Mercedes-Benz has been late in bringing the GLA to the small crossover market, competing against the already-established BMW X1 and Audi Q3. When the Mercedes-Benz Retail Group offered ContractHireAndLeasing.com the opportunity to see how it measures up, we jumped at the chance.
Part of the family
From the outside, the GLA is instantly recognisable as part of the A-Class family, albeit with rugged-looking body cladding and slightly jacked-up suspension. That’s no bad thing though – the A-Class is a handsome brute.
When it comes to engines, those wanting two-wheel drive or a manual gearbox are stuck with the much-maligned 2.1-litre, 134bhp 200 CDI, which is good for 62.8mpg and 0-62mph in 10 seconds.
If four-wheel drive and an automatic ‘box are the order of the day, however, there’s much more choice. The GLA 250 comes with a 208bhp two-litre petrol engine (42mpg and 0-62mph in 7.1 seconds) while the 220 comes with a more powerful version of the 200’s diesel engine (168bhp, 55mpg and 0-62mph in 8.3 seconds).
Adventurous souls can opt for the GLA 45 AMG, which packs a 4.5-litre petrol engine producing 355bhp and getting the GLA to 62mph in just 4.8 seconds and on to a 155mph top speed. Surprisingly, fuel consumption doesn’t completely collapse under the weight of the sharper performance (37.7mpg combined).
Our test car, though, was the 220, which, on paper, has arguably the best balance of power and economy (0-62mph in 8.3s, 134mph top speed, 55.4mpg and 132g/km CO2), but it sounds rough and agricultural, which compromises the sophisticated image of the car. At higher speeds it’s sharp and responsive, but around town it’s slow to get going – a problem exacerbated by the sluggish stop/start system.
On (and off) the road
While the GLA is obviously a close relative of A-Class, just as clear is that the GLA is no serious mud-plugger. With 185mm of ground clearance (170mm with the AMG Line model on test’s lowered suspension), it’s a match for the X1 (179mm) and Q3(170mm), but it’s not up to the standards of so-called ‘soft-roaders’ like the Volvo XC70 (210mm).
That said, the GLA doesn’t claim to be a serious off-roader but it’s capable enough to cope with whatever the majority of customers will throw at it and it will certainly find more grip than the standard A-Class in the snow and ice of a harsh winter.
So the GLA may be better suited to the urban jungle than the Amazon rainforest, but its on-road issues don’t stop with the diesel engines.
That swooping roofline and angled tailgate mean the rear view is poor, and because the B-pillar too far forward, it impedes the customary glance over the shoulder to check the blind spot. The standard reversing camera makes up for the lack of visibility, but blind spot monitoring is a pricey option, coming as part of the £1,495 Driver Assistance Package.
On the open road however, the GLA excels. Most modern cars have far too many electronic ‘safety’ features between the front wheels and the controls, leaving the driver with no real idea what the wheels are really doing.
In the GLA though, Mercedes has got the balance spot on. The steering becomes a little heavier at higher speeds, but the extra weight doesn’t feel false or unwarranted, while the steering remains informative at all times.
Enjoyment is further enhanced by the combination of four-wheel drive and wide tyres, which provide excellent grip and give the driver the confidence to really chuck the car into the bends.
The lowered sports suspension also comes into its own on twisty B-roads, keeping body roll in check and absorbing the bumps of Britain’s unloved rural tarmac with minimal fuss.
If anything, the GLA is even better at motorway speeds. The engine, which grumbles at low speed, becomes quiet and refined, while the gearbox shifts through the ratios much more smoothly. Incredibly, the AMG sports seats, which are so supportive when the car is hurtling through corners, prove to be supremely comfortable to boot.
Though the GLA does look much the same as the normal A-Class, our test car came in top-spec AMG Line Premium Plus trim, which sets it apart with 18in AMG alloys, matt titanium front and rear spoiler trim and lowered sports suspension, giving the car a more rugged and aggressive look.
Like the exterior, the cabin is pretty much identical to the A-Class hatchback, with the aircraft-inspired air vents and the satellite navigation screen tagged on almost as an afterthought. In general, it’s a clean, modern look, if a little clinical, but the swathes of black plastic and leather make models lacking the big sunroof a little dingy.
As customers will expect from the three-pointed star, everything has a quality feel and even basic SE models are reasonably well-equipped, with leather upholstery, air conditioning coming as standard and chrome details featuring left, right and centre.
Again, the interior of the test car benefitted from the AMG trim, which included AMG carpet mats, metal dashboard trim, body-hugging sports seats and red contrast stitching, as well as the panoramic sunroof and dual-zone air conditioning provided by the Premium Plus specification (available on SE and AMG models).
Considering the GLA’s shape, it’s reasonably practical. There’s legroom and headroom in abundance for most rear passengers, though those over six feet tall may find it no more than adequate, while the GLA’s 481-litre boot is larger than those of its competitors from BMW and Audi (both 420 litres).
Although the GLA has plenty going for it, it doesn’t have the road manners or the fuel efficiency of the A-Class and nor does it have the off-road capability of the GL, leaving it in some sort of no-man’s land between the two. Of course, the same is true of the X1 and Q3, which are less practical.
In short, the GLA is as good as, if not better than, anything in its class provided you steer clear of the diesels, but that leaves the less economical GLA250 and the mental GLA45 AMG. So which model does ContractHireAndLeasing.com recommend? The standard A-Class hatchback.
Mercedes-Benz GLA at a glance:
+ More practical than competitors
+ AMG Line’s sports seats are both very comfortable and very supportive
+ Handles well
- Agricultural diesel engines
- AMG Line’s lowered suspension compromises off-road capability
- Poor visibility
Width: 2022mm (inc. mirrors)
Boot space: 481/1235 litres
Engines: 200 2.1 CDI 134bhp (6-spd man, 7-spd auto); 220 2.1 CDI 168bhp (7-spd auto, AWD); 250 2.0 petrol 208bhp (7-spd auto, AWD); 4.5 petrol (7-spd auto, AWD)
Fastest: GLA 45 AMG (4.8s, 155mph)
Trims: SE – SE, Executive, Premium, Premium Plus; AMG Line – AMG Line, Executive, Premium, Premium Plus; GLA 45 AMG
Cheapest: GLA 200 CDI SE Executive – £25,850
Priciest: GLA 45 AMG – £44,595
Most fuel efficient: 200 CDI – 62.8mpg, 119g/km CO2 – £25,850
Rivals: BMW X1, Audi Q3
On sale: Now