Mercedes GLA compact SUV takes on the BMW X1 and Audi Q3 -- but it is much smaller, so can it compete?
The GLA comes with an additional 50mm ride height, fatter tyres, softer suspension, and the inclusion of bushes to the rear subframe over the A-Class. All of this makes it a much comfier auto to travel in. Yes, there's a slight trade off in terms of handling compared to the lower, firmer and 40kg lighter A Class, but it is a price well worth paying for the vastly improved ride quality. That's not to say the GLA doesn't handle well, because while a BMW X1 may be slightly sharper, the Mercedes is easily a match for the Audi Q3 in the enjoyment stakes. The 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system, which merely the manual 200 CDI model doesn't get, helps too. It's joined into a seven-speed double clutch automatic gearbox and may send up to 50 percent of the engine's power to the rear wheels for improved corner-exit grip. Given its family hatchback underpinnings, it is no surprise to find the GLA has a safe and predictable handling equilibrium. The steering is direct, there's surprisingly little body roll also it grasps harder than an Evoque. As with other small SUVs though, the Mercedes GLA suffers from a stiff low-speed ride, which improves the faster you're going. However, the car remains prone to crash into potholes and fidget over expansion joints, but not quite as badly as its hatchback sibling. Our other grievance with the driving experience is the abnormal manner the variable power assisted steering unexpectedly weights up as you use more lock in tighter turns.
In terms of engines, the 134bhp 2.1-litre diesel 200 CDI is quick enough and is the most efficient model in the Mercedes GLA variety, as it returns of 67.3mpg and emits 110g/km CO2. Nevertheless, spin the key in the ignition and you will be left in no doubt about what type of engine is under the GLA's bonnet. The 2.1-litre unit clatters noisily at idle, and sends vibrations through the controls and flooring -- it's also gruff and extended on the move, and on the motorway things do not really settle down either. It is really a shame, becausethe combination of typical ride comfort as well as a coarse engine undermines the Mercedes' otherwise nicely insulated inside. The same 2.1-litre engine is also used in the 220 CDI, but it's 168bhp so it's apparently quicker. Nevertheless, it's not quite as economic -- it does 58.9mpg. One complaint together with the diesels is they're noisy when compared with the smooth 2.0-litre units located in the Audi Q3. The 2.0-litre petrol in the GLA 250 is much more refined and with 208bhp it can go from 0-62mph in 7.1 seconds -- market is still a decent 44.1mpg. Functionality fans can opt for the GLA 45 AMG. Its 2.0-litre turbo petrol has 355bhp, which is good for 0-62mph in just 4.8 seconds. The GLA 45 additionally has reworked steering, suspension, a reduced ride height and an alternate shift plan for its seven-speed automatic gearbox -- all of which combine to improve the driving experience and make it a really engaging performance auto with plenty of practicality.
In the case of the front-wheel drive Mercedes GLA 200 CDI with all the manual gearbox, it's a really cheap car to run. It could return 67.3mpg and has emissions of just 110kg/km CO2. The168bhp of precisely the same engine has clearly more poke, but even then, things are not terrible in terms of running costs thanks to 58.9mpg, plus 127g/km of CO2. The most economical petrol model in the Mercedes GLA line-up is the 250, which can be powered with a 208bhp 2.0-litre engine. In addition to reaching 0-62mph within an impressive 7.1 seconds, it still manages to return 44.1mpg and emit 153g/km of CO2. In reality, it is only the high performance Mercedes GLA 45 AMG that will undoubtedly be expensive to run, as it returns 37.7mpg and emits 175g/km, which really isn't too awful for the speed on offer. But if there's one problem with all the GLA it is that unlike using the Audi Q3 you can not get it with any of the smaller engines from the A Class range. Consequently the line up starts at a greater price point.
Unlike its tall, SUV-inspired competitions, the Mercedes GLA lookslike a family hatchback on stilts -- and that is exactly what it is. Click here The Mercedes is more than 100mm below its closest competition, while the large headlamps, bold grille and arch roofline are pure A-Class. Mercedes meets some rugged touches to the GLA, such as the plastic body cladding and wheelarches. Sport models get 18-inch alloys and aluminium roof rails, while buyers seeking a little more visual aggression can opt for the AMG Line sort of the GLA, which adds different alloy wheels plus a sporty, subtle bodykit. It's even prettier in the back -- something that can't be said about the A-Class. Visually, the GLA is a refreshing alternative to the bland-looking Audi Q3 -- even after its recent facelift -- and hideous BMW X1, although there's a new version of this car on its way soon.
Measure in the GLA, as well as the interior design follows on from the A-Class, thanks to a dash that's been inspired by the company's old SLS AMG supercar. It featuresracy-looking dials plus a tablet PC-style screen for the infotainment system, which already features on other Mercedes models -- the A-Class, B-Class and new C Class. But, the display's large bezel layout is now starting to look a little dated, but it's all solidly twisted together, and generally speaking, loads of high-grade materials are used. Sadly however, a number of the plastics lower down on the dash look and feel a little low-rent. Standard equipment on the other side of the range includes air conditioning, a DAB digital radio, Artico leather seats, 18-inch alloy wheels and wreck prevention assist plus that uses the brakes when the car senses a crash is at hand. Link AMG Line models get firmer sports suspension, a body styling kit, sports seats and an uprated steering wheel. It's worth noting that unlike its rivals, the Mercedes GLA does not get a high-riding driving position and in fact, with its low-slung stance, narrow windscreen and thick A-pillars, the GLA has the same hemmed in feel as the A-Class. It is quite tight interior.
As the Mercedes GLA is founded on the A Class hatchback, it carries over that car's decent level of practicality. For example, its 481-litre boot is over 60 litres bigger than that on the new Audi Q3, while folding the rear seats flat frees up 1,235 litres of capacity.
With the back seats folded flat, space increases to 1,235 litres. (Usedcars.com)However, the lower roofline on the GLA impedes complete space somewhat. There are a lot of cubby holes dotted round the cabin and adequate sized door bins, while a big rear window as well as the raised driving position improves visibility over the A-Class. It is not all great news for the Mercedes GLA, though: the combination of small side windows and dark trimming feels claustrophobic, while the front seat runners are too close together, reducing foot space for anyone in the rear.
After a drop in quality in the nineties and early noughties, Mercedes is again among the best brands you can find. It ranked11th in our 2015 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey for manufacturing companies, with owners rating the brand's build quality tremendously. In terms of safety, Mercedes has always been ahead of the game as many of the top features of its S Class make their way onto the low models in the range. It's another Mercedes strength, along with the GLA comes with pre-safe, which prepares you and the automobile for an impending accident, and collision prevention assist which automatically applies the brakes if it believes you are about to truly have a crash. There's also plenty of other high tech safety kit accessible even should it push up the cost of the car. The end result is a full five-star Euro NCAP crash test evaluation.