Mercedes GLA review
Mercedes GLA takes on the BMW X1 and Audi Q3, but it's much smaller. Can it compete?
The Mercedes GLA is a small SUV designed to take on the BMW X1, Audi Q3 and Range Rover Evoque. However, standing just 1494mm tall, it’s actually slightly shorter than an Vauxhall Astra and therefore dwarfed by the Audi Q3 which is 1608mm tall.
The Mercedes GLA is based on the Mercedes A-Class platform, but its bigger body means improved interior and boot space while fatter tyres and softer suspension makes for a more comfortable ride. Despite the softer set up, the GLA still handles sharply though it can’t quite match a BMW X1 for outright cornering.
Starting at around £26,000 for the entry-level SE trim, the Mercedes GLA has all of the ingredients to be a sales hit, and it's available with four engines and either two or four-wheel drive. Buyers can choose between two diesels and two petrols. These include the 355bhp 2.0-litre turbo, which powers the flagship performance GLA 45 AMG. In addition to the GLA 45 AMG and SE trim-level, buyers can also opt for the sporty looking AMG Line model.
All but the entry-level car gets Mercedes 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system and this gives the GLA impressive grip in the wet and reasonable off-road ability. This can be enhanced with an optional off-road pack which includes an increase in the ride height of 30mm, though this upgrade does impair the on-road agility.
Our choice: Mercedes GLA 220 CDI
Unlike its tall, SUV-inspired rivals, the Mercedes GLA looks like a family hatchback on stilts - and that’s exactly what it is. At 1,494mm high, the Mercedes is over 100mm lower than its rivals, while the large headlamps, bold grille and curving roofline are pure A-Class.
Mercedes fits some rugged touches to the GLA, such as the plastic body cladding and wheelarches. SE models get 18-inch alloys and aluminium roof rails, while buyers looking for a little more visual aggression can opt for the AMG Line version of the GLA, which adds different alloy wheels and a sporty, subtle bodykit.
It’s especially pretty from the back – something that can’t be said about the A-Class. Visually the GLA is a refreshing alternative to the bland-looking Audi Q3 and ugly BMW X1. Step inside the GLA, and the interior design follows on from the A-Class, thanks to a dash that has been inspired by the SLS AMG. It features racy-looking dials and a tablet-style display for the infotainment system, which already features on other Mercedes models - the A-Class, B-Class and new C-Class.
However, the display’s large bezel design is now starting to look a little dated, but it’s all solidly screwed together, and generally speaking, plenty of high-grade materials are used. Sadly though, some of the plastics lower down on the dashboard look a little low-rent.
Standard equipment across the range includes air conditioning, a DAB digital radio, Artico leather seats, 18-inch alloy wheels and a collision prevention assist which applies the brakes if the car senses a crash is imminent. AMG Line models get firmer sports suspension, a body styling kit, sports seats and an uprated steering wheel.
it is worth noting that unlike its rivals, the Mercedes GLA doesn't get a high-riding driving position and in fact, with its low-slung stance, narrow windscreen and thick A-pillars, the GLA has the same hemmed-in feel as the A-Class.
The GLA has an extra 50mm ride height, fatter tyres, softer suspension, and the addition of bushes to the rear subframe over the A-Class. All of this makes it a much comfier car to travel in. Yes, there a slight trade off in terms of handling compared to the lower, firmer and 40kg lighter A-Class. But it's a price well worth paying for the vastly improved ride quality.
That’s not to say the GLA doesn’t handle well, because while a BMW X1 may be slightly sharper, the Mercedes is easily a match for the Audi Q3 in the fun stakes.
The 4MATIC all-wheel-drive, which only the manual 200CDI model doesn't get, helps too. It is connected to a 7-Speed dual clutch automatic gearbox and can send up to 50 percent of the engine’s power to the rear wheels for improved corner exiting traction.
Given its family hatchback underpinnings, it’s no surprise to find the GLA has a safe and predictable handling balance. The steering is direct and naturally weighted, there’s surprisingly little body roll and it grips harder than an Evoque.
Like other small SUVs though, the Mercedes GLA suffers from a stiff low-speed ride, which improves the faster you’re going. Even so, the car is still prone to crash into potholes and fidget over expansion joints.
Our other complaint with the driving experience is the unnatural way the variable power assisted steering suddenly weights up as you apply more lock in tighter turns.
In terms of engines, the 134bhp 2.1-litre diesel 200 CDI is quick enough and is the most economical model in the Mercedes GLA range, as it returns of 62.8mpg and emits 119 g/km CO2.
However, twist the key in the ignition and you’ll be left in no doubt about what type of engine is under the GLA’s bonnet. The 2.1-litre diesel clatters noisily at idle, and sends vibrations through the controls and floor - it’s also gruff and strained on the move, and even on the motorway, things don’t really settle down.
This is a real shame, because the combination of average ride comfort and a coarse engine undermines the Mercedes’ otherwise well insulated interior.
The same 2.1-litre engine is also used in the 220 CDI, but it has 168bhp so it's noticeably quicker. However, it’s not quite as economical – it does 55.4mpg.
One complaint with the diesels is they are noisy compared to the smooth 2.0-litre units found in the Audi Q3. The 2.0-litre petrol in the GLA250 is much more refined and with 208bhp it can go from 0-62mph in 7.1 seconds - economy is still a respectable 42.8mpg.
Performance fans can opt for the GLA 45 AMG. Its 2.0-litre turbo petrol has 355bhp which is good for 0-62mph in just 4.8 seconds. The GLA45 also has reworked steering, suspension, a lower ride height and a different shift program for its 7-Speed automatic gearbox - all of which combine to enhance the driving experience and make it a truly engaging performance car.
After a dip in quality in the Nineties and early Noughties, Mercedes is again one of the most reliable brands you can buy. It ranked ninth in the 2014 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey for manufacturers, with owners rating the brand’s build quality highly.
The GLA was too new to feature in the study, but given the performance of the Mercedes brand as a whole, it seems likely to do well in next year's results. In terms of safety, Mercedes has always been ahead of the game as many of the features of its S-Class make their way onto the lower models in the range.
Safety is another Mercedes strength, and the GLA comes with pre-safe, which prepares you and the car for an impending accident, and collision prevention assist which automatically applies the brakes if it thinks a collision is imminent.
There’s also plenty of other high-tech safety kit available even if it does add a lot to the price of the car. And although the GLA has not yet been crash tested by Euro NCAP, the smaller A-Class on which it is based achieved a full five star rating.
As the Mercedes GLA is based on the A-Class hatchback, it carries over that car’s decent level of practicality. For instance, its 481-litre boot is over 60 litres bigger than that on the Audi Q3, while folding the rear seats flat frees up 1,235 litres of capacity.
With the back seats folded flat, space increases to 1,235 litres. However, the lower roofline on the GLA impeding total space slightly. There are plenty of cubby spaces dotted around the cabin and decent sized door bins, while a large rear window and the elevated driving position improve visibility over the A-Class.
Yet it’s not all good news for the Mercedes GLA, though: the combination of small side windows and dark trim feels claustrophobic, while the front seat runners are too close together, reducing foot space for those in the back.
In the case of the Mercedes GLA fitted with the 134bhp 2.1-litre diesel 200 CDI with front-wheel-drive and a manual gearbox, it's a very cheap car to run. It can return 62.8mpg and has emissions of just 119kg/km CO2.
The 168bhp of the same engine has noticably more poke, but even then, things aren't bad in terms of running costs thanks to 55mpg, plus 119g/km of CO2.
The most economical petrol model in the Mercedes GLA line-up is the 250, which is powered by a 208bhp 2.0-litre engine. In addition to reaching 0-62mph in an impressive 7.1 seconds, it still manages to return 42.8mpg and emit 154g/km of CO2.
In reality, it’s only the high performance Mercedes GLA 45 AMG which will be expensive, as it returns 37.7mpg and emits 175g/km.
However, if there is one problem with the GLA it’s that unlike with the Audi Q3 you can’t get it with any of the smaller engines from the A-Class range. As a result the range starts at a higher price point.