Mercedes-Benz GLA Class SUV (2014 - ) review
The Mercedes-Benz GLA is a stylish and sporty crossover that takes on the BMW X1 and Audi Q3. It's not as practical as its rivals though, with noisy diesel model and a firm ride
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The GLA’s styling is probably one of its biggest selling points. Heavily influenced by the A-Class on which it’s based, it’s sleek and well-proportioned; the chunky lines suit its subtly raised ride height, and touches like the twin bonnet bulges and wide haunches add interest. There are only two models, but even the more basic Sport looks suitably upmarket, with 18-inch alloy wheels, aluminium roof rails, part-LED tail lamps, body-coloured bumpers, mirrors and door handles, and a smattering of chrome. The (only slightly dearer) AMG Line models add a more aggressive body kit, which is shared with the hot GLA 45 AMG, the latter also getting 19-inch alloy wheels.
The layout of the GLA’s dashboard is shared with the A-Class and CLA. That means it shares those two models’ mass of switches, which makes navigating the main controls rather confusing, even when you’re used to them. The slightly naff protruding touchscreen feels like an afterthought, too. But with that exception, the interior’s well-styled, with a thick wedge of aluminium-effect trim (which can be replaced with your choice of real aluminium, wood or carbon fibre) separating the top and bottom of the dash. For the most part, the plastics are as high-quality as you’d expect to find in a Mercedes, too. The steering wheel adjusts for reach and rake – though a touch more of the former wouldn’t go amiss for the ultimate in adjustment – and while the seats are comfortable, their bases could do with being a little longer to fully support the underside of the thigh.
With its rear seats upright, the GLA offers as much boot space as its rivals – though that’s about the best we can say about its practicality. Fold the rear seats down, and there’s considerably less boot space than in other models, and you’ll also find those seats only feature a 60/40 split, as opposed to the more flexible 40/20/40 arrangement you’ll find elsewhere. The load lip is quite high, and the boot opening rather small, too. Things don’t get much better further forward, with both front and rear seats offering less elbow- and shoulder-room than you’ll find in competitors. At least oddment storage is pretty good, with wide door pockets and some handy storage boxes beneath the front seats.
Ride and handling
Sport and AMG Line models get what's called 'comfort' suspension, and the good news is that it lives up to its name, giving the GLA a smooth ride, ironing out city cobbles and all but the worst ruts and bumps. It’s far better than what you'll find on the equivalent A-Class. The higher up the range of engines you go the more likely it is the GLA will come with '4matic' all-wheel drive, which adds extra grip and composure through bends. As you would only expect, the GLA 45 AMG has a more sporty set-up, and its deft steering and huge reserves of grip make it devastatingly quick through the corners. It rides a touch more softly than the A45 AMG, although it certainly still has a sporty feel, but there’s no discernible increase in body roll; indeed, if anything, it’s less skittish and more comfortable than its lower stablemate. A 'Performance' suspension upgrade is available on the GLA45, too, but as it makes little difference to the way the car feels, we’d recommend saving your cash.
The GLA’s available with a choice of two diesel and two petrol engines, though only the entry-level GLA 200 d is available with a manual gearbox, with which it comes as standard. On paper, its 134bhp power figure doesn’t look too shabby, but in the real world it feels too sluggish. Better to opt for the 175bhp GLA 220 d; while even this doesn’t quite have the grunt you’d expect, it’s enough for most drivers. The 208bhp GLA 250’s 2.0-litre petrol turbo offers better pace, while the 376bhp GLA 45 AMG is blisteringly quick. Even this, though, feels fractionally less savage than the A45 AMG, which shares its engine. Spec the optional sports exhaust if you can – it’s no louder at a cruise, but emits some glorious pops and crackles when driving quickly.
Thanks to an exceptionally low drag coefficient, the GLA sips fuel and emits very little carbon dioxide by comparison with its competitors. In fact, the GLA 200d is one of the best in its class on both counts. It’s a pity there’s no specific low-emission variant, as such a thing would make the GLA even cheaper to run, but as it stands, it’s admirably frugal. Those savings will help offset the rather high purchase price you’ll have to pay. The problem is that no two-wheel-drive models are available higher up the range, so if you don’t want the entry-level diesel, you have to pay for four-wheel drive and an automatic transmission whether you like it or not. Compared like-for-like with competitors, then, the GLA isn’t priced unreasonably, especially given its slightly higher equipment levels – but the difference is that other manufacturers offer a better choice of cheaper two-wheel-drive and manual models, if that’s all you need.
While the GLA is too new for statistics to be available just yet, Mercedes-Benz’s reputation for reliability and quality has improved considerably in recent years – a change reflected by the company’s strong showing in recent JD Power surveys. Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index paints a different picture, with the company appearing nearer the bottom of the table, but it’s worth noting that this will be based on repair and reliability records of older Mercedes models, too. Like the rest of the Mercedes range, the GLA comes with a three-year, unlimited-mileage warranty.
The GLA was crash-tested by Euro NCAP, and like the similar A-Class and CLA, scored the maximum five stars. That said, we should have expected as much, because it comes with an impressive array of safety kit: attention-sensing technology, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, low-speed collision prevention, stability control, skid control, and no less than nine airbags are all standard across the range, as is an active bonnet, which aids pedestrian protection. What’s more, there’s even more safety equipment on the options list, too.
There are some desirable bits of equipment that we’re pleasantly surprised to see within the GLA’s standard specification. Automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, a DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity, and rear privacy glass all feature across the range. That said, it’s a shame dual-zone climate control and parking sensors are relegated to the options list; the former’s standard on the BMW X1, while both are fitted to every Audi Q3.
Surprisingly, the GLA is a more convincing package than the A-Class on which it’s based. And, it makes lots of sense if you have a specific set of needs – to wit, a smart, compact crossover with four-wheel drive and an automatic transmission. Its handsome looks are a big strong point, and if you go for a GLA 220 d with Off-Road suspension, you’ll have an extremely comfortable, safe and cheap-to-run car – if not one that’s particularly sparkling to drive or spacious. If you don’t want four-wheel drive or an automatic transmission, however, the relative lack of more affordable alternatives in the range will be an issue.