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The AMG version of the subcompact crossover is closer to a sports car than an SUV.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - The AMG version of the GLA pumps up the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine to 221 horsepower and comes standard with all-wheel-drive.AMG was formed in 1967 to offer high-performance engines for Mercedes-Benz automobiles. The name was derived from the initials of the two ex-Mercedes engineers who founded the company, and the hometown of one of them. Aufrecht, Melcher, and Grossaspach changed the way the world saw Mercedes-Benz. In 1999 Mercedes bought out AMG and it became the brand's in-house performance works. Now Mercedes-AMG produces high performance versions of many Mercedes-Benz cars and SUVs.

The Mercedes-AMG GLA35 is a case in point. The GLA is Mercedes' smallest SUV. Honestly, it's what most of us would call a hatchback car, but in the modern era it's more fashionable to call it a crossover SUV. However, by any name this is one of Mercedes' most delightful vehicles. And with Mercedes-Benz, that's saying something because this premium brand's showroom is filled with great cars.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - The additional cargo space behind the reat seats adds practicality to the Mercedes GLA35, whether it is the base or AMG versions.

The basic engine for the GLA is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine at 221 horsepower, but we were driving the AMG version, so the same engine is dialed up to produce 302 horses and 295 pound-feet of torque. The engine is paired to a twin-clutch eight-speed automatic for exhilarating performance, and you can choose front-wheel or all-wheel-drive.

The AMG versions all come with 4MATIC all-wheel-drive, and it's nearly magical on snow and ice, which we have in quantity this week. The AMG GLA35, as tested, accelerates from 0-60 in just 5.1 seconds. If that's not enough, you can upgrade to the AMG GLA45 and the engine bumps up to 382 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque, with a 0-60 time of 4.3 seconds.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - The GLA comes with several screens, but they're all integrated into one big glass dash panel that looks great.

Inside, the GLA seats four adults comfortably. You can theoretically sit three people in the back seat for a total of five passengers, but it would be pretty crowded. Any Mercedes comes with a nice interior, but the AMG version sports everything up with racing-inspired seats upholstered in Nappa leather and Dinamica microsuede, and a suede-wrapped steering wheel. AMG also plusses up the suspension and brakes to make the GLA35 a real serious hot rod.

Mercedes-Benz is leading the industry in dashboard technology right now. The GLA comes with several screens, but they're all integrated into one big glass dash panel. The driver's information display is configurable and offers a science-fiction style presentation, while the part of the panel over the center of the dashboard offers infotainment, navigation, climate, and vehicle setting controls. The Mercedes-Benz User eXperience (MBUX) package supports gesture control and voice commands, including Internet access by saying "Hey Mercedes" and asking questions. The MBUX navigation system has a cool feature where it displays a camera view of the road ahead, with floating tags to identify street names, destination addresses, and floating arrows showing you which way to turn.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - The front bucket sport seats are both supportive and comfortable, as expected for a Mercedes.

At the start of this review, I said the GLA was delightful. That's true whether you buy the basic GLA or the AMG, but the AMG model is definitely a sports car. All of our Portland-area Mercedes-Benz dealers will have both models to choose from, and if you can't afford the AMG version, I'm sure you'll like the basic GLA as much as I do. For utility, sporty driving, and comfort, you won't find a better premium compact crossover on the market today.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - The rear seats are best for two people, but carry them in style and comfort.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA35 4MATIC

Base price: $47,550

Price as tested: $53,630

Type: Compact SUV

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (302 hp, 295 lbs-ft)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

EPA estimated mileage: 23/29

Overall length: 173.6 inches

Curb weight: 3,700 pounds

Final assembly: Rastatt, Germany


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