Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - GLA - 250 4MATIC
Cabin space, punchy engine, handling, subtle sense of attitude, rear styling
Room for improvement
Cramped driver’s footwell, no radar cruise control, some interior ergonomics, lack of spare wheel or space saver
Mercedes-Benz tries to make its smallest SUV more SUV-like… has it worked?
9 Dec 2020
STANDING some 122mm taller than its predecessor and boasting a 97mm higher seating position, at first glance it would seem Mercedes-Benz has succeeded in making the new GLA compact SUV more SUV-like as opposed to just being a jacked-up A-Class.
Ultimately though that is exactly what it is given it still rides on the same architecture as the rest of the compact portfolio and is powered by the same familiar range of engines.
Sticking with the theme of increased size, the new model is also 30mm wider, while having 30mm added to its wheelbase and 50mm to its front and rear tracks.
It is however, 14mm shorter than the old model but Mercedes insists there is plenty more room inside the cabin than before.
To find out how the new model stacks up, we spent some time in the mid-range GLA250 4Matic, the variant Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific has singled out as the volume seller.
First drive impressions
The first thing you notice stepping into the cabin of the GLA is its new, higher seating position.
Even with the seat set to its lowest position – our preferred set-up – the driving position feels taller than in a standard passenger car but as is usually the case, your attention quickly moves past that and onto other features of the cabin.
Unfortunately the next thing we noticed, and couldn’t stop noticing, was the cramped driver’s footwell which is both too narrow and too short.
In regard to that second criticism, we understand that different people have different proportions and different preferences, but for us there just isn’t enough room to get properly comfortable.
As a result, long runs are met with an irritating level of fidgeting, readjusting and ill-fated attempts at stretching behind the wheel to stave off the threat of cramps.
The seats themselves are firm and comfortable, complemented nicely by the chunky leather steering wheel, contrasting black and silver interior trim and the dual 10.25-inch screens comprising the MBUX infotainment system and all-digital instrument cluster.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the interior however is the amount of room in the second row.
Even with the seat set in our 185cm driving position, rear knee and toe room is more than acceptable which combines superbly with the comfort of the rear pews themselves – rear passengers will be perfectly happy on long journeys.
Back in the driver’s seat, outward visibility is perfectly adequate with the port-hole style rear window behind the second row being put to good use at oblique intersections.
Less clear however is the view of the infotainment screen, the far right of which is completely obscured by the steering wheel.
Other ergonomic shortfalls include the drive mode select and multimedia volume switches being around the wrong way – the drive mode switch is on the passenger side of the centre console while the driver gets the volume switch despite having volume controls on the steering wheel – and the lack of a driver’s knee pad or softer material on the side of the transmission tunnel rather than the smart looking but hard plastic.
Once you have come to terms with these ergonomic niggles however, the GLA250 reveals itself to be quite a good steer, combing a solid engine with direct steering and a competent ride that manages to tread a fine line between dynamics and comfort.
Under the bonnet resides a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine developing 165kW of power and 350Nm of torque, all of which is distributed between all four wheels via an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
While not stratospherically powerful – wait for the 310kW/500Nm GLA45 S if that’s your thing – the engine provides a decent level of accessible performance with plenty of torque available low in the rev range.
The soundtrack is decent in the upper rev range too with just enough attitude to add some meaningful character to the package.
The eight-speed dual-clutch transmission rattles off gear changes nice and smoothly around town and is snappy when pushing with the added bonus of paddle shifters and a proper manual-mode available to those who want to up the involvement factor even further.
Riding on 19-inch alloy wheels as standard does little to tame the not quite sporty, not quite soft ride but did go a long way to making the GLA250 a blast in the bends.
Thanks to the low-profile Continental PremiumContact6 tyres, all-wheel-drive and sportier suspension tune than the base 200, the GLA250 clings onto the road nicely when pushed with decent turn-in and feedback provided to the driver regardless of drive mode.
In the right hands, this is a small SUV that can genuinely push and probably drop many ordinary (non-SUVs) passenger vehicles on a hilly backroad, but we wouldn’t necessarily go Audi RS hunting…
If you do decide to push on a little, the GLA will gently remind you that it is an SUV after all and start to gently lean through the corners, making its higher centre of gravity known and felt.
Bigger mid-corner bumps can occasionally crash through the cabin but do little to disrupt the car’s composure, one of the perks of a not-too-firm suspension tune.
The brakes are progressive and powerful and were put to good use when a kangaroo appeared out of the bush during a run through the Darling Scarp above Waroona.
As for fuel economy, the GLA250 proves to be a bit of a mixed bag – urban driving can quite easily approach double digits in terms of litres per 100km, but then open road cruising can comfortably result in low sevens and even high sixes.
One thing to be aware of though is that the engine demands premium unleaded.
As a driving implement, given it is ultimately an SUV, the new GLA250 is an impressive feat.
Save for some driver ergonomic gripes and the lack of any form of spare wheel, there isn’t actually much to fault it on and Mercedes can genuinely be commended on the way it drives.
Boot space could be better (435L) and we would love to see the addition of adaptive cruise control as standard (part of the Driver Assistance Package) given its $66,500 plus on-roads starting price.
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Model release date: 1 November 2020
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