the fenders and doors that imitate the look of the 1960’s Charger. The aerodynamics of the Hellcat have been revised slightly, too, with new additions including a rear spoiler and an integrated front splitter.

In order to truly spot the Redeye though, you’ll have to look for the bedazzled jewel in the eye of the Hellcat logo on the front fenders, as well as the larger hood scoop and relocated vents flanking the scoop.

What’s under the hood?

The Charger Hellcat Redeye’s claim to fame is its supercharged Hemi V8 engine. It’s almost comical that Dodge has normalized a 700+ horsepower car, making it less of a rare occurrence than it once was.

The “Hellcat” name pays homage to the muscle cars of old, with 717 horsepower from a 6.2-litre Supercharged Hemi V8. Step up to the Redeye model and you’ll be rewarded with an extra dose of ‘hang onto your hats”, thanks to a nuclear 797 horses powerplant and a claimed 203 mph top speed.

The Redeye’s extra 90 extra horses is courtesy of a larger 2.7-litre screw-type supercharger with 14.5 psi of boost compared to the regular Hellcat’s 2.4-litre supercharger with 11.6 psi of boost. The Hellcat Redeye’s red line is also higher at 6,500 rpms compared to 6,200 rpms. As you can imagine, all of this displacement is only useful if combustion can happen. To ensure the engine is fed properly, the Redeye has two fuel pumps instead of just one.

Other internal changes include stronger forged aluminium pistons, connecting rods, valvetrain and increased oil flow components. Even the driveshaft is 15 per cent beefier and the axles 20 per cent stronger on the Hellcat Redeye compared to the regular Hellcat.

If we want to get really technical, the engine features a forged steel crankshaft with induction-hardened bearing surfaces and a specially tuned crank damper that has been tested to 13,000 rpms.

To harness all of this power, Dodge fits all Charger Hellcats with the standard widebody kit which includes wider, stickier tires and stiffer chassis components. New fender flares add 3.3 inches of width to the Charger and accommodate 11.0-inch wide, 20-inch diameter wheels wrapped in Pirelli tires sized 305/35R-20 at all corners.

This additional width truly emphasizes the Charger’s visual menace, and the car looks even more like it’s up to no good.

How does it drive?

With only rear wheel drive and 707 pound-feet of torque, these Redeye leaves no one wanting for more power. This power is sent to the rear wheels via a heavy-duty torque-converter-based quick shifting eight-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission. Dodge says that it is capable of shifting gears in as quick as 160ms.

This gearbox also has a rev-matching feature, further helping to smoothen out the engine’s delivery.

All of this unreal performance means that drivers much exercise restraint when applying the throttle pedal in order to maintain traction. Even with a rear limited slip differential and traction control, the rear wheels can easily spin in wet weather.

When you are able to hook-up the rear tires properly, 0-100 km/hr runs can be blasted down in around 3.5 seconds, about 3/10ths of a second faster than the regular Charger Hellcat.

Dodge also allows drivers to easily turn down the horsepower output of the Hellcats with just a couple of pushes of the button on the infotainment screen. I was somewhat relieved to drop it from 797 horses to 500 horses during the extremely rainy week that I had the Charger.

Of course, to get access to the full 797 horsepower in the first place, you have to start the Charger using the special performance red key. Using the “regular” black key results in a limit of “only” 500 horsepower via a less powerful fuel map and a 4,000 rpm rev limiter is put in place.

 

In day-to-day traffic, the Hellcat’s front tires don’t communicate as much to the steering wheel as I’d like and the wide body kit does result in a worse turning circle. Be prepared to do more three-point-turns than you might expect. Still, the ride is surprisingly compliant and the handling is sound. There’s no masking the Charger for the big car that it is though.

A three-mode-driver selectable sports suspension helps to improve performance while balancing comfort. Additionally, the Charger Hellcat Redeye sports the largest brakes ever offered by Dodge, with 15.4-inch floating Brembo discs at the front and six-piston calipers.

What about the inside?

Inside, you’ll find a revamped interior with surprisingly comfortable and plush seats. You sit quite high off the floor and the seats are comfortable over long distances. This ain’t no European sedan, that’s for sure.

Dodge says that higher quality materials have been used throughout, and my test car’s split leather and alcantara seats have been recently redesigned for improved comfort and support. Nonetheless, this is an aging vehicle and cheap materials still linger. At least the dash and door panels have soft-touch surfaces.

An 18-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system is standard, as is an electrically adjustable heated steering wheel, paddle shifters, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a Wi-Fi hotspot and automatic climate control.

The UConnect infotainment system works well, but the 7.0 inch screen looks small and is a bit slow when compared to the updated unit in the 2021 Dodge Durango Citadel I reviewed a few months ago.

The “Performance Pages” function allows drivers to customize the car’s responses by tailoring the suspension, shift speeds, traction control modes and engine output, but the system is slow to load requiring several seconds to boot up.

Final thoughts

Part of the Dodge Charger’s successful formula has been its many personalities. Whether it’s a cop car, muscle car, a family-capable sedan, or a muscle car, its success is that it can be any of those things depending on what package and powertrain you choose.

As more of the automotive world shifts towards electrification, the days of this nostalgia-inducing, tire-burning, four-door heathen are numbered. However this is a special car that makes mundane drives to the office silly, fun, and exciting. You giggle everytime you put your foot down and hear that audacious supercharger whine.

Yes, it’s true that Dodge charges a hefty amount for the experience, but I would be hard pressed to find another 700+ horsepower car which is at a similar price point.

If you look upon it this way, there’s no other vehicle out there that offers the combination of supercharger whine, sinister looks, and excessive horsepower, save it for something from Dodge themselves.

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[REVIEW] 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA45

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There comes a point in life where even car enthusiasts have to concede that despite having four doors, a sporty sedan such as a Subaru WRX STI or a Mitsubishi Evo just don’t fit the bill as a family car regardless of how many doors they both have.

While Subaru used to offer a five door hatch version of the WRX, there weren’t enough sales to justify the engineering costs. With the Ford Focus no longer sold in North America, the closest an enthusiast can get to a performance five door hatchback is arguably the 2021 Mazda3 all-wheel-drive five door hatch with the optional turbocharged 2.0-litre four cylinder engine borrowed from the CX-5 and CX-9 SUVs.

Mazda stops short of calling the Mazda 3 Hatch a true performance car though, and the torquey turbocharged engine, as good as it is, lacks the character needed to fill that role anyway.

So what is one to do when looking for a blend of more luxury, a carlike seating position, a sporty hatchback driving experience, but also additional space for family activities and the associated accoutrement?

Look no further than the increasing plethora of sportier crossover SUVs from luxury manufacturers such as the subject of this review, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA45.

What’s new?

The previous GLA45 was a bit of an odd design with a semi-butch interior but yet small hatch dimensions. This time, the GLA is closer to what you’d expect size-wise compared to other conventional crossovers.

The move seems to be a smart one since both the Mercedes-AMG A35 and A45 five door hot hatchbacks are both offered in Canada (but not in the USA), along with the A35/45 sedan. By making it a bit bigger, the GLA differentiates itself from the hatches and is able to command more of a price premium as well.

Compared to its predecessor, the GLA now rides on Mercedes’ new MFA2 (modular front-wheel-drive architecture) and is more than 10 centimetres higher than its predecessor even though it’s 1.5 centimetres shorter. The AMG-specific Panamericana radiator grille with vertical slats identifies the newcomer as a member of the AMG Performance family.

Like the A45 and CLA45, AMG’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four cylinder engine makes an appearance here, delivering its maximum output of 415 horsepower at 6,750 rpms and 369 lb-ft of torque from 5,000 to 5,250 rpms. The engine is no mean feat as it is the most powerful production four-cylinder engine currently for sale.

It is hand built in an entirely new production line at the Affalterbach AMG engine production facility, where Mercedes-AMG has raised the “One Man, One Engine” principle.

As with the A45 and CLA45, power flows to all four wheels via an eight-speed AMG Speedshift dual-clutch automatic transmission (the lesser “35” AMGs only get a seven-speed). Although primarily front-wheel drive biased, the GLA45’s 4MATIC+ all-wheel-drive system is able to vector power at the rear from side-to-side via a pair of multi-plate clutches at the rear axle.

Official 0-100 km/hr times come in at only 4.3 seconds, only 0.4 seconds behind the lighter A45 hatch.

Like the non-AMG GLAs, the steering is variable-ratio and electrically assisted. Stopping is courtesy of significantly uprated brakes – chunky six-piston calipers and 360mm discs up front, and single-piston, 330mm rears.

My test vehicle was fitted with the handsome 21-inch two toned alloy wheels but 20-inch wheels are standard.

Does it serve as its advertised purpose as a “hot” crossover?

Over two decades later after AMG released its first high-performance luxury SUV, the ML55 AMG, many enthusiasts struggle to see the appeal of large monster-engined vehicles.

Those who are in this camp should feel more at home with the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA45 being smaller, more athletic, and a more focused driver’s machine versus its larger cousins. It’s essentially a crossover version of the handsome CLA four door coupe.

Compared to the first generation GLA45, this latest model looks like it has grown up a bunch with its short front and rear overhangs Yet, the GLA’s designers have stayed true to its character with its muscular proportions, contoured side profile, and visually compact greenhouse.

On the inside

The interior of the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA45 is almost identical to that of its GLA250 sibling with its high-quality turbine looking air vents and the high tech looking MBUX infortainment system dominating the dashboard.

The seating position for both the driver and the front passenger is higher and more upright than in the predecessor model with the driver and front passenger sitting 140 mm higher than in the A-Class. In comparison to the previous model, all-around visibility has also been improved, mainly due to an optimized cross-section for the roof pillars, which now block out less of the surrounding area.

Mercedes has done a commendable version of making the GLA45’s cabin feel premium despite its relatively lowly position on the AMG vehicle line-up. While it may not be anywhere as opulent as the GLE63s coupe, the interior still feels upscale and special. Moreover, it feels different enough from the non-AMG GLA.

The excellent multi-coloured ambient lighting system helps to bring some theatre to the otherwise plain interior. My test vehicle was fitted with the excellent AMG Performance front seats which lend to the upscale AMG vibe. Their shape wraps around you and holds you into position and are much more comfortable than the previous generation GLA45’s performance seats.

Despite being an entry-level AMG model, Mercedes hasn’t left out any of the tech goodies found on even the top-end AMG vehicles. Drivers can choose between the three AMG display styles of “Classic”, “Sport” and “Supersport” for the instrument cluster.

The “Supersport” mode is particularly striking with a central, round rev counter and additional information presented in the form of bars to the left and right of the rev counter: with a three-dimensional perspective, they reach far into the background to an artificial horizon.

In the AMG menu, the driver can call up various special displays such as gear speed indicator, Warm-up, Set-up, G-Meter, RACETIMER and Engine Data.

Onboard race engineer

Mercedes even offers the GLA45 with a system called “AMG Trace Pace”, purported to be a virtual race engineer.

Integrated into the MBUX infotainment system, the system is designed to be used when navigating a race circuit.

It continuously monitors more than 80 vehicle-specific data points (e.g. GPS position, speed, acceleration) and displays lap and sector times, as well as the respective difference from a reference time. Specific display elements are shown in green or red, and the driver is able to see at a glance whether they are faster or slower than their best time.


Well-known race tracks such as the Nürburgring or Spa Francorchamps, are already programmed within the system, and drivers can record their own circuits. The map display can even be switched from 2D to 3D and updated online.

The MBUX Augmented Reality function also allows the ideal line of a stored race track to be displayed on the multimedia display or optional head-up display, allowing the driver to improve lap times with a virtual instructor on board.


How does it drive?

For the most part, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA45 feels very much like the hot hatchback upon which its based. I found the higher ride height and seating position better to navigate around the sea of SUVs and pick-up trucks in day-to-day traffic with little of the penalty from the higher centre of gravity.

AMG extensively reinforced the body shell of the GLA45 compared to the GLA250, with a lightweight aluminium plate bolted underneath the engine to increase the front end’s torsional rigidity. Front and rear underbody diagonal struts further improve rigidity by reducing twisting of the body shell during cornering, braking, and load changes.


There is very little roll and slack in the chassis, and the GLA45 feels eager and alert. The adjustable steering weight has much more feel than the first gen GLA45 and the rack is very quick.

The 4 piston front calipers and internally ventilated and perforated brakes are equally responsive where only a light touch of the pedal is needed to stop the GLA. Opting for the optional AMG Track Pack, as fitted to my vehicle, and the GLA45 is fitted with an even larger braking system featuring red 6 piston front calipers and 360 x 36 mm brake discs up front. Non-track pack cars are fitted with 4 piston front calipers and slightly smaller 350 x 34 mm rotors.

You might expect the GLA to ride rather harshly due to its re-enforcements and taut chassis but you’d be wrong. Aside from oodles more space, you enjoy the same immediacy from the A45, but with a slightly more compliant ride.

None of the suspension components have been carried over from the previous generation vehicle, and the new McPherson strut front suspension and 4-link rear suspension is much more comfortable. Adaptive dampening, aka AMG Ride Control, allows the driver the choice of three different suspension tuning modes, from Comfort to Sporty to Dynamic.


The system operates automatically, adapting the damping forces for each wheel according to the driving situation and road conditions. This happens within milliseconds and is infinitely variable, with a wide spread of damping characteristics.

Final thoughts

Despite riding 40 mm higher than an A45, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA45 is good enough to make you question how much hot hatch or how much SUV you really need in your life. It is more responsive than its main rival, the 2021 BMW X2 M35i and even has more space.

With much of the technology shared from the larger and much more expensive AMG models, the GLA45 offers enough SUV versatility combined with hot hatch-ness to make it a credible candidate for a performance daily driver.

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