The high life: Mercedes GLA driven

30 April 2014

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class 200 CDI AMG Line rear view

Mercedes-Benz GLA
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Good: handsome, comfortable, good fuel economy
Bad: expensive options can add up alarmingly
Price: from from £25,850
Mercedes’ small-car family keeps growing. If the company’s new GLA softroader closely resembles a jacked-up A-Class that’s because it is, more or less. While the exterior body panels are subtly different to those of the hatchback, the GLA leans on the lower car for a lot of its mechanical structures and almost all of its interior.

This is a trick that Mercedes has pulled off before. The B-Class compact people carrier and CLA four-door coupĂ© are similarly cut from the same cloth. Run a tape measure over each and you’ll find that they all share the same 2,699mm wheelbase, and offer very similar vital statistics when it comes to the space provided for people. Headroom and luggage volume does vary quite a bit according to body shape, however, along with overall length and height. With a boot offering 481 litres rather than the paltry 341 litres of the hatchback, and a slightly taller aperture behind the tailgate, the GLA should be a good deal more practical.

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class 200 CDI AMG Line front side view

Similarities under the skin aren’t a bad thing – car manufacturers indulge in various degrees of sharing because it helps to spread the cost of engineering. The GLA would be a poorer vehicle – and probably wouldn’t exist at all – without its family around it.

Happily, the GLA seems much nicer to drive than the equivalent A-Class. Even in semi-sporty AMG Line guise, with sports suspension lowered by 15mm, this is a softroader that lives up to its name. In the comparable AMG Sport trim, an A-Class hatch rides as if its rolling on four bags of nails. The GLA will pitter-patter and jiggle nervously from time to time, but it’s largely composed and comfortable, without going all flippy-floppy in corners.

Tyres with deeper sidewalls no doubt help soften the ride, as will an increase in suspension travel. The GLA’s roof rises 6cm above the hatchback, despite an interior span from floor to headlining that is roughly the same. From the driver’s seat you do feel as if you’re riding in slightly elevated position, but not high enough to benefit from any great improvement in down-the-road visibility.

Like the A-Class, the GLA is front-wheel-drive, with the option of 4Matic all-wheel-drive only at the more powerful end of the engine range.

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class 200 CDI AMG Line rear view

My test vehicle is a two-wheel-drive 200 CDI with manual gearbox, likely to be the top seller. It’s powered by a four-cylinder turbodiesel providing 136bhp and 300Nm of torque. Even in AMG Line guise it achieves a 62.8mpg combined-cycle rating and 119g/km in CO2 terms, and can complete the dash to 62mph in 10 seconds dead. As with all diesels offered in the GLA line-up, it’s already compliant with the Euro 6 emissions standard.

The surprisingly frugal figures are helped by a 0.29 drag factor figure – not quite as slippery as the 0.23 of the CLA, but not bad for relatively short and tall car. The GLA betters the 0.33 Cd value of the similarly jacked-up Volvo V40 Cross Country, for example.

All GLA models get automatic stop-start as standard – there’s an Eco button to switch it off if necessary – and transmissions are six-speed manuals or seven-speed dual-clutch automatics, with suitably lazy gearing for long-legged cruising. At 70mph in sixth, I saw an indicated 1800rpm. Various other fuel saving measures, such as an alternator that tops up the battery when the car is slowing down, help to avoid wasted fuel. My varied test route suggests at least 50mpg ought to be easily reached in the real world.

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class 200 CDI AMG Line instrument panel

The GLA has been designed to meet 2015 regulations for recoverability, under which 95% of the vehicle by weight must be readily recyclable. Mercedes has also made modest use of recycled raw materials, especially in hidden applications such as the wheel-arch liners made from recycled bumpers.

Those materials you can see and touch are of impressively high quality, and seem to be well put together. This is the first A-family vehicle I’ve tested that hasn’t suffered from squeaks and rattles. Road roar is also well curtailed for a car riding on 235/50 tyres wrapped around 18-inch alloys.

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class 200 CDI AMG Line front interior

The interior is virtually identical to the A-Class hatchback, and not a bad place for that. I like the five-nozzle ventilation layout, and the high-set centre screen sprouting from the front of the dashboard.

The standard 5.8-inch display looks a little lost in its housing, which is big enough to accommodate the 7-inch unit of the upgraded communications package. Despite a tablet-like appearance this is not a touch screen, being controlled instead by a very simple twist and prod controller down by your elbow. The handbrake, by the way, is a little flap in the vicinity of your right knee.

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class 200 CDI AMG Line view from the rear seats

There’s plenty of room for big feet among the pedals, adequate adjustment of seat and wheel, and reasonable all-round vision. Only the chunky screen pillars spoil the view. Unless you’re sitting in the back, in which case the bulky front seats contribute to quite a claustrophobic feel. A two-pane glass roof compensates, part of a £2,365 Premium Plus pack fitted to my car that also brings park assist, dimming mirrors, heated seats, adaptive bi-xenon lamps, powered tailgate and dual-zone aircon, among other delights.

Another £1,295 has been spent on red-stitched leather upholstery and powered seats. On top of the £28,300 base price for the GLA 200 CDI AMG Line, these options can start to add up to quite an expensive little SUV.

Is it worth it? That depends on what you’re after. The GLA is bigger and more impressive than an A-Class hatchback, while costing about £1,000 more, model for model. Given the more appealing character of the higher-riding car, that extra outlay could easily feel like money well spent.

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class 200 CDI AMG Line front view

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