Review: less hatchback, more SUV in the all-new Mercedes-Benz GLA
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Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4Matic
- Crisp performance
- Stunning new-gen MBUX interior
- There’s now a Benz SUV for every occasion
- Adaptive cruise not standard on an $86k car
- Firm ride on lowered suspension
- Bland-looking compared with other Mercedes SUVs
In case you’re currently bewildered by the number and breadth of Mercedes-Benz’s SUV offerings (currently seven on the books and even different body styles within each model), a quick refresher about the GLA: it’s essentially a crossover version of the A-Class hatchback.
There was a brand new A-Class back in 2018, but the GLA has only just caught up. So the all-new model you see here is based on the latest A-Class platform, complete with all that fancy MBUX digital instrumentation and the rapidly improving (because it's live and it learns) “Hey Mercedes” intelligent voice assistant.
The GLA’s role has changed a bit in the meantime, because now we also have the GLB compact seven-seater sitting just above it. So the GLB is really now the entry-level M-B family SUV, which leaves the GLA free to be more of a posh urban affair.
It also has more of its own identity. The previous GLA did look and feel a lot like a slightly jacked-up iteration of the A-class hatch, even though the body shape was unique. The new one is a touch shorter than the old car, but it’s 122mm taller. The proportions are very different.
You certainly wouldn’t mistake it for an A-class any more, despite the shared technology underneath. So while some of the SUV addenda has been toned down (no more fake skidplate on the front bumper, for example), it still looks much less a crossover and much more a standalone sports utility.
It's a compact SUV, but as you’d expect from a machine with a three-pointed star on the front (not to mention a rival for the Audi Q3, BMW X2 and Volvo XC40), it ain’t cheap. Our GLA 250 is the cheapest model with AWD and it starts at $86,500. Tick a few options, such as our car’s AMG Line and must-have Driving Assistance packages, and you’ve rocketed into the $90k bracket without really trying.
That’s really just the start; there are also the obligatory Mercedes-AMG models to consider: 35 (225kW) and 45 S (310kW). Hold onto your après-hiking boots.
The GLA 250 isn’t super sporty, but it’s certainly quick and crisp. Surprisingly quick you might even say, with an eager eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox and 0-100km/h in 6.7 seconds.
It’s still an unobtrusive kind of performance, but then this is an unobtrusive kind of car. It’s arguably the least likely Mercedes-Benz SUV to be actively desired, but you could easily arrive at a GLA purchase by a process of elimination. It’s designed to fit into a very specific size, price and purpose bracket within the M-B lineup… in a typically precise German way.
Even if you haven’t been actively lusting after the GLA 250, it’s a satisfying thing in terms of dynamics and quality. Especially the latter, because you’re getting that fancy widescreen instrument/infotainment display, and stunning details like the “turbine” air vents and a million (well, 64) configurable ambient-lighting colours for the cabin.
The GLA 250 gets the AMG-fettled Sports Direct Steer System as standard (you can add it to the 200 as part of the AMG Line package), so that must take a little of the credit for the impression of assured cornering.
This model also has the oddly named Lowered Comfort Suspension setup, which makes it look nice but does introduce some fussiness into the ride. It’s not uncomfortable – just as well, because it’s called “Comfort” – but you do get the sense it goes a couple of clicks too far for a car like this.
Given the GLA is not exactly a road warrior (at least not in its non-AMG guise), the 200 model looks tempting because it’s $73,300 instead of $86,500. You’d be hard pressed to tell them apart; they’re both on 19-inch wheels, for example, and the cheaper car doesn’t have that AMG Line suspension, so it presumably has a smoother urban gait.
Granted, the 200 is a lot less car in some respects: just 120kW/250Nm from a 1.3-litre engine, front-drive and seven, not eight speeds in its DCT.
But if it’s a posh urban SUV you’re after, we’d say take a look at the 200 before you spend the extra on the 250. The entry car is certainly not lacking in M-B status.
MERCEDES-BENZ GLA 250 4MATIC
ENGINE: 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four
GEARBOX: 8-speed automated dual-clutch transmission (DCT), AWD
PERFORMANCE: 0-100km/h 6.7 seconds, 7.5l/100km