2014 MERCEDES-BENZ GLA REVIEW
What’s Hot: Practical boot, comfy ride, SUV styling looks pretty cool.
What’s Not: GLA 200 CDI is FWD-only, slow engine response.
X-FACTOR: The compact Benz SUV we’ve all been waiting for... space, style, and a frugal thirst.
Vehicle Style: Compact luxury SUV
Price: $47,900 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 100kW/300Nm 2.2 turbo diesel 4cyl | 7sp twin-clutch auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 4.6 l/100km | tested: 6.1 l/100km
Here is Mercedes-Benz’s new GLA compact SUV, but don’t let the ‘U’ in the SUV tag fool you. As far as utility goes, the current B-Class has this new model beat.
And, priced from $47,900 for the GLA 200 CDI, Mercedes-Benz Australia doesn’t expect it to be quite the same sales success as the smaller, cheaper A-Class.
Sales projections are surprisingly modest, with only 1000 GLAs of all types expected to roll out of MB showrooms this year. (We think it will do better.)
So why opt for the GLA instead of a more affordable A-Class? Is the GLA all about SUV aesthetics and not much else?
The entry-level GLA 200 that launched this week (the GLA 250 4Matic will join it in July, the GLA 45 AMG in October) is front-drive only, so it’s arguably closer to “jacked up hatch” than “bona-fide SUV”.
But, we rather liked it.
- Standard equipment: dual-zone climate control, bi-xenon headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlamps, cruise control, self-parking feature, blind spot assist, reversing camera, power tailgate, sat-nav.
- Audio: Six-speaker single-disc CD/DVD, with USB/iPod connectivity and Bluetooth phone/audio integration
- Artificial leather upholstery (Artico), three upholstery colours: black, grey, beige.
- Boot space: 421L seats up, 481L rear seat in cargo position. 60/40 split fold rear seat with ski port.
The interior will be very familiar to those who’ve spent any length of time in an A-Class.
There are some subtle differences in dash trim, but for the most part the dash, instrumentation, centre stack and centre console are the same.
The seat height is slightly higher than an A-Class, but given the GLA sits slightly lower than a B-Class, it’s not quite tall enough to see over other traffic.
That said, both the basic Comfort seats and the optional AMG sports seats give good support.
Rear headroom is acceptable, though the optional panoramic sunroof dramatically reduces the amount of space for your noggin.
The rear-seat backrest can also be locked in a more upright position to boost cargo space, but it’s nearly vertical and not very comfortable for anything but a short hop.
Speaking of which, luggage space is one of the GLA’s primary points of difference. At 421 litres (481L with the back seat in the cargo position), the GLA offers 80 litres more than the A-Class.
It’s not quite as roomy as the B-Class’ 488L boot, but still more than enough for a pram and the Saturday shopping.
ON THE ROAD
- 100kW/300Nm 2.2 litre turbodiesel four cylinder
- Seven-speed twin-clutch automatic, front-wheel drive
- MacPherson strut front suspension, multi-link rear suspension. 18-inch alloys
- Disc brakes all around.
- AMG pack brings lowered suspension, crossdrilled front brakes, 19-inch alloys
The suspension is supple. Despite riding on 18-inch alloys, the GLA’s relatively tall sidewalls and softer springs and damper tune gives it a great deal more compliance than the A-Class.
But while it easily soaks up big bumps, it's not floaty or excessively soft. There’s good body control around corners and decent grip - even in the soggy Melbourne weather encountered during the launch.
The steering is also quite good. Though it’s short on feedback, the weighting increases smoothly as you wind on more lock.
It also turns in well. Though not quite as agile as the A-Class, the nose can be tucked in accurately when pointed through a set of corners.
However, there’s no getting around the fact that the GLA 200 CDI doesn’t feel quick. Though its 2.2 litre turbodiesel engine has 100kW of power and a stout 300Nm of torque, the throttle mapping in the default Eco mode dulls response.
It’s not much better with Eco mode switched off, and only marginally better with the transmission mode for the seven-speed twin-clutch automatic set to Sport.
The problem is turbo lag. It takes a few moments for the engine to start delivering its torque, and the delivery isn’t linear - like most turbodiesels.
It’s not a problem during normal driving, but can be an irritation when planting the throttle to overtake, or when trying to make a quick getaway from standstill.
That said, the launch route was relatively short, and with little in the way of urban driving.
Of course, for younger family buyers where fuel economy can make or break a purchase, there is likely to be little issue with GLA's tuning and performance.
Our test figures of 6.1 l/100km are very good and none will be complaining with the 4.6 l/100km factory figure.
ANCAP rating: The Mercedes-Benz GLA-class has yet to be tested by ANCAP
Safety features: Nine airbags as standard (dual front, front side, rear side, curtain, driver’s knee), three-point seatbelts and two ISOFIX child seat anchorages as standard. Pedestrians are protected by an active bonnet.
Stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD, brake assist, collision prevention assist, blind spot monitor and driver fatigue monitor help reduce the chance of an accident.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Certainly, there is a lot of appeal in the SUV aesthetic, and the greater practicality of the GLA’s noticeably larger boot.
If you don’t need something as large as the M-Class, Mercedes now has an SUV option for you.
And while Mercedes-Benz dominates its competitors in overall sales, the GLA allows it to compete on a more even footing with the Audi Q3 and BMW X1.
With its comfortable ride, larger boot and torquey engine, the GLA 200 CDI has more than a few positive attributes in its favour.
Our first taste of the GLA 200 CDI was a brief one though; we’ll be spending more time at the wheel in coming weeks.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- GLA 200 CDI - $47,900
- GLA 250 4MATIC - $57,900
- GLA 45 AMG - $79,900
Note: Overseas models pictured, Australian gallery to follow.