What is the Mercedes GLA?
THIS IS Mercedes’ smallest and most affordable SUV, or 4×4. It is a posh alternative to popular cars you’ll spot on most school runs, such as the Ford Kuga, Nissan Qashqai and Volkswagen Tiguan, and a direct competitor to the Audi Q3 and BMW X1. With the exception of the entry-level 200 CDI model, all GLAs can be equipped with four-wheel drive, which Mercedes calls 4Matic.
If you’ve been considering a Qashqai, the price for having Mercedes’ three-pointed star on the nose of your family SUV may come as a shock. The cheapest GLA, the 200 CDI SE, costs £25,850, whereas the comparable Qashqai 1.6 dCi Acenta is £20,595. To be fair, an equivalent BMW X1 sdrive 18d costs from £25,330.
Like most cars in the popular family SUV class, the GLA comes with a choice of diesel and petrol engines. If you want to blow the budget, there is a high-performance GLA 45 AMG model, which will feature a tuned 2-litre turbo engine with 355bhp, and should cost around £42,000 when it goes on sale in June.
The GLA’s exterior design appears to be two-parts A-class hatchback mixed with one-part M-class off-roader. Essentially, there are two trim levels: SE and AMG Line. Each one gives the GLA a different look and style for the exterior. The latter gives the car a slightly more sporty appearance, and comes with lowered suspension, drilled brake discs and sports seats. If you aren’t sure which to choose, ask a Mercedes dealer whether they can arrange for you to view and sit in SE and AMG models at the same time.
We tested the entry-level GLA, the 200 CDI SE, albeit fitted with a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission. It was a good choice because this least expensive version is, arguably, all the car that most drivers will ever need.
The 136bhp, 2.1-litre diesel engine is relatively flexible, since its peak torque is delivered from 1,400rpm. Unless you’re in a hurry, progress is dependable and refinement at a cruise is impressive. It’s only when you do want to press on, to make that school play on time, that the 200 CDI engine turns noisy and quite gruff under hard acceleration.
The optional seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (an extra £1,450) can be quite abrupt and jerky when pulling away, or driving in stop-start traffic. Fortunately, it settles down at speed and delivers smooth and quick gearshifts, whether in automatic or manual modes. Most significantly, it is well geared for motorway runs as the engine turns over at 1,900rpm at 70mph. Mercedes quotes an impressive 62.8mpg for the combined fuel economy, which is significantly better than comparable Audi Q3 and BMW X1 models – assuming drivers can achieve it.
One of the most likeable characteristics of the GLA is its ride comfort; in contrast to the regular A-class hatchback which has stiff-riding suspension. With more forgiving, taller-profile tyres and raised suspension providing additional travel, the GLA boasts a level of comfort many A-class owners can only dream of. Together they give the GLA a relaxed gait.
However, it’s not perfect. Away from inner-city or main road environments, the GLA’s suspension heaves when driving across country, and the body control and roadholding are not as good as a BMW X1 or Range Rover Evoque.
This is where buyers will appreciate the greatest difference between the GLA and cars such as the Ford Kuga or Nissan Qashqai. The interior of the Mercedes is stylish and feels expensive, well made and a cut above the cabin of many compact SUVs.
The dashboard has a sleek and minimal design, with aluminium-effect trim applied liberally. The circular air vents convey a sporty impression and there are plenty of practical touches, such as a pair of deep cubbies and two cup holders between the front seats.
The driving position is slightly raised compared with an A-class hatchback. However, the infotainment display looks like an afterthought, as if a tablet has been attached to the dashboard, and it lacks touchscreen control. Fortunately, the control dial between the front seats works intuitively enough and together with the voice control (which operates many of the infotainment functions) the driver can intuitively and swiftly make changes according to their preference.
There are some oversights. It seems particularly mean that a £27,000 car should lack lumbar adjustment for the driver’s seat, and meaner still that you should have to fork out £300 for heated front seats. These aren’t the only irritations in the GLA. The centre facia of our brand-new test car squeaked noticeably.
Drivers and passengers over 6ft tall will notice that the GLA has a low roofline, which restricts interior headroom. However, the cabin will seat four adults in comfort. The back seats split and fold 60/40, and the long and square-sided 481-litre boot is more accommodating than most rivals’.
The one to buy
Mercedes GLA 200 CDI SE auto
From £27,300 (correct at first publication)
2143cc, four-cylinder diesel
136bhp @ 3400rpm
221 lb ft @ 1400rpm
7-speed dual-clutch auto
0-62mph in 9.9sec
Road tax band:
L 4417mm, W 2022mm, H 1494mm
Mercedes GLA 200 rivals
- Audi A6 allroad (check used car prices on driving.co.uk)
- BMW X3 (check used car prices on driving.co.uk)
- Range Rover Evoque (check used car prices on driving.co.uk)