2014 MERCEDES-BENZ GLA REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Compact luxury SUV
Price: $47,900 (plus on-roads), $56,550 as-tested
Engine/trans: 100kW/300Nm 2.2 turbo diesel 4cyl | 7sp twin-clutch auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 4.6 l/100km | tested: 6.6 l/100km
Mercedes describes the GLA 200 CDI as a "compact SUV". We’re not so sure.
The marque’s own B-Class offers a higher seating position, greater cargo capacity and more passenger room. And, while the GLA 250 and 45 AMG models are all-wheel-drive, the GLA 200 CDI is driven at the front only.
SUV? Hardly. The GLA is, at face value, not much more than a roided-up hatchback.
We’ve driven it before, but only on a single-day launch event over mostly highway and country roads.
So to give the GLA 200 a more thorough run through the wringer, we borrowed an optioned-up example to see how it fared for the day-to-day grind over a week.
The results are patchy: good in parts, not so good in others...
Quality: We’ve no complaints about the way the GLA is built. Typically Mercedes, everything feels rock-solid and there's a precise logic to the layout and the way things work.
Materials are generally of a high quality and even the hard plastics on the centre console aren’t unpleasant.
Comfort: Our test car was equipped with the Seat Comfort package ($990), which adds heated seats and a memory-function to the power-adjustable front seats.
Upholstered in black leather, they offer good support and comfort. Though if you’re looking for a seating position that towers over surrounding traffic, look elsewhere.
Rear legroom isn’t overly abundant, though there is good under-thigh support and enough space for three slim-hipped passengers.
Face-level air vents also sprout from the rear of the centre console, but rear headroom in our car was at a premium thanks to the panoramic glass sunroof.
Equipment: Our car had a few options thrown at it, like the aforementioned heated front seats and panoramic sunroof, along with an AMG Sport pack and COMAND infotainment and sat-nav unit.
It’s not strictly necessary to throw options at the GLA 200, as it’s reasonably well-equipped as standard.
Dual-zone climate control, cruise control, auto-on wipers and headlights, AM/FM stereo, power mirrors, power tailgate, reversing camera, USB input and bi-xenon headlamps are already included and don’t cost you a dime.
But the standard Becker sat-nav is frustrating to use and looks aftermarket.
The COMAND package might cost $2500, but it brings better navigation software, a digital radio tuner and a thumping 12-speaker premium audio system.
Storage: The GLA boasts 421 litres of seats-up storage space, 481 litres if you put the rear seatbacks in their cargo position (at the compromise of passenger comfort).
The rear seatbacks also feature a 60/40 split, and incorporate a ski port.
Bag hooks are present and so are a couple of netted enclosures, and the rear seats fold flush with the boot floor. The standard power tailgate is also a handy feature to have.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The GLA’s 2.2 litre turbodiesel inline four has the right numbers, with 100kW of power and a healthy 300Nm of torque.
However, it doesn’t feel as good as it should when subjected to the hustle-and-bustle of urban driving.
Mercedes says peak torque is available from 1400rpm to 3000rpm, but the torque band feels narrower than that.
It also takes a while to gather steam when accelerating from standstill, made a little more pronounced by the auto start-stop system, which is slow to re-light the engine.
The seven-speed twin-clutch automatic doesn’t help either.
It’s not as smooth or progressive as a traditional auto when pulling away from a stop.
It’s fine once you’re moving and the gearbox executes gearshifts swiftly and smoothly, but it’s at crawling traffic-jam speeds where it can be frustratingly indecisive and jerky.
It's also jerky when backing-up slowly in reverse (like into a parking space or through a supermarket carpark).
At 9.9 seconds from zero to 100km/h, the GLA 200 is quick enough, and, thanks to the pulling power of the diesel, it doesn’t seem troubled at all when loaded up with people and cargo.
More to its credit, it’s very relaxed at highways speed and happy to lope along at low RPM.
Fuel economy is good too, with our car logging an average of 6.6 l/100km over seven days - though this is nowhere near Benz’s claim of 4.6 l/100km.
Refinement: This diesel is louder than most luxury oil-burners, and at idle it sends vibrations throughout the cabin that are very un-Mercedes. The start-stop system also sends big vibes through the cabin as the engine fires up.
Its coarse gravelly note when accelerating can be a little grating, and only at a cruise does it settle down to a tolerable volume.
Tyre roar is also in abundant evidence on rougher bitumen, thanks to the run-flat tyres of our test car.
Ride and Handling: While the engine and gearbox are a little lacking in these days of ultra-smooth diesels, the good news is that the GLA 200 is quite a decent car when it comes to ride and handling.
It’s not as sharp as the A-Class (with which it shares a chassis), and even though our car’s optional AMG Sport package adds big 19-inch alloys, ride comfort is still quite good.
Handling is also good. The steering is also well-weighted, has little slack and the variable rack-ratio reduces the amount of steering input needed for tight turns.
Unless the engine comes on boost with the wheel turned, there’s decent traction on dry tarmac, though it’s not hard to light up the traction-control in the wet.
With Melbourne enjoying a soggy start to winter during the time we had the car, a driven rear-axle (like in the AWD GLA 250) would have been much appreciated.
Braking: Braking performance is typical Mercedes - that means very, very good. The GLA 200 CDI pulls up strongly, with a firm and responsive pedal.
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.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres
Service costs: Service intervals are set for every 25,000km or 12 months, however Mercedes-Benz does not currently offer fixed-price servicing. Consult your local dealership for maintenance costs.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Audi Q3 2.0 TDI 103 ($47,500) - The Q3 is our favourite small luxury SUV right now, winning favour for its balance of price, specification and polished on-road performance.
It’s a delight to drive, has noticeably more torque, is packaged well (though like the GLA, is far from huge on the inside) and easily more deserving of the SUV label than the Mercedes. (see Q3 reviews)
BMW X1 sDrive 18d ($46,300) - Based on the (old) 1 Series, the X1 in base 2WD-form excels when it comes to handling.
It’s now a few years old, and the X1’s interior is probably its most disappointing feature. It is the cheapest of these three luxury soft-roaders though, and that counts for something. (see X1 reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The GLA needs a little more drivetrain polish to smooth out some of the rough edges in its power delivery. Its behaviour at low speeds isn’t as slick and effortless as what we’ve come to expect from the three-pointed star.
The noise and vibration from the GLA 200 CDI’s diesel is also behind others in the segment, particularly its premium competitors.
On the plus side, the GLA 200 CDI handles well, is comfortable, has a solid list of standard equipment and - in our eyes at least - looks the sharpest of the current crop of small luxo SUVs.
But it’s an SUV in name only. The attributes that attract so many people to SUV ownership - like a tall ride height, a commanding view of the road ahead, all-weather grip - are missing from the GLA 200 CDI.
It is certainly a decent looking car and very solidly constructed; it is just a little short of the refinement we would expect in a car at this price.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- GLA 200 CDI - $47,900
- GLA 250 4MATIC - $57,900
- GLA 45 AMG - $79,900
MORE: GLA News and Review