Used Mercedes GLA (Mk1, 2013-2020) review - What’s it like to drive?

The Mercedes GLA is available with a choice of petrol engines – but it's merely average to drive

As it rides 50mm higher, has fatter tyres and softer suspension than the previous-generation Mercedes A-Class hatchback on which it’s based, the GLA is the 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 improved ride quality.

Engines

As of 2019, the GLA came with petrol power only, and the sole version of these that we've tried is the GLA 250. It uses a refined 2.0-litre petrol engine, and with 208bhp and standard-fit 4MATIC four-wheel drive, it can go from 0-62mph in 6.6 seconds.

Of the old diesels, the 134bhp GLA 200 d gives decent performance, with 0-62mph in 9.5 seconds. The 2.1-litre diesel is one of the larger units in the class, but it clatters noisily at idle, sending vibrations through the car's floor. On the motorway, it settles down to a background hum, but becomes more intrusive as you work it harder.

Yet what the 200 d lacks in refinement, it makes up for with performance. With 134bhp on tap, the GLA is 30bhp more powerful than a Mazda CX-3 1.5D. When we tested a GLA 200 d, we recorded a 0-60mph time of 9.3 seconds. It also led the way during our in-gear tests, proving significantly faster than a CX-3 and Audi Q2 1.6 TDI from 30-50mph and 50-70mph.

However, on the road, the GLA never feels as fast as these figures suggest, because in default ECO mode, the gearbox shifts up early and throttle response is tardy. Sport mode is available, but this hangs on to the gears for longer, which results in much noisier progress. You can shift gears manually using the steering wheel-mounted paddles, but the gearshifts are ponderous for a twin-clutch unit.

The same 2.1-litre engine is also used in the 220 d, but here it has 175bhp so it's noticeably quicker; just not quite as economical and certainly no more refined: anything other than gentle acceleration brings with it a coarse, loud rattle, and this doesn’t really improve once the engine has warmed up.

On the road

The GLA is far from a mess in the corners. While a BMW X1 is sharper from behind the wheel, the Mercedes gets close to rivals like the Audi Q3 for handling. However, both competitors still offer a more composed and refined ride.
 

What can make a difference here is the 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system. When connected to the seven-speed automatic gearbox (manual is not an option with 4MATIC) it can send up to 50 per cent of the engine’s power to the rear wheels for extra grip whenever they need it.

As with quite a few 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, albeit 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. The inert and slow steering means it’s not the most involving car to drive on twisty roads, and it’s cumbersome around town and in tight car parks, but at least body control is quite good.

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