Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - GLA - 250 4MATIC
Striking design, hatchback practicality, strong acceleration, sure-footed handling, safety, equipment, front-seat comfort, some light off-road capability
Room for improvement
High entry price, tight rear-seat packaging, small boot, expensive options, firm ride on 19-inch wheels, some tyre noise, some dash rattles
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14 Nov 2014
THE ARRIVAL of the 250 4Matic version of the already-popular GLA hatch/crossover is like watching a sleeping giant stir from a self-administered coma.
For far too long Mercedes in Australia has sat back helplessly as BMW, Audi and Land Rover made hay in the premium compact SUV class with the X1/X3, Q3/Q5 and Range Rover Evoque respectively.
It must gall the Stuttgart brand, since a model under the successful ML-Class – called the GLK – has been available elsewhere for over five years, but that’s been a left-hand drive-only proposition for reasons that are still utterly inexplicable to us (and probably the Aussie distributors).
Now, though, Mercedes is charging head-first into the rich pickings that is the compact crossover/SUV pool with the GLA250 4Matic – bringing turbo-petrol power and all-wheel drive as sales reinforcements to the front-drive diesel 200 CDI that is already on sale.
And it is an entirely convincing alternative to the X1, Q3 and Evoque, if you don’t mind the limited rear-seat space, small boot and Subaru XV-esque hatchback-on-stilts silhouette.
The latter pretty much sizes up what the Benz really is, but to dismiss it as merely an A-Class with a different skin, beefed-up chassis and 16mm more ride height is to sell this particular GLA short.
For starters, the interior is on-brand as far as dashboard styling and cabin presentation is concerned, with all the usual Mercedes markers to help justify the $57,900 price tag.
From the solid thud of the heavy door closing, classy instruments and firm but enveloping electric and heated front seats, to the (annoying) column-stalk mounted auto gear lever, this could only be Three Pointed Star material.
It also oozes spec, including a sat-nav, an electric tailgate, hot 19-inch alloys and all manner of electronic driving aids. This is no poverty-pack W201 180E of 20 years ago!But beware that one of the GLAs we drove at the New Zealand launch suffered from an instrument binnacle rattle plus, the trim isn’t the same standard of tactile delight as an Audi’s.
Note also: people over about 170cm tall will tire of the limited headroom and leg space in the back. Road noise intrusion is also evident over some bitumen surfaces. And the luggage area isn’t generous either. At least the rear cushion and backrest are comfy.
Behind the wheel, however, the GLA redeems itself precisely because it is so closely based on the dynamic A-Class hatch.
For instance, the 2.0-litre four-pot turbo-petrol engine/seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox combo is a formidable one, powering the 250 4Matic forward with effortless ease.
Throttle response is quick, for fast overtaking manoeuvres, while the whole drivetrain settles down to a relaxing cruise once settled on the highway – just like a Mercedes should.
Pushing the Sport button does hold on to the gears longer for even stronger performance, which is ideal for stringing together tight corners, but around town it sounds like we forgot to change up a gear.
The German engineers have also worked wonders with the steering, for reactions are instant yet smooth and progressive at the same time. The result is controlled and composed handling, backed up by excellent levels of roadholding grip and a set of brakes you can really rely on when things start getting a little tricky.
Only a busy ride on the standard 19-inch wheel and (run-flat) tyre package detracts from an otherwise enjoyable and competent driving experience. Along with the aforementioned road-noise intrusion, the suspension likes to transmit all manner of bumps into the cabin.
While that’s tolerable on the beautifully scenic rural roads of New Zealand, we fear that on the urban grind of big-city Australia, the ride might be too choppy.
We’ll have to wait and see how that turns out, but in the meantime, the 250 4Matic provides an appealing mix of lofty luxury, involving dynamics, stirring performance and some light off-road capability.
In our eyes at least, the GLA is also better looking than its compatriots, though it cannot hit the haute couture heights of the handsome Evoque.
Still, in many ways it shapes up as a driver’s crossover more so than as a family SUV alternative – and that is the Benzes’ biggest ace.
Mercedes has finally woken up to the desires of well-heeled SUV-seeking urbanites needing all-weather surety as well as luxury-brand cred.
If you can stomach the high-price/small-car cabin ratio, you shouldn’t waste any more time – this thing will sell out in weeks!
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