Mercedes GLA review

Our Rating: 
3
3.0/5.0
2014 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

Mercedes GLA compact SUV takes on the BMW X1 and Audi Q3 – but it's much smaller, so can it compete?

For: 
Distinctive styling, decent practicality, high-performance AMG version
Against: 
Noisy diesels, expensive to buy, dull steering

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The Mercedes GLA goes up against rivals such as the BMW X1 and the Audi Q3 in the premium compact SUV market. It’s one of the newer cars to enter this class, and it’s also one of the smallest. 

Two diesel engines and two petrol engines are available, plus buyers have a choice of front-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive versions. The entry-level GLA 200d is very efficient for a compact SUV, claiming up to 67.3mpg fuel economy and CO2 emissions as low as 108g/km when it’s fitted with Mercedes’ seven-speed automatic gearbox. 

Mercedes GLA 45 AMG review

At the other end of the scale, the flagship Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 model is incredibly fast; the handling just isn’t as sharp as high-performance versions of the BMW X1 – and that’s true across the range. The small proportions and steep price count against the GLA, too.

Our Choice: 
Mercedes GLA 220d 4MATIC Sport

Mercedes was late to the compact SUV party with its GLA, taking on established rivals in the form of the BMW X1, the Audi Q3 and the Range Rover Evoque. The GLA sits below the GLC in the company’s range, and is based on the A-Class compact hatchback, which means it’s shorter than its rivals. At just 1,494mm tall, the GLA has a slightly lower roof than a Vauxhall Astra.

Still, the GLA’s body is a little bit larger than the A-Class’, which means improved interior and boot space, giving owners more practicality. On top of this, the softer suspension and taller tyres ensure the SUV rides more comfortably than the firm hatchback. However, the GLA hasn’t lost the A-Class’ dynamic edge, as Mercedes’ mini 4x4 still handles sharply; it just can’t quite keep up with the BMW X1 through corners.

Prices start at just over £27,000 for the entry-level Sport model, which is quite expensive despite the generous level of standard equipment – the Audi Q3 and the BMW X1 look better value for money. Mercedes offers a choice of two diesels and two petrol engines: the entry-level GLA 200d is available alongside the higher-powered GLA 220d diesel, while petrol buyers can pick from the GLA 250 and the high-performance Mercedes-AMG GLA 45. 

In between the Sport and AMG models there’s an AMG Line version; this adds an even sharper look thanks to an aggressive bodykit, although it’s still available with the more efficient diesel engines. 

Four-wheel drive comes as standard on all but the entry-level GLA 200d, which incidentally has the lowest running costs in two-wheel-drive guise, claiming 67.3mpg fuel economy and 108g/km CO2 emissions. However, 4WD can be added as an option to this model. A six-speed manual gearbox is only available on this basic car; all other models benefit from Mercedes’ seven-speed automatic transmission.

You can also opt for an off-road pack that brings a 30mm increase in ride height to improve ground clearance. However, this does soften the GLA’s sharpness on the road.

Engines, performance and drive

2.9
The Mercedes GLA is available with a choice of impressively efficient diesels, as well as high-performance petrol engines

As it rides 50mm higher, has fatter tyres and softer suspension than the Mercedes A-Class hatchback on which it’s based, the GLA is a much more comfortable car. There is 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; while a BMW X1 is slightly sharper from behind the wheel, the Mercedes is easily a match for the Audi Q3 in the fun stakes.

What makes a big difference here is the 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system – which is fitted as standard to all but the entry-level GLA 200d model with a manual gearbox. It’s connected to a seven-speed automatic gearbox and can send up to 50 per cent of the engine’s power to the rear wheels for extra grip whenever they need it.

Given its family hatchback underpinnings, it’s no surprise to find that the GLA feels safe and predictable to drive. The steering is direct, there’s surprisingly little body roll and it grips harder than a Range Rover Evoque – even if it isn’t ultimately as much fun.

As with other small SUVs, the Mercedes GLA suffers from a stiff low-speed ride. Things improve the faster you’re going, but the car is still prone to crashing over bumps and potholes – if not quite as badly as the A-Class hatchback.

Our other complaint with the driving experience is the unnatural way in which the variable power-assisted steering suddenly becomes heavier as you apply more lock in tighter turns.

Engines

In terms of engines, the 134bhp 2.1-litre GLA 200d diesel is quick enough, with 0-62mph in 9.5 seconds. It’s also the most economical model in the range. However, there’s no doubt about what type of engine is under the bonnet, as it clatters noisily and sends vibrations through the steering wheel, the gearstick and the floor.

It’s also gruff and strained on the move, and doesn’t really settle down on the motorway. 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 220d, but here it has 175bhp so it's noticeably quicker; just not quite as economical. The 2.0-litre petrol engine in the GLA 250 is much more refined, and with 208bhp it can go from 0-62mph in 7.1 seconds.

Performance fans can opt for the Mercedes-AMG GLA 45. This features a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine with a monstrous 376bhp, and promises 0-62mph in just 4.4 seconds. The GLA 45 also benefits from reworked steering and suspension and a lower ride height, plus the gearbox is set up for faster changes, all of which makes it an engaging and seriously quick performance car.

MPG, CO2 and running costs

4.2
The entry-level GLA is very cheap to run, although it's more expensive to buy than its class rivals

Whether you go for a manual or automatic gearbox, the front-wheel-drive Mercedes GLA 200d is a very cheap car to run. Either way, it claims 67.3mpg fuel economy, while CO2 emissions stand at just 110kg/km in manual guise or 108g/km with the automatic – which means VED band B and a £20-a-year road tax bill. Such low emissions also make the GLA 200d an enormously attractive SUV for company car drivers, as it sits in the 19 per cent Benefit in Kind tax band.

The GLA 220d features a noticeably more powerful version of the same engine, with 175bhp, but still won’t exactly break the bank when it comes to running costs. The official economy figure is quoted at 56.5mpg for this automatic-only model, while the 130g/km CO2 emissions translate into road tax band D (£110 a year).

The most economical petrol model in the line-up is the GLA 250. This is powered by a 208bhp 2.0-litre engine, yet still claims 43.5mpg and 153g/km CO2 emissions – for VED band G, or road tax bills of £180 a year – which isn’t bad for a petrol SUV. 

In reality, only the high-performance Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 is truly expensive to run – and even then it’s not that inefficient considering the power on tap. It has an official economy figure of 38.2mpg and emits 172g/km of CO2 (which means road tax band H, or £205 a year).

If there is one problem with the GLA, it’s that you can’t get it with any of the smaller engines from the A-Class range; Mercedes hasn’t followed the example of the Audi Q3, which borrows some lower-capacity engines from elsewhere in the Audi range. As a result, the GLA line-up carries a higher entry price than rivals.

Insurance groups

The entry-level GLA 200d starts in insurance group 25, with the more powerful GLA 220d sitting in group 28. You’re looking at group 33 for the petrol-engined GLA 250, while the top-of-the-range Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 is in group 44, which isn’t surprising given its huge performance.

Insurance is another area in which the Mercedes is potentially going to be more expensive than its key competitors. Entry-level versions of the BMW X1 and the Audi Q3 start lower in the 20s and, with the exception of the flagship Audi RS Q3, neither rival exceeds insurance group 30, regardless of the model.

Depreciation

Mercedes has put a lot of work into improving its residual values lately, and small SUVs with premium badges are known for holding their money well, so the GLA will be less prone to depreciation than rivals.

Interior, design and technology

3.9
Sharp looks help the GLA to stand out from the crowd, although it's smaller than most compact SUVs

Unlike its tall, SUV-inspired rivals, the Mercedes GLA looks like a family hatchback on stilts – and that’s exactly what it is. The car is over 70mm lower than its closest competition, while the large headlamps, the bold grille and the curved roofline are reminiscent of the A-Class hatchback.

There are a few rugged elements to the GLA, such as the plastic body cladding and wheelarches, which mark it out as an SUV. Sport models get 18-inch alloys and aluminium roof rails, while the AMG Line trim level looks a little sharper: it adds different alloy wheels and a sporty bodykit.

It’s even prettier 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 – even after its recent facelift – and the BMW X1.

The GLA’s interior follows on from the A-Class, as the dash has been inspired by the company’s old SLS AMG supercar. It features racy-looking dials and a tablet-style display for the infotainment system, which already features on other Mercedes models. The large bezel design on this screen is now starting to look a little dated, but the interior is all solidly screwed together. Generally speaking, plenty of high-grade materials are used, although some of the plastics lower down on the dashboard look and feel a little low-rent.

The downside is that unlike in other compact SUVs, you don’t sit particularly high in the GLA due to its low-slung stance. The narrow windscreen and thick A-pillars mean occupants feel a little hemmed in, just as they do in the A-Class.

Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment

Standard equipment for the cabin includes dual-zone climate control, a DAB digital radio, leather seats and USB and auxiliary inputs. That’s on top of the 18-inch alloy wheels, plus the automatic lights and wipers.

Sat-nav comes as part of the £995 Executive pack. It’s a Garmin system, which is easy enough to use and can be operated by the dial mounted on the centre console or via voice control. The system has a 3D view and you can update the software and the map online.

Practicality, comfort and boot space

3.9
There's a lot of storage space in the GLA's cabin, although occupants may find the car a little bit cramped

As the Mercedes GLA SUV is based on the A-Class hatchback, it carries over that car’s reasonable level of practicality – in the front of the cabin, at least. There are plenty of cubbyholes dotted around the interior and decent-sized door bins, while a large rear window and the elevated driving position improve visibility over the A-Class. The GLA is a five-seater only, as seven-seat layouts are reserved for larger SUVs in the Mercedes range, such as the GLS.

Size

The GLA is quite a long car, measuring 4,417mm long by 1,804mm wide. That makes it longer than the Audi Q3 and the Range Rover Evoque, but slightly shorter than the BMW X1. However, the Mercedes’ low-slung stance – it’s only 1,494mm tall – and the fact that it’s based on a hatchback mean you don’t sit as high up as you do in any of its chief rivals, so the view out of the cabin isn’t as good.

Leg room, head room & passenger space

Even though it’s one of the longer cars in its class, the GLA is quite tight for space inside. That lower roofline impedes room slightly, particularly for passengers in the back. Equally, the combination of small side windows and dark trim makes the cabin feel claustrophobic, while the front seat runners are too close together, which reduces foot space for those in the rear.

Boot

The 481-litre boot in the GLA is 61 litres bigger than those in the Audi Q3 and the Range Rover Evoque, although it’s a little shy of the 505 litres in the BMW X1. Fold the Mercedes’ rear seats flat and you end up with 1,235 litres of space, which is less than the maximum boot capacity in its three main rivals, so that’s worth considering if you regularly transport big loads. 

Reliability and Safety

4.1
Owners rate Mercedes' reliability and build quality highly, and the GLA has a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating

After a dip in quality in the nineties and early noughties, Mercedes once again produces some of the most reliable cars you can buy. The GLA is too new to have appeared in our Driver Power satisfaction survey, but Mercedes ranked 11th in the manufacturer chart in 2015, and owners rated its build quality particularly highly. It finished comfortably above rival brands Audi and BMW, as well as Land Rover. Among the premium German manufacturers, only Porsche finished ahead of Mercedes, ranking sixth. 

In terms of safety, Mercedes has always set the standard as many of the features of its flagship luxury saloon, the S-Class, make their way down to the lesser models in the range. All versions of the GLA come with Pre-Safe, which prepares you and the car for an impending accident; Attention Assist, which sounds a warning if the driver looks as though they’re about to nod off; and Collision Prevention Assist, which automatically applies the brakes if it detects an impending front-end collision.

Plenty of other hi-tech safety kit is also available, although it does push up the price of the car. The result is a full five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating.

Warranty

Mercedes’ warranty is a three-year/unlimited-mileage package. This is identical to the package supplied with Land Rover and BMW models, but goes one better than the Audi warranty, which limits cover to three years and 60,000 miles.

Servicing

Buyers are offered a service plan based on mileage that Mercedes tailors for each car. For GLA owners covering up to 15,500 miles a year, the monthly payment for the service plan starts at £24, which gets you one annual service and runs up to four years. By increasing the monthly cost, it’s possible to have more services in a shorter space of time and account for higher mileages.

Last updated: 2 Feb, 2016