The GLA-Class is not just bolder than the A-Class on which it is based; it is also bigger with its dimensions increased in all directions. The drama of the outside is echoed within and this thoroughly modern cross-over holds much appeal. It is not without practicality though, and delivers useful all-round ability.
- Increased size gives additional practicality
- Fuel-efficient diesels
- Contemporary styling
- With a few basic options added, basic price rises considerably
- Ride is on the firm side
- Sport-eco-manual mode button not easy to find in a hurry
When the most recent A-Class was launched, it marked the start of a very new direction for Mercedes Benz in terms of design. Since then, the styling cues have been rolled upward across the models. Based directly on the A-Class, the GLA-Class takes these basic features and enhances them to an almost steroidal level.
The GLA is certainly striking. With a higher nose and the tall ridges along the bonnet, there is no mistaking it. From the side, the plastic-covered wheel arches provide an air of ruggedness, currently in vogue. The humbler rear of the A-Class is also enhanced here with bigger light clusters and bold lower bumper detail, housing the twin rectangular exhaust finishers.
With the same distance between its axles as a regular A-Class, the GLA has simply grown outward in all directions. Notably though, the height is just 60mm more than the A-Class so doesn't make a huge difference to the driving position. The larger dimensions do mean of course that there is genuinely more space inside the GLA, notably the boot with an usable extra 40% capacity (with seats upright) compared with its smaller sibling.
Inside, the dashboard is dominated by five propeller-style air vents, one at each outer end and three together in the middle. An almost tablet-like display sits atop these (although it is controlled via the rotary knob on the central console rather than being touch-screen) and there is a conventional media interface sitting above the heater controls. It is all straightforward to operate, the exception being the single row of too-similar buttons where sport-eco-manual mode selection is as easy to press as the hazard warning button or heated seats.
Like all current Mercedes-Benz models, automatic gearbox direction selection is via a stalk on the right of the steering column (with all other turn indicator and wiper controls on the left).Once familiar, it is as easy as any conventional gear lever but will feel a little different at first to anyone not used to driving a modern Mercedes.
So the styling is modern, bold and promises drama and capability but does the GLA-Class deliver against these external messages? On the road, the additional bulk of the car can be felt, whether driving through gaps in traffic or trying to hustle the extra 140kg along the highway. The ergonomics do a good job keeping occupants relaxed but the ride remains firm. Steering isn't as sharp as that on a BMW X1, but then the whole car delivers a slightly less engaging drive which is actually to its credit; a cross-over like this should provide a more rounded experience.
Engine wise, there is just one petrol and one diesel but these are offered with differing power outputs. The 136 hp GLA 200 CDI is the lesser-powered diesel (the only model offered with a manual gearbox); on test, we have the more powerful 170 hp (172PS) 220 CDI with both the auto 'box and 4MATIC all-wheel-drive. From a two-litre petrol unit, there is a smooth 250 4MATIC and range-topping GLA 45 AMG 4MATIC. Apart from the GLA 45, just two trim levels are offered: Sport and AMG-Line which in the main differentiate styling preferences.
The GLA 220 CDI is agile enough, comfortable on motorways and offers sufficient get-up-and-go for overtaking. It does have a more relaxed approach to getting off the line, although its 0-62mph time is a respectable 8.3 seconds. The all-wheel-drive has also proved its worth while on test with wet and icy conditions less able to unsettle the car's traction ability.
In summary, the GLA goes some way beyond just a styling exercise and does offer some usable features. Sensible interior space, a little increased ground clearance plus the reassurance of the all-wheel-drive tick the practicality boxes; the interior feels fresh, smart and materials are pleasing to the touch and eye. It does carry an element of ambiguity though: while the styling points to performance and dynamism, it feels happier being a grand tourer. We would suggest this is no bad thing.
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