Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - GLA - 200 CDI
Appeal of masculine proportions with SUV-like undertones, base variant doesn’t scrimp on standard features, quality cabin, nicely sorted ride even on stiff-walled run-flat rubber
Room for improvement
Low roof sill impedes access, tight rear legroom, some diesel engine lag, optional sunroof eats headroom
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17 Nov 2014
By BARRY PARK
Price and equipment
We’re driving the cheapest GLA that money can buy, the diesel-engined GLA200 CDI, priced from $47,900 before on-road costs. It sits on the lowest rung of a three-tier line-up that includes two petrol-fuelled all-wheel-drive models, including one wearing an AMG badge.
That pricing puts it within $100 of the premium, diesel-engined front-wheel-drive Volvo V40 Cross Country that takes the city-bred formula and patches on a bit of country feel.
Other choices at this price point include the five-door Mini Countryman, although for the Benz’s money you’re adding in all-paw traction and a turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine, and a slightly more expensive Audi Q3, also powered by a four-pot diesel. You can even step into a slightly larger turbo-diesel Range Rover Evoque for a similar spend.
The GLA200 CDI is fitted with a 2.1-litre four-cylinder diesel engine borrowed from the larger E-Class mid-size sedan and wagon range, although for the smaller GLA it uses a single, rather than twin, turbo set-up, and paired with a seven-speed automatic transmission.
Inside, the basic level of equipment is pretty generous, even once you take away the $8650 in options fitted to our test car that included $1190 for metallic paint, the $2490 stuck-on Comand system that includes a seven-inch colour screen sticking out of the dash, a better audio system and digital radio, $2490 for a tough-looking AMG body package, $990 for a comfort kit that adds four-way electric lumbar support to the front seats, and $1490 for a snappy split sunroof that goes a long way to add light to the dark rear seats.
Standard equipment includes dual-zone climate control with a charcoal filter that feeds into the rear seats, satellite navigation, bi-Xenon headlights featuring a dusk sensor, rain-sensing wipers, a six-speaker audio system with Bluetooth and a USB/auxiliary input,an electric parking brake, leather trim around the cabin – including some nice contrast red stitching in our test car – two-way electric lumbar support for both front seats, a powered tailgate and even a function that steers the baby Benz into a vacant car park.
A couple of misses, though, include keyless entry – you’re going to have to find the key fob and push a button to gain access – and keyless start, which means you have to fumble around under the dash to find the shallow, odd-shaped slot for what passes as Mercedes-Benz’s modern-day interpretation of an ignition barrel.
A big bonus, though, is a speed limiter function that helps avoid any nasty surprises in the mail.
Externally, the entry-level GLA sits on wheelwell-filling 18-inch alloys clad in run-flat Goodyear EfficientGrip rubber (which the tyre maker claims is the quietest SUV tyre on the market), and includes roof rails, a boot lip spoiler and LED daytime running lights. The whole lot is accented by a wide plastic strip running along the wheel wells and rocker panel to give a sense of height – the GLA sits slightly higher than the A-Class and slightly lower than the B-Class.
Slip in behind the GLA’s steering wheel, and the first thing you notice – apart from the low-sweeping roof line – is a sense of quality.
Leather, or faux leather, cover most surfaces where the hand or elbow fall, the fit and finish is up to the usual Teutonic quality, and everything is in easy reach and intuitive.
Red stitching – standard fitment on the GLA – contrasts nicely with the black upholstery, our steering wheel is a square-bottomed AMG version, and the chromed rings with their X-shaped frames that rotate to shut off air flow stand out prominently against a wide strip of cold-touch aluminium highlight and satin-look black plastic.
A slight blight is the layout of the gear lever, which is mounted on the right side of the steering column. Forget yourself for a moment and confuse it for the indicator (mounted on the left-hand side of the column), and instead of making a left turn you can accidentally slip the GLA into neutral.
Another slight blight is the colour display, which is mounted on the dash as you would a tablet device. It looks more like an afterthought than an integral part of the design.
The driver’s seat is comfortable enough, although the headrest is built into the seat and won’t adjust up for taller drivers. However, at night the large hole in the back of the seat lights up with an eerie orange glow.
Forward vision is good, helped by a very upright windscreen, although rearward vision is severely compromised by a thick central column and small rear window sandwiched between two deep rear pillars. A reversing camera, rear parking sensors and even curved edges on the wing mirrors help in this regard.
The GLA200 CDI includes paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, while the cover over the shallow centre console that also hides the USB and auxiliary inputs slides forward to provide arm support. Surprisingly, my iPhone5 only had limited functions when connected, as it was not recognised by the system’s software.
Space in the rear is a little cloying, but comfortable, and again not helped by the wrap-around roof that will have passengers ducking to get in. Knee- and toe-room are a bit tight, as is headroom for taller passengers if the sunroof is optioned in, but for short trips there won’t be too many complaints.
There’s numerous storage options around the cabin, including nets on the seatbacks, but while the front-seat door bins are lined to stop things rattling around, the rear ones are not.
At 421 litres and without the need to house an intrusive spare wheel, the boot space is quite useable, and expands to 836L when the rear seatbacks split-fold forward. Another neat trick is the ability to move an unoccupied rear seatback to a more upright position, yielding an extra 60L of space all up while keeping things secure.
Engine and transmission
This engine is a cracker in the E-Class, with its twin-turbo boost developing 125kW of power and 400Nm of torque from 1400-2800rpm, all while sipping only a combined 4.9 litres of diesel fuel every 100 kilometres it travels.
In the GLA-Class, the loss of a turbo drops the numbers to 100kW and 300Nm from 1400-3000rpm, while fuel use is rated at an official 4.6L/100km.
The loss of the second turbo also results in turbo lag, where the engine hesitates on step-off. However, after a moment’s hesitation the GLA200 CDI’s well of low-down torque arrives, providing smooth, linear acceleration with enough oomph to induce a bit of axle tramp if you get a bit too aggressive with the throttle on a wet road.
Combined with the idle-stop system, which shuts down the engine when stopped and restarts it automatically as soon as you lift a foot off the brake, the diesel engine needs a bit of forward thinking to get the jump at the traffic lights. You can stir the engine into life, though, by lifting slightly off the brake pedalThe seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that sits behind the engine, though, is a plus. Smooth, unobtrusive and intelligent, it keeps the diesel engine in its torquey sweet spot. It’s a little gruff at low speeds, jarring a bit as the clutches engage and disengage, but an automatic hill-hold function helps somewhat.
Despite the official 4.6L/100km figure providing a good benchmark, after a week of varied driving we managed only 6.1L/100km.
Ride and handling
The GLA200 CDI is no natural athlete. It rides nicely, absorbing almost everything apart from short, sharp hits at speed to provide a smooth, comfortable ride.
Shunt the gearbox into sport or manual mode, grab those paddle shifters and point it at a corner, though, and the entry-level GLA struggles to keep pace.
The electronic safety system kicks in early, pulling the GLA back on line as the nose starts to push wide in a corner as it counteracts linear and predictable understeer.
That said, there is barely a sign of body roll, with the suspension providing a trim, taught companion to the chassis.
The steering feels decently weighted without being electronically light, and the brakes are linear and progressive-feeling.
Safety and servicing
The GLA-Class range comes equipped with seven airbags, including a driver’s knee airbag.
Every time you jump in behind the wheel and crank the engine, Mercedes-Benz’s Pre-Safe system gives both front seatbelts a gentle tug to remind you that the car has a number of in-built systems ready to react in any crash.
It also keeps an eye on the run-flat tyres, alerting the driver if one loses pressure, and can suggest when it is time for the driver to take a well-earned break.
The car even has a forward-looking system that can warn you if you’re too close to the car in front, flashing up a red triangle on the dash. In heavy traffic, though, it forces you to keep a gap that everyone else sees as an opportunity rather than a safety measure.
The GLA-Class is yet to have an independent crash-test rating assigned to it, but with features such as a bonnet that pops up automatically to cushion a pedestrian’s head from the engine, it is sure to do well.
Mercedes-Benz cars are covered by a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.
Servicing is once a year or 25,000km, whichever comes first, and you can step up to a more premium servicing plan that will cap prices.
Mercedes-Benz’s entry-level GLA-Class hatchback feels nothing like an SUV and everything like a practical, comfortable and luxury-laden hatchback that happens to include a few butch highlights.
However, it sets a pretty high benchmark for the other brands to follow, particularly those who make their margins by selling expensive options to buyers wanting a little bit of the luxury that they would get thrown in as part of the entry-level GLA package.
At the moment, then, the GLA-Class is in a class of its own.
Mini Cooper SD Countryman All4 (From $46,900 before on-roads).
Great ride and handling harken back to Mini’s origins, with 2.0-litre diesel four-cylinder giving very close performance figures to the Benz. It’s five-door form, however, only comes with a six-speed manual gearbox, and adding options will have you digging deep.
Volvo V40 Cross Country D4 Luxury (From $47,990 before on-roads).
A relative newcomer to the car-meets-SUV world, and carries a high premium wrapped in a highly desirable, safe package wearing the Volvo badge. Diesel four-pot is a little gruff, and a huge turning circle is not entirely city-friendly.
Range Rover Evoque eD4 Pure (From $49,995 before on-roads).
A class larger, but nothing comes close to the Evoque’s looks if that’s what matters. Six-speed manual in the entry-level model allows you to wring the best out of the laggy diesel, back seat is decent, and if you think the Volvo’s options are expensive ... Specs
MAKE/MODEL: Mercedes-Benz GLA200 CDI
ENGINE: 2143cc 4cyl turbo diesel
LAYOUT: FWD, transverse
TRANSMISSION: 7sp dual-clutch automatic
TOP SPEED: N/a
EMISSIONS: 122g/km CO2
SUSPENSION: Macpherson (f)/trailing arm(r)
STEERING: Electrically-assisted rack and pinion
BRAKES: Ventilated (f)/solid disc (r)
PRICE: From $47,900 before on-roads
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