Road test: Mercedes-Benz GLA
We put Merc’s fun-size SUV through its paces.
There’s no one who does economies of scale quite like Mercedes. Okay, except perhaps Volkswagen, but when it comes to repackaging the same car in a different frock, Merc is a master. The A-Class hatchback provides the DNA for countless models, including this, the GLA. Mercedes’ SUV roster is big - very big - but the GLA represents the gateway drug to the range: it’s the smallest of the bunch and one of the cheaper ways to drive a crossover with a fashionable badge, therefore it’s extremely popular in this era of SUV addiction. The first version of the GLA, which arrived in 2013, hit the million mark, and this second generation has seen the styling beefed up to move it closer to a proper SUV (in looks at least) and less of an overblown A-Class. That said, while it’s grown 10cm in height and shortened 1.5cm in length, it’s still recognisably the cousin of Merc’s popular hatchback: is that a bad thing? Let’s get into that.
If you ask Mercedes it will tell you that it has deliberately factored in more of a gap between the A-Class and the GLA this time around. This has been achieved to an extent through increased headroom in the front and legroom in the back. The last model certainly felt more cramped, the 2020 GLA feels larger from the inside and is a more practical proposition for both taller drivers and passengers. The irony of many small crossovers is they often offer very little more in terms of space than the supermini they are based on, so the GLA has moved in the right direction in this regard.
The engine range is as follows: at the entry point sits the GLA200 which is front wheel drive only and comes with a 1.3-litre turbo petrol engine good for 161bhp. Then comes two 2-litre diesels, the GLA200d producing 148bhp and the GLA220d producing 187bhp. The GLA200d can be optioned either as FWD or AWD, while the 220d is AWD only. Sitting above those is the GLA250 packing 222bhp from a 2-litre turbo petrol engine. For this review I drove the GLA 220d equipped with Mercedes’ 4MATIC all-wheel drive system.
In terms of performance, the 220d hits the sweet spot between decent power and healthy economy, with a 0-62mph time of 7.2 seconds and a combined fuel consumption of 49.6mpg. While the figure on my driver display read 41.8mpg after a few hours, in that time I was asking plenty of the engine on faster roads, so there’s little doubt the 220d is a tidy option for those who don’t want to spend their lives loitering on BP forecourts. One thing though: from the outside the engine clatters like a famer’s gate in a gale. Mercedes has done a very good job of insulating the cabin from the rattling noise, it’s only ever so slightly intrusive under heavy acceleration, but don’t expect to be inconspicuous in this car.
Out on the open road, the GLA220d is rather enjoyable. Not enjoyable in that way a BMW 3 Series is, it doesn’t ask to be driven harder and further, but enjoyable in the sense that it’s smooth, peaceful and a pleasant environment to sit in. Being diesel the engine pulls with enthusiasm from the get-go and all the way through the rev range, and it’s mated to Merc’s eight-speed dual auto which really is one of the best in the business. Downshifts at the lower speed is more or less imperceptible and it’s rarely found hanging onto the wrong cog, even on the roundabout-strewn roads of Milton Keynes where I drove it. Four drive modes - Eco, Comfort, Sport and Individual – fettle the steering weighting and throttle map. In Sport, the 220d hustles through the gears and feels genuinely spritely, while returning it to Eco or Comfort softens things off nicely for a serene ride around town. This is complimented by an impressive ride quality which takes the sting out of nasty potholes and speed bumps you many have spotted too late.
The GLA220d comes with an off-roading package which includes a hill descent function, but I can’t tell you much more about it because, as I say, I drove it in Milton Keynes. There’s also an optional adaptive suspension kit but having driven the car without it I can’t really see why you would need to spend the money unless you like watching cars go up and down ever so slightly and ever so slowly. Save your money: the GLA rides well and, while you might notice some body roll in faster corners, it’s not enough to get on your nerves. You’re more likely to get annoyed with the excessively light steering which feels flabby at slow speeds, although is improved significantly by Sport Mode and a bit of attitude in your driving style.
In the cabin, the GLA is more or less like-for-like the A-Class, and that’s a good thing. For my money, the A-Class had the best interior in the hatchback segment until Audi recently brought out the new A3. There’s the dual-screen fascia, which, because the model I drove was AMG Line Premium trim, is comprised of side-by-side 10.25-inch screens. Lower trims get a single 7-inch screen which loses much of the cinematic drama, but still hosts Mercedes’ MBUX infotainment system which is a joy to use.
The market is cluttered with crossovers and SUVs because, well, car manufacturers aren’t idiots, they make what sells well. But when you think about this kind of car has a few simple jobs to perform: be easy to drive, comfortable and (relatively) practical. If they wear a badge which will make your neighbours jealous then that’s a bonus. The GLA does all of these things, which means it can’t be called anything but a ‘good’ car, and as long as that’s what you’re after then you will be very happy and probably quite surprised at how cheaply you could be driving a largish Mercedes on a PCP package. Just don’t expect this car to blow your mind or reinstate some long lost passion for driving - it’s a crossover first, Mercedes second.
Model tested: Mercedes-Benz GLA 220d 4MATIC AMG Line Premium
Engine: 2-litre four-cylinder diesel
Power: 187 bhp
0-62mph: 7.3 seconds
Max speed: 136 mph
MPG: 49.6 (combined)
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