New Mercedes GLA is well worth waiting for

Front-wheel-drive compact premium SUV from Mercedes could tempt younger buyers

With sporty looks and powerful performance, the new front-wheel-drive compact premium SUV from Mercedes could tempt younger buyers. Video: Ian Beatty

A Mercedes-Benz GLA compact SUV, produced by Daimler AG, on display at the 65th Frankfurt International Motor Show in Frankfurt, Germany, late last year. Photograph: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Make: Mercedes-Benz

Model: GLA

Year: 2014

Fuel: Diesel

Date Reviewed: February 26, 2014

Wed, Feb 26, 2014, 08:59


Better late than never, it seems, as Mercedes-Benz has produced its first-ever front-wheel-drive premium compact SUV, the GLA.

In keeping with the principles of economic efficiency and synergies that pervades the motor industry these days, the new GLA is built on the same platform as the current A-Class, CLA and B-Class. The new A-Class and CLA are radically different to what’s gone before, with modern, stylish looks both externally and internally. This GLA follows suit and aims at taking a slice of the competitive compact premium SUV market, a rapidly growing segment that’s predicted to treble in size over the next decade. Principally it will face competition from BMW’s X1, Audi’s Q3 and the Range Rover Evoque.

In the flesh the GLA is far more car-like in comparison to its rivals. It tries to look muscular with high-rise wheel arches, underbody protection panels front and rear and contrasting dark grey cladding, yet appears smaller in stature to any of its rivals; instead, think of it as a beefed-up A-Class. While it might not be as rugged-looking as some might like, being similar to the A-Class is a boon, as the GLA’s relatively lower centre of gravity benefits the handling immensely.

The entry-level variant is the GLA 200 CDI, priced from €35,800. It’s powered by a 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel engine that produces a satisfactory 136bhp and 300Nm of torque. Its power is fed to the front wheels, making it the first front-wheel-drive SUV to wear the three-pointed star.

Customers can choose from four trim grades: Style, Urban, AMG and Exclusive, with Urban expected to constitute the vast majority of sales. There are several safety features as standard across the range, including driver drowsiness detection and a radar-based collision prevention system with integrated adaptive braking function. There is also an optional system that will apply the car’s brakes automatically at speeds up to 200km/h where the driver fails to detect a slower-moving vehicle ahead.

Familiar architecture
As with the chassis, the GLA’s interior follows a familiar architecture that we’ve already experienced in the A-Class and CLA. It’s modern and functional with a clear layout of the main controls. The driving position is central, with the steering wheel, seat and pedals in line with each other. Particularly pleasing is the large driver’s instrument cluster. There’s an infotainment display screen in the centre of the dashboard, controlled with a toggle switch between the seats. Rear-seat occupants are afforded plenty of headroom, and the boot can accommodate 421 litres of luggage; this can be expanded to 836 litres with the rear seats folded.

On the mountainous roads surrounding the Spanish city of Granada, the GLA 200 CDI proved competent, with sufficient power to pull itself smoothly up the steep gradients. It offers a refined drive with civilised levels of comfort for all occupants. I was pleasantly surprised with the communication through the car’s electromechanical power steering. It provides you with accurate feel and confidence. At motorway speeds sound insulation is superb and the cabin remains peaceful.

The driving experience is the GLA’s strong point, along with its sporty looks that are sure to attract the younger buyer, as long as they can afford it. We also drove a GLA with 4MATIC permanent all-wheel drive. There is a noticeable difference in driving the 4MATIC variant, most evidently through tight corners where the GLA can take a tighter trajectory. On wet roads you can also get on the power earlier and heavier from a standstill and on exiting bends.

If you wish to tackle some off-road terrain these models have an “off-road” mode including hill descent control. We took our test car across some rutted terrain and boulders where it proved capable, although we don’t envisage anyone in reality straying further from a beach car park or muddy field. If you require a fully fledged 4x4, Mercedes-Benz will happily sell you a G-Wagon or ML.

For the time being, to avail of the 4MATIC all-wheel drive system you will have to purchase the GLA 220 CDI 4MATIC (€45,475). Its 2.2-litre four-cylinder engine produces 170bhp and 350Nm of torque. From launch these two diesel models are joined by two petrol-powered alternatives, a GLA 200 and GLA 250. The former is equipped with a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine with 156hp; the latter provides 211hp from its 2.0-litre engine.

Powerhouse model
The halo model of the range is undoubtedly the GLA 45 AMG; it’s a powerhouse that you can’t fail to be impressed by. Its 2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine produces a remarkable 360hp and 450Nm of torque, coupled with 4MATIC and an AMG speedshift seven-speed double clutch transmission, complete with launch control. There’s an agreeable snarl from the quad exhausts on initial acceleration; your ears are further treated to multiple pops and burbles from the exhausts on lift-off. With a price tag north of €70,000, however, we won’t see many AMG-powered GLA’s on Irish roads.

Mercedes-Benz has been working hard of late to lure younger buyers with new models and formats. It needs to shake off the sense that the brand is only for ageing boardroom executives and embrace the next generation of executives – the twenty- and thirtysomethings on six-figure salaries working for IT firms, for example.

The latest A-Class and CLA are clear indicators of the firm’s styling direction, and this new GLA further enhances its new modern range. What’s more, behind the wheel its well able to challenge the competition in this class.

Mercedes-Benz GLA 200 CDI: The Lowdown

2,143cc four-cylinder diesel; 136hp and 300Nm; six-speed manual transmission

0-100km/h 10.0 seconds, max speed 205 km/h

Combined 4.3l/100km (65.7mpg)

(Motor Tax) 114g/km (€200)

Standard features on Style model include LED daytime running lights, front and rear underbody protection panels, electronic closing tailgate, three-spoke multi-function steering wheel, colour infotainment display screen, drowsiness detection and collision prevention system.

BMW X1 sDrive 18d SE 2.0 Diesel 143hp; Audi Q3 SE 2.0 Diesel 140hp; Range Rover Evoque eD4 2.2 Diesel 150hp


Our verdict
Impressive looks combined with an involved driving experience