Better late than never: Mercedes-Benz aims to take the burgeoning urban-SUV market by storm with the sweet-looking GLA.
Base price: $64,900.
Powertrain and performance: 2.1-litre turbo diesel four, 100kW/300Nm, 7-speed automated dual-clutch gearbox, front-drive, Combined economy 4.6 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 9.9 seconds.
Vital statistics: 4417mm long, 1494mm high, wheelbase 2699mm, luggage capacity 421-1235 litres, fuel tank 50 litres, 18-inch alloy wheels on 235/50 tyres.
We like: Styling, handling, high-quality cabin.
We don’t like: Diesel sounds agricultural, cramped cabin.
How it rates: 7/10
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? Mercedes-Benz is playing catch-up in the sports utility vehicle (SUV) segment, which now accounts for over 30 percent of new-car sales.
The Three-Pointed Star has been severely lacking in small-to-medium SUVs with which to compete against Audi and BMW – not to mention all the mainstream makers whose top-line models are nibbling away at the premium space.
The GLA is Mercedes-Benz’s counter-attack. It’s a small SUV based on the A-class hatchback, with different exterior styling and an extra 30mm ride height.
Our test car is the entry GLA 200 CDI turbo diesel, which comes in front-drive form only. But there are also all-wheel drive models in the range: the GLA 250 and the forthcoming GLA 45 AMG.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE? The A-class is a particularly sporting small car, with the opportunity cost of a firm ride. The GLA inherits quite a bit of that chassis verve, but trades off some cornering prowess for a more compliant ride. That’s true even of our test car, which rode on massive 19-inch alloys (a $590 option over the standard 18-inchers). It’s a good compromise.
The GLA 200 CDI engine is more of a mixed bag. The 2.1-litre turbo diesel is a new powerplant, based on the engine used in the C-class and E-class (not currently available in the A-class). It’s in a fairly modest state of tune for this car and can feel sluggish at low speed – unless you select Sport mode, which sharpens up the throttle and encourages a more sprightly response to your right foot.
Credit where credit is due: the diesel does rev eagerly and it’s extremely economical, with Combined economy of 4.6 litres per 100km. But don’t expect the ultimate in refinement from this model: as is often the case with Mercedes diesels, the powerplant is clattery at low speed and delivers quite a thrum into the cabin under acceleration.
IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH? The GLA borrows most of its cabin architecture from the A-class and in particular the sedan version of that model series, the CLA. Nothing wrong with that, for those models arguably top the class for interior design and quality. The inside of the GLA feels like a pretty special place to be.
But spacious it’s not. Fair enough – it is a small car after all. But people sold on the concept of an SUV might be surprised to find that the cabin is so intimate and the driving position just as reclined as it is in an A-class, even though you’re sitting a little higher off the ground.
The full-length panoramic glass roof ($1990) fitted to our test car did contribute even more to the closed-in feeling of the cabin. It really eats into headroom and anybody 180cm or taller might find they are kinking their neck just to fit in the thing. Our advice: if you like the glass roof, try before you buy.
The boot is modestly sized, but is easy to load thanks to the extra ride height. All GLA models are also fitted with a powered tailgate, which can be opened from the keyfob.
SHOULD I BUY ONE? Styling is a matter of personal taste, but we reckon Mercedes-Benz has the Audi Q3 and BMW X1 absolutely trounced when it comes to visual appeal. It’s a high hatchback rather than a small SUV and that does wonders for visual appeal.
Especially in the case of our test car, which wears an AMG styling kit as well as those special wheels. None of that enhancement comes cheap, of course: those two packages alone cost a total of $3780.
The drawback is that the GLA might not be quite as practical as some might expecting from an SUV-type model: the cabin is tight and that sleek styling does compromise loadspace.
Although premium pint-sized crossovers are probably not purchased primarily for their ability to carry cargo. As an urban crossover with a hugely desirable badge and striking styling, the GLA is guaranteed to put Mercedes-Benz on many more SUV shopping lists in the better parts of town.
- Air conditioning: Dual climate
- Audio: CD, iPod compatible
- Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/yes
- Blind spot warning: Yes
- Bluetooth: Yes
- Cruise control: Yes
- Driver footrest: Yes
- Head-up display: No
- Heated/ventilated seats: Heated with Seat Comfort package ($1290)
- Keyless entry/start: No
- Lane guidance: No
- Leather upholstery: Yes
- Parking radar: Front and rear with camera
- Power boot or tailgate: Yes
- Power seat adjustment/memory: Yes/Yes with Seat Comfort Package ($1290)
- Remote audio controls: Yes
- Satellite navigation: Yes
- Seat height adjustment: Yes
- Self-parking technology: No
- Split/folding rear seats: 60/40
- Steering reach adjustment: Yes
- Stop-start: Yes
- Trip computer: Yes
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