Car Review: Mercedes GLA crossover flatters to deceive

GLA doesn’t quite deliver on its promise and lacks of sparkle in terms of looks

Make: Mercedes-Benz

Model: GLA

Year: 2014

Fuel: Diesel

Date Reviewed: April 21, 2014

Sun, Apr 27, 2014, 22:19

   

When Mercedes said it was going to be the world’s biggest premium brand by 2020, there was a general rolling of eyes and the odd snigger within the automotive world. BMW and Audi were similarly committed to taking top spot at the dawn of the new decade.

BMW has been top dog for some time now but is gripped in a full-on battle with Audi, which has the backing of the VW Group, its muscular parent.

In comparison to these two, Mercedes seemed a minnow. Its top-end models may reign over their rivals but the big volume battle has been taking place at the entry end of the market and in various crossover niches.

Models such as the Q3 or X1, the 1-Series and A1 were designed to lure newcomers from the mainstream to the premium brands. Empty-nesters looking to treat themselves after a life of financial restraint,or well-heeled twentysomethings with buoyant career prospects.

Up against the BMW/Audi models, Mercedes had the high-roofed A-Class and boxy B-Class. Both looked drab and dull beside their rivals.

While entry-level premium models are supposed to lure young buyers to the brand who will then buy ever-larger models as their careers progress, the A-Class, for example, was mostly attracting retirees looking for a treat, with no interest in moving up to an E-Class or ultimately an S-Class in the future.

Then the eye-rolling stopped when Mercedes released its redesigned A-Class in 2013. Suddenly the madcap claims started to stand up to some scrutiny. After this came the sharp looking CLA coupe and now, to complete the trilogy, this crossover GLA.


Eco-friendly
Billed as something of a supermini/SUV, in reality it looks little more than the A-Class on high springs, with bigger wheels added for effect. In the metal it doesn’t look very rugged or roomy. Thankfully that’s just an illusion as
its surprisingly spacious inside.

While the A-Class is rather cramped in the back, with limited legroom the rear seats in the GLA do seem a lot more user-friendly. Add in the panoramic glass roof – admittedly another €2,200 on our test car – and the cabin feels airy and bright. Up front there’s the ever-improving Mercedes switchgear and fittings.

So all is relatively bright for the three-pointed star. At least until you turn the key. Then the rattle of a cold diesel tarnishes its lustre. And things don’t really get better when the engine warms up.

With the right engine this car would no doubt be a bit of a star. But this doesn’t seem to be it. This 2.1-litre diesel is used across the Mercedes range. Yet in recent times the focus has been on making it ever more and . This is done in several ways, but particularly when it comes to tuning the automatic transmission, which leans towards conserving fuel and keeping the rev range down rather than getting the best out of the engine. The problem is that it’s a millstone round the driveshaft of the GLA.

Mercedes has some wonderful engines in its portfolio. Engineering ability is never in doubt. Yet its smaller drivetrains never seem to be as good as those of its rivals. Its defence has often been that many buyers of smaller engine cars care little for performance and want the comfort features and the luxury touch that Mercedes brings to the market, along with frugal running costs. That’s probably true, but other manage to merge economy with performance.

Another issue that tarnishes the GLA’s sparkle is the price. Our test model starts at €39,260 and that’s an awful lot of cash for a glorified supermini in the current market. The test car was also fitted with extras such as fog lights, a reversing camera, a panoramic glass sunroof and an unnecessary automatic tailgate, so the actual price rose to €43,964.

If that’s your budget then you have a rich and varied seam of new models to mine. On The Irish Times website there’s a section that lets you search for new cars within a fixed price bracket (or monthly budget).


Price bracket
Opting for a generous budget of between €38,000 to €45,000 the search engine threw up 38 pages of new cars in various equipment levels currently on the Irish market. How about an Audi A4? Or a Lexus IS300H for €38,780? Would sir fancy a BMW 518d SE for €43,930, or perhaps madam would prefer the Volkswagen CC 2.0 TDI Sport for €42,445? Want to keep the budget under €40,000; then why not take a look at the Volvo S60 D4 Geartronic automatic for €39,495? As for SUVs to wow the children and annoy the neighbours, then there’s the Audi Q3, the BMW X1 and the Volvo XC60. Or for the ultimate status symbol why not opt for the most sought after of premium crossovers these days, the Range Rover Evoque, starting at €41,935.

And that’s just a taster of the sort of cars this GLA is up against in this price bracket. Even within its own stable, I would put its sibling the CLA ahead of this car in terms of head-turning appeal.

Mercedes has really started to reinvent its image and reposition the brand. It has largely been successful in that regard, although the odd-looking concept coupe SUV unveiled in Beijing at the weekend would cast some doubt.

The new A-Class was something of a revelation and the CLA is a real star. This, however, doesn’t quite deliver the desired result and lacks the sparkle in terms of looks, which probably left us spending more time considering the rather flat performance of the engine.

Mercedes-Benz GLA The Lowdown
Engine

2,143cc diesel putting out 136bhp and 300Nm

0-100km/h

9.9 seconds

Top speed

205 km/h

Emissions (motor tax)

119 g/km (€200)

Price

€39,260 (extras on test car pushes it to €43,964)