The pumped up version of the A-Class is here and Alex Shahini gets to grips with the new GLA 200.
A few decades ago the majority of passenger vehicles that filled the streets and transported families were sedans. Towards the end of the century, hatchbacks had asserted themselves as worthy adversaries and continued to increase in popularity in the ensuing years. Could it be that the compact SUV is under the same trajectory, one that will overthrow the beloved hatchback?
Since the automotive world is constantly evolving, brands of all sizes conduct extensive market research to ensure they have the upper hand in new vehicle development. Things are no different with compact SUVs. They have become such a popular trend that consumers and brands have put their full focus into its development!
Now, this is where the new Mercedes-Benz GLA comes into the picture, it fills the niche for young buyers that desire compact SUV characteristics while retaining the no compromise comfort and style synonymous with the brand. Our test car, the GLA 200 AMG Line delivered on both accounts, with exterior styling imparting a more aggressive look than its predecessor and a sufficiently comfortable ride, even on 20” AMG Multi Spoke alloys.
While the GLA is 100mm taller and slightly wider than its previous model, it is one of the most compact in its range, – in fact it is 15mm shorter than the previous generation and measuring in smaller than the chief rivals Audi Q3 and BMW X1. This makes it easily manoeuvrable and devoid of the cumbersome reputation SUVs have garnered. The dipped front bonnet made gauging tight surroundings quite difficult but credit can be given to the intuitive Mercedes Active Parking Assist with front and rear mounted cameras that provide extra confidence – albeit the sensor alarms were very enthusiastic near kerbs and parking garages.
Consider this a more practical, spacious and consumer appeasing A class – it still feels very composed and planted around sharp corners and bends, although its inherently higher ground clearance does compromise it somewhat. Additionally, the elevated 140mm seating position from its sibling makes for comfortable driving and provides good vision of the surroundings. The A-pillars are not overtly bulky and do not hamper vision between the front windscreen and side windows – overall visibility from the driver’s seat is therefore good.
Sitting slightly higher than most other vehicles on the road will generally instil an air of superiority to whoever is behind the wheel, but that is likely where its additional height advantage ends. Most non 4Matic front-wheel-drive GLA’s are unlikely to opt for the trail-less-travelled, which is a good thing since venturings into uneven terrain resulted in parking sensors frequently dispatching warning sounds and an uneasy ride (perhaps the risk of damaging those 20” rims only made this worse).
While the local Mercedes-Benz GLA configurator only includes the two engine variants counting the 2.0 turbo diesel in the GLA 200d, our GLA 200 had the alternative, punchy 1.3-litre turbo four cylinder engine with 120kW. While the motor is well suited to lumbering around at low RPM and cruising on open roads, more spirited bursts of driving presented an annoying engine whine on deceleration which was exacerbated when the windows were open. Engine sound is as expected in a family orientated vehicle: numb, although there was a significant audible difference once the Sport mode was engaged.
While the smoother, newer 8 speed gearbox of the local range is limited to the GLA 200 d, the only choice in our car was the 7 speed dual-clutch-transmission (DCT). While it felt less evolved and more hesitant in grabbing a gear than the 8 speed DCT in its diesel partner, it is still well suited for use as a comfortable runabout and highway cruiser. With engine rpm well below 2500 at 120km/h it provides good efficiency too, the combined figure for both urban and open road driving while under our care was about 7l/100km – disclaimer: spirited driving was top of the agenda and economy mode was only engaged once.
As mentioned earlier, the interior is comfortable and spacious. The double screen layout provides a sensibly laid out display for the driver and central infotainment system while space-age inspired air vents take the focal point just below. The customisable displays and interior LED lighting allow for personalisation, while the central infotainment system has the ability to learn the drivers preference over time. The user interface is well integrated, but certain applications can be clunky to retrieve and process information like fuel economy and driving analytics. But the tactility of the central trackpad and drivers buttons can forgive some of the niggles. It was noted by other members of the team that material quality and overall fit and finish has taken a big step up from its hatchback sibling.
Space is abundant for both the driver and any passengers in the GLA, with sufficient leg and head room for normal sized adults in the rear. However, cargo space is where it falls short, even with 2 adjustable boot floor heights, the GLA has one of the least volumetric boot capacities in the segment at 435l.
The GLA 200 is therefore a well balanced vehicle that is dressed up as an SUV. It is an option that will make valid sense to the consumer that is looking to satisfy as many driving and lifestyle needs as possible, while still retaining a three-pointed star on its grille. With a base price starting at R679 040, it is the most expensive of the lot too. Although it comes with a list of standard equipment, speccing options such as larger diameter rims and interior comforts could send the price closer to the R800 000 mark.