Mercedes-Benz claims it sold more than a million units of the first GLA. That may well be true, but it doesn’t mean it was any good. In fact, if there was ever a Mercedes I detested it was the first-gen GLA. What a bloody awful thing it was.
It was a vehicle with no saving graces in my eyes. First off, it was ugly. Inside, the packaging was a disaster, with too little space for passengers and goods alike to be useful for anyone except perhaps Frodo Baggins.
The Mercedes-Benz GLA’s general dynamics were just as average as the rest of the car. It’s one of the few press cars I’ve driven home, parked, and walked away from.
From the moment you turned the wheel it didn’t feel right. Poorly balanced chassis, delayed throttle response, and not a great sound either. It was a car I’d rather forget.
When I received the notification from the lads that I was to review the new Mercedes-Benz GLA250 I wasn’t jumping for joy.
Go ahead and banish any such negatives you might harbour though, because the new GLA is a triumph in the small luxury SUV segment, and a masterpiece in terms of packaging.
It didn’t take long for me to warm to the Mercedes-Benz GLA, especially in Cosmos Black Metallic with Macchiato Beige Lugano leather. I liked the look of this thing from the first glance.
Unbelievably, it’s shorter (by 14mm) and narrower (by 2mm if you include side mirrors) than the old version, but with a wider front and rear track (by 46mm), so the stance is more resolved.
Importantly, the wheelbase is longer by 30mm for heaps more rear legroom. It’s taller by 10cm, so it actually looks like a baby GLC, and that’s no bad thing.
The GLA250 4Matic is one rung up from the entry-level GLA200, and according to Mercedes-Benz Australia it’s also likely to be the volume seller.
It’s hard to believe this generation GLA has any connection whatsoever with the previous version, such is the level of advancement between the two models.
Pricing for the GLA starts at $55,100 before on-road costs for the base GLA200, and extends to $107,035 before on-roads for the fire-breathing, range-topping GLA45 S version which is expected to arrive locally towards the end of 2020.
The GLA250 on test here slots in between with a starting price of $66,500 before on-roads, while the warm-not-hot GLA35 starts at $82,935 before on-roads and is expected to arrive in showrooms shortly.
The GLA250 is just under $10,000 more expensive than the range-topping Volvo XC40 T5 R-Design with its 185kW four-cylinder engine, and $1500 pricier than the BMW X1 xDrive 25i.
Finally, the range-topping Audi Q3 40TFSI S Line quattro undercuts the GLA250 by more than $5000. If the GLA has a chink in its armour, it would be the relatively ambitious pricing against proven rivals like the Volvo XC40.
Standard equipment in the GLA range is generous compared to the what’s on offer in the ageing model it replaces, especially in the GLA250.
Regardless of model, the compact crossover features the latest MBUX infotainment system with two 10.25-inch displays, along with satellite navigation, wired smartphone mirroring, DAB+ radio, configurable ambient lighting, wireless phone charging, and keyless entry and start.
The GLA packs rain-sensing wipers, active parking assist with sensors, LED headlights with auto high-beam, and a powered tailgate.
Atop the GLA200’s standard kit, the GLA250 features a panoramic electric sunroof, powered and heated front seats, a lowered sports suspension and more direct sports steering, the Off-Road Engineering Package (not that the GLA will ever go off-road, of course), and 19-inch alloy wheels.
Options are relatively limited, although you can opt for an Edition 1 package ($5990) which brings ‘comfort sports seats’ trimmed in black and red, carbon-style interior trim, AMG floor mats and exterior highlights, black exterior trim, 20-inch AMG allot wheels, a surround-view camera, and five paint options.
Also available are the Driving Assistance Package ($1990, adaptive cruise, front cross-traffic braking), Exclusive Package ($2990, leather-trimmed seats, woodgrain trim, ventilated front seats), the Innovation Package ($3490, head-up display, 12-speaker stereo, advanced satellite navigation), and the Vision Package ($1190, front and side-view camera, swivelling headlights).
Our GLA250 4Matic tester was loaded with options packages including the Vision, Exclusive, Driving Assistance, and Communications packs. Of note is the brown open-pore walnut wood trim, which against the Macchiato Beige Lugano leather was one of the highlights of this vehicle, and is yours for just $454.
It also had adjustable rear seats with fore and aft movement for $607. They should be standard, but I’d tick the box for the flexibility they offer.
Multi-contour seats were another option on our tester at $915. Given the comfort and satisfaction they provided myself and passengers, I’d recommend those too.
The new-generation Mercedes-Benz GLA hasn’t yet been tested by ANCAP or Euro NCAP, although we’re told that it won’t be long until a Euro NCAP result is known.
All models come standard with autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot assist, exit warning assistant, active lane keep assist, nine airbags, an active bonnet, cross-wind assist, Pre-Safe accident anticipatory systems, and traffic sign assist.
This is where the GLA is a game-changer for Mercedes-Benz. Frankly, put this vehicle on-par with the best in class including the Volvo XC40 – I know, because I own one and it’s the top spec.
If I’m completely honest, I prefer the Benz for its freshness and general usability. Either way, the GLA is a standout in this regard.
For starters the huge dual-screen infotainment system debuted on the A-Class trumps all other rival systems in my book for its high-resolution colour and clarity, as well as ease of operation. It just looks brilliant, too.
Another standout design feature of the the GLA’s cabin are the five stylistic aircraft-style turbine-look air vents up front. Beautiful to look at and again, easy to use or fiddle with and feel great to the touch.
The elevated seating position (140mm higher than the A-Class, 50mm higher than the B-Class) is a big plus over its predecessor, which felt like a standard hatch to me.
This latest GLA feels like a proper SUV with good all-round vision, with the exception of the thick A-pillar.
I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to the Mercedes-Benz gearshift stalk, but what I like is the level of detail in the design of these instrument stalks. Someone spent a lot of time on these, they feel good in your hands and the design itself is unusual.
While Benz does metal trim bits well, the optional walnut wood trim sets this particular cockpit off in the prestige department. It looks and feels fantastic, and is a welcome change to brushed alloy accents.
Even the electric windows are whisper quiet and seemingly have two speeds, which I found handy at times.
While it might look compact from the outside, there’s more than enough room for large-framed couples and small families. Granted, it’s not quite as spacious as the XC40, but after driving them back-to-back the GLA might just be the perfect size, at least for our shrinking household.
Rear legroom is uncanny given the GLA’s proportions, and there’s 435L of luggage space behind the rear seats, which fold (almost) flat to free up small-wagon-like amounts of room.
Apart from boot space there’s a stack of storage holes and bottle holders around the cabin (especially the centre console area), while tablet and phone charging is well catered for with ports up front and two USB-C inputs neatly tucked away for second-row passengers.
Power in the GLA250 comes from a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine making 165kW of power at 5500rpm and 350Nm of torque from 1800 to 4000rpm, driving all four wheels via a new eight-speed dual-clutch automatic.
Claimed fuel economy is 7.5L/100km on the combined cycle, and the car demands more expensive premium unleaded petrol.
By way of comparison, the Volvo XC40 T5 R-Design with a 2.0-litre displacement makes 185kW of power and the same torque output, while the similarly-priced BMW X2 M35i makes 225kW and 450Nm from its 2.0-litre turbo engine.
There’s an odd-sounding clatter the moment you punch the start button, but then it settles into a gentle idle that’s imperceptible. You can’t hear it ticking over at all.
In fact, very little ambient noise penetrates the cabin, something my passenger and I noticed on a run to our favourite Italian cafe on the other side of Sydney.
While it might be down on power compared with similarly-priced rivals, make no mistake, the GLA250’s turbo-four is suitably punchy out of the blocks with good throttle response and far less lag than I expected. Lag isn’t something I ever thought about in this vehicle.
At lower revs there’s no real character to the engine, but load up the throttle and give it a squirt out of a roundabout and there’s a satisfying snarl from around 3800rpm – the more revs the merrier.
The figures? It’ll go from standstill to 100km/h in 6.7 seconds, and that’s just fine.
More importantly, it feels balanced and willing to be pushed a little through local roundabouts, my version of a chicane. But seriously, this is an excellent chassis. While you might sit perched up high, it feels like a warmed-up hatch in terms of body control. It’s genuinely fun to pilot, even if that’s just to the shops.
Ride compliance is another big winner for the new GLA, something that couldn’t be said of the previous iteration.
In the GLA250 the damping was so surprisingly good, I immediately called the PR to ask if it had adaptive dampers, which it didn’t.
It’s not cushy or floaty, just a nice balance between compliance to soak up the bumps and body control.
As with the wider Mercedes-Benz range, the GLA250 is backed by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
Maintenance is required every 12 months or 25,000km. A three-year service plan is priced from $1950, while a five-year plan will set you back $3500.
I like the design, the styling (inside and out), the engine, the cabin, and the way it goes. That’s nearly enough to send it to the top of my list in the segment.
The only thing I don’t like is the relatively steep pricing against rival models and variants.
Either way, if you’re in the market for a premium small SUV you need to take this thing for a test drive before making a decision.