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Mercedes-Benz GLA review (2014 onwards)
Mercedes-Benz GLA: introduction
People just can't get enough of compact, sporty crossovers it seems, and the Mercedes-Benz GLA is the German brand's entry to a market that includes cars such as the Audi Q3, Porsche Macan and Range Rover Evoque.
Think of it as an A-Class that's been to the gym and come back pumped-up, if not to SUV levels. It's certainly more rugged and practical than the A-Class, but is it worth the extra cost?
We like: classy interior, good economy, improved space over A-Class
We don’t like: diesel engines get noisy, lacks the high driving position of rivals, high prices
Mercedes-Benz GLA: first impressions
It comes as a surprise to find that there are still premium car niches that Mercedes has overlooked. While Audi and BMW have offered the Q3 and X1 for years, Mercedes has had no rival ‘Compact crossover’.
If you pick manual, there’s some gear shifting to do via the delightfully well-engineered paddles
That’s industry-speak for a small SUV that combines a strong bias towards Tarmac roads with the promise of off-road potential – if you buy one with four-wheel drive. Not that many people do in the UK. They generally buy into the more rugged looks but avoid the associated cost by picking a two-wheel-drive version.
What’s curious about the new GLA is how similar it is to the A-Class it's based on. The two cars don't share any external panels, but they look similar and are much the same size. So although the GLA is a bit taller (and offers more room inside) it’s a long way short of offering the elevated driving position that most buyers seem to value in cars like these.
Mercedes GLA: performance
The Mercedes GLA engine range initially comprises two 2.1-litre turbodiesel engines and two 2.0-litre turbo petrol models (in the GLA 250 and the GLA 45 AMG). Here we'll concentrate on the diesels.
The 200 CDI is the entry-level GLA, fitted with either a manual or automatic transmission. The 136hp may sound modest, but there’s plenty of torque so this is a satisfactory package. The six-speed manual gearchange is easy, the clutch light enough and, as long as you don’t expect to belt around, it’s reasonably refined.
The 220 CDI, with 170hp, is much more powerful, although the extra punch comes at high revs. That’s a bit of a problem because this Mercedes diesel gets gruff and vocal once you get past 3,000rpm, which is where you need to be to get the additional performance over the 200 CDI.
The alternative is to let the standard seven-speed automatic transmission take the strain, which it does very well. The lever is, in Mercedes fashion, a column on the steering wheel. Shift into Drive, select Eco, Sport or Manual on the lower-dashboard button, and indulge in the driving experience.
Of course, if you picked Manual, there’s some gear shifting to do via the delightfully well-engineered paddles behind the steering wheel. The shifts are seamless.
Mercedes-Benz GLA: ride and handling
Buyers have choices to make here. Two- or four-wheel drive (Mercedes calls it 4MATIC), then Comfort or Sports suspension. As standard, the GLA SE comes with the Comfort set-up, while the AMG Line gets a slightly lower, stiffer Sports setting.
The GLA's interior stands apart from rivals with a unique, classy appeal
None of this should be confused with the full blood-curdling AMG 45 model. AMG Line is simply a cosmetic nod to sportiness, not the real thing.
As has become commonplace, low profile tyres contribute to a firm ride on all cars. The Mercedes GLA feels so well glued to the road even with Comfort specification that you should think hard about whether you really need anything further up the scale.
The steering is sharp, arguably a bit too sharp on occasion when even a small movement causes a marked change of direction. But with acclimatisation it’s fine, and even the basic front-wheel-drive 200 CDI can be driven with real vigour.
Built into the steering system are safety features that help correct skidding in corners or slippery surfaces, as well as providing some compensation for crosswinds and road camber.
4MATIC is, in all honesty, hard to notice on a dry road, giving much the same experience as the front-wheel-drive car. But the option comes with a sophisticated control package that, at the touch of a button, changes the parameters of the accelerator, gearchange and more to make the GLA better suited to slippery surfaces.
There is even a raised suspension option, which makes the GLA ride 30mm higher if you intend to tackle rugged tracks. The whole off-road experience works well enough, but we suspect few would be likely to venture into this world with a car like this.
Mercedes-Benz GLA: interior
There are no surprises inside for anyone familiar with the Mercedes A-Class, B-Class or CLA. From the driver’s seat they look all but identical, but that’s no problem because there are many pleasing aspects.
Steer clear of the less tasteful options available from the Mercedes palette of interior finishes and the GLA stands apart from rivals with a unique appeal. Certainly it makes the interiors of the Audi Q3 and BMW X1 seem unimaginative.
A key feature is the tablet-sized screen that's mounted at the top of the centre console. With a bit of practice its easy to use, while the display switches to the view from the standard reversing camera when appropriate. That’s just as well, because the view rearwards is heavily obstructed by the heavy rear pillars and shallow glass.
The circular air vents are a highlight and operate with mechanical crispness. Less satisfactory is the childish script on the instruments – the only aspect that looks downmarket.
The seats are either firm or very firm depending upon which you choose, but the shaping seems about right to give good long-distance support. The seat covering on the SE is what Mercedes calls Artico – an artificial leather material that is easy to wipe clean.
Rear space represents a notable improvement over the A-Class, both in terms of legroom and headroom. There's space for two adults or three kids. Boot space is up 40% over the A-Class, at 481 litres.
Mercedes-Benz GLA: fuel economy and safety
The 2.1-litre Mercedes engines may not be the last word in refinement, but they do offer a winning combination of performance with economy.
If the A-Class hatchback didn’t exist, the GLA would fit nicely in its place
The GLA 200 CDI averages 62.8mpg on the Combined cycle. You’ll be lucky to see that, but it gives a hint that 50mpg-plus is easily possible. The CO2 emissions figure is an impressive 119g/km. These numbers apply to both manual and automatic transmission.
Four-wheel drive and the extra power of the 220 CDI 4MATIC drop those figures to 55.4mpg and 132g/km. The petrol GLA 250 4MATIC comes in with 42.8mpg and 154g/km.
Mercedes is renowned for introducing advanced safety features from its larger models to its smaller ones and the GLA is a case in point. It's available with a huge array of optional safety features, while standard kit includes multiple airbags, Collision Assist and Brake Assist, which uses radar technology to detect the likelihood of an impact and take affirmative action if the driver doesn’t first.
Mercedes-Benz GLA: the verdict
Why no five-star verdict for the Mercedes GLA? Partly because it has a confused identity. If the A-Class hatchback didn’t exist, the GLA would fit nicely in its place. In many respects it’s simply a very slightly bigger A-Class. Nothing wrong in that, you may argue.
Mercedes-Benz certainly does, and it knows its markets. The A-Class is for younger drivers, it says, the GLA for families and the more mature. But then so is the B-Class. The key complaint we have is that every rival offers the kind of raised driving position that buyers of this kind of car love. The GLA simply feels too much like a normal hatchback.
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