First Drive: Mercedes-Benz GLA
Sector: Crossover Price: £25,850–£30,680 Fuel: 42.8–62.8mpg CO2: 119–154g/km
The new Mercedes-Benz GLA is one of those cars that you start with a fairly fixed idea about, and the more time spent with it, the more those assumptions seem to melt away.
Why? Well, you may well think it is a compact SUV, or crossover, or something between the two. Or perhaps both. In fact, in the end, it seems neither. I couldn’t really fathom it, and yet liked it immensely.
Rather than the off-road side of the Mercedes-Benz family, the GLA comes from the same mechanical genetic code as the A-Class, a car that has been a tremendous success for the brand in accessing younger, upwardly mobile company car drivers. The GLA will prove to be exactly the same success and possibly more so.
But it is no chunky SUV. It’s nearly two inches lower than a BMW X1, itself not exactly a great big brick of a thing, and the styling has none of the obvious SUV proportions of an Audi Q3. In fact, it’s really quite hard to tell the difference from a standard A-Class, other than giving you the feeling that it’s a bit more toned and slightly better looking. Sitting two inches higher than a standard A-Class, it looks a little less bottom-heavy, which helps.
When Mercedes-Benz comes to put it on sale, marketing and positioning will be vital, because drivers will need to know what it goes up against (they’re like that), and that is not obvious. Bigger than the X1, and much sleeker than the Q3, it seems no direct opposition for either and the nearest rival to it is the A-Class, which pretty much sums up its slightly odd position in the market, and the issue Mercedes might have is trying to ensure it takes sales from elsewhere and not just internal competition.
Starting from £25,850, the GLA is available with a choice of two diesel engines, GLA 200 CDI and GLA 220 CDI 4MATIC, and two petrol engines, the GLA 250 4MATIC and faintly daft GLA 45 AMG. Engines are combined with a six-speed manual transmission or with the 7G-DCT dual clutch automatic transmission.
There are two model lines, SE and AMG Line, which are decently specced. The SE comes with 18 inch five-twin-spoke alloy wheels, aluminium roof rails, privacy glass, reversing camera, and DAB digital radio as standard while the AMG line has AMG bodystyling, Dynamic Handling Package, sports suspension, and sports seats.
Inside, everything is much the same as the A-Class except the boot, which is somehow 40% larger in volume than the aforementioned, which again is perplexing as it doesn’t seem especially spacious. It probably says more about the A-Class’s lack of carrying ability.
But it is driving where the GLA really excels. The diesel engines seem more refined, although by no means the quietest in the sector, and the chassis, MacPherson front axle and independent multi-link rear suspension allow the car to ride much better than the A-Class. I suspect the extra wheel travel allowed by the slightly higher ride height, especially in Comfort setting, has taken a lot of the crashiness of the A-Class out. While the seating position is marginally raised, it is barely noticeable when in the cabin, and certainly there is no impression of being in an SUV or crossover. But the overall result of these changes from the A-Class is a much more pleasant car to drive.
From a running costs perspective, CO2 emissions are about where to be expected, at 119g/km for the 220 CDI while the diesel model with four-wheel drive rises to 132, although again, you would have the 4MATIC system because it comes with the automatic gearbox (an option of the front wheel drive versions), not because it has any great off-road ability. As I said, it’s not really an SUV.
It’s easy to say what the GLA is not: it’s not an SUV, and crossover seems too generic a title. What it is though is a better looking, better driving, more spacious A-Class. And company car drivers are loving that car, which bodes extremely well for the excellent GLA.