I hit the second staging light and began to panic. What’s the sequence needed to engage Mercedes-Benz‘s semi-secret race start mode again?
Engine: 2.0 L turbocharged four-cylinder, 355 hp, 332 lb-ft.
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
USA Pricing: GLA 45 AMG 4MATIC starts at $49,225 after destination charges, came in at $ $57,705 as tested.
CDN Pricing: GLA 45 AMG 4MATIC starts at $52,595 after destination charges, came in at $61,285 as tested.
EPA Fuel Economy: 23 mpg city, 29 mpg hwy
CDN Fuel Economy: 10.5 L/100 km city, 8.1 L/100 km hwy
All that came to me was “Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start.” No, that wasn’t it. People were already looking at this unsuspecting little black German crossover trying to unsuccessfully stage on the drag strip. I could see snickers beginning to form on the corners of their mouths as they wondered how high up in the “slow-teens” this vehicle would run.
I paused for a second, regained my composure and began the real race start sequence. First, put the dual-clutch transmission into manual mode and the stability control system into its sport handling mode. With the vehicle at a complete stop, depress the brake pedal with my left foot and pull back on both paddles until the center gauge prompts me to confirm that I do indeed want to active race start.
SEE ALSO: 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG Review
Quickly click the right paddle shifter once to confirm and then stomp on the gas hard with my right foot, while still depressing the brake pedal with my left. The GLA 45 spooled to around 4,000 rpm and waited for the brake to be released before launching the AMG towards the horizon. By the time I had gone through the entire sequence though, the green light had long been lit and my reaction time was worse than a faltering 34-year-old minor league hockey goalie.
Are Fast Crossovers a Thing?
I can’t blame people for scratching their heads upon seeing the GLA crossover getting ready to rip the strip. These these things are intended to shuttle around children and make trips to Costco, right? Lacking the optional aerodynamic package, nothing about the GLA 45 screams performance to the casual observer. But this indeed a full-blooded AMG model.
The GLA eschews Mercedes’ other AMG crossover’s and SUV’s need for a big, honking V8 and settles for turbocharged four-cylinder engine. But just because it’s missing half the cylinders doesn’t mean the GLA is down on power. Even with a mere 2.0-liters of displacement, the turbo engine unleashes 355 hp and 332 lb-ft. of torque. Power is sent to a part-time, on-demand all-wheel system through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
The Reason for Race Start
And this is why it’s so important to enable race start before performing any sort of timed acceleration run. As I’ve stated before, the seven-speed transmission is full of low-speed lag. The delay from a dead stop is borderline atrocious for such an otherwise powerful and fun crossover.
Race start eliminates this lag and puts all the power at the ready with no delay. As well, race start locks the all-wheel-drive system in a 50/50 front to rear power split. Without race start enabled, the GLA is 100 percent front-wheel drive, even in AMG guise, until front wheel slippage is detected. Then power will be sent to the rear wheels, but this wastes valuable time as the front tires momentarily slip and spin.
So the GLA 45 AMG has a lot of power and an instantaneous launch mode. But how fast can a 3,457-lb crossover really be? Mercedes-Benz claims the vehicle can hit 60 mph from a standstill in just 4.8 seconds. As fast as that sounds, I think it can run even faster. There’s only one way to find out, so let’s get back to the track.
Test and Tune
Many drag strips across the continent offer what is referred to as a test and tune session. It’s an open time trial day that allows drag racing teams to tune their race cars while people in street cars can have some fun ripping down the strip for pride and bragging rights.
I arrived at the track after a two-hour drive and parked the GLA to allow it cool down, but not too much, as race start requires all the fluids to be up to temperature before engaging. The air temperatures for the evening hovered between 70 and 75 degrees and it looked like a nice night for racing.
Blasted Wheel Hop
My first few runs would take place in a lane reserved strictly for street cars on street tires. This lane offered less grip than the one used by the purpose-built drag cars, but with all-wheel drive, it shouldn’t affect the GLA too much.
I was wrong. The rear wheels produced what’s referred to as wheel hop as soon as launch control engaged. Basically, wheel hop occurs when vast amounts of power are trying to be applied to the road. Instead of the tires propelling the car forward, they send the energy upward and compress the suspension, momentarily losing contact with the road.
On all three runs in the street car-only lane, the rear tires of the GLA 45 would hop four times on launch. This produced 60-foot times of 1.8 to 1.9 seconds. That’s pretty good for a stock street car, but I knew the GLA could do better.
Oh Yeah, It’s Fast
Slightly flawed launch or not, even with my tardy reaction time on my first attempt, the GLA rocketed down the strip in a loud, farty and fantastic display of speed. Not everyone is in love with the sound the GLA 45 AMG makes, but I like its baby-rally car soundtrack and it’s well suited for the levels of speed this mini-crossover is capable of.
So just how fast was it? My first run clicked by at 12.91 seconds with a trap speed of 106.8 mph (171.9 km/h). Without really knowing what I was doing, I just broke in the 12 second range with a posh crossover. On my next two runs, I timed the launch control better and clicked off a 12.89 second run at 106.4 mph (171.2 km/h) and a 12.90 second run at 106.3 mph (171.1 km/h). The GLA 45 appears to be a perfect bracket racer.
Finally Get in the Sticky Lane
On my last run of the night, I was finally allowed to use the grippier race-car-only lane. Instantly, I could feel how much better the car launched. The rear tires only hopped twice, taking a tenth of a second off the 60-foot time. At the far end of the quarter mile, that tenth of a second advantage remained as I clocked a 12.81 second run at 106.7 mph (171.7 km/h).
I figure if the GLA launches with zero wheel hop, there’s another tenth of a second that could be scraped off the quarter mile time. That night, I could have lowered the air pressure in the rear tires to get more grip, but then I wouldn’t be driving the GLA in stock form anymore. But if any owners plan to go to the track, this is a nice trick you can use to prevent some of the rear wheel hop. And while you’re at it, drive on a quarter tank of fuel and remove all unneeded items from the car for further weight savings.
The Verdict: Drag Racing a Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG
It wasn’t that long ago that a street car breaking into the 12-second quarter-mile range off the showroom floor was something spectacular. Only the craziest of supercars could do that. Now, a subcompact crossover with a four-cylinder engine is capable of performing this impressive feat
And, at a starting price under $50,000, it’s not ridiculously expensive, either. But the most unbelievable fact may be that when not tearing up the quarter-mile, this 12-second mini-monster will sip fuel to the tune of 29 mpg on the highway.
It’s a wondrous age we live in right now when it comes to the advancements in automotive technology. It’s enabling vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG to exist, that let you have that proverbial cake, and eat it too.
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