Is this a Mercedes? I often see this amused expression on the faces of passersby while driving any Mercedes-Benz model in the past two years. The new entrants into the Stuttgart carmaker’s rapidly expanding model range are dynamic, youthful and a clear breakaway from the sedate, “old man’s car” image. I could see such expressions again last week along the Himalayan Expressway as Mercedes-Benz organized the media drive for its latest model – the GLA – to Shimla.
The GLA is not just the latest iteration of the company’s new design philosophy, but an important car that fills a long-vacant void in Mercedes’ lineup – that of luxury compact SUV.
At the first glance, the GLA appears like an inflated A-Class and that’s no surprise because they are built on the same MFA platform. Essentially, the GLA is an A Class on steroids with a straighter roofline and better ground clearance. However, rugged touches like bulging lines on the bonnet, aluminum cladding and large air intakes on the bumper, and especially the taller stance give the GLA an unmistakable SUV look up front. Segment-unique 18-inch alloy wheels and brushed-metal roof rails add more character and style to the profile. The rear is even more visually modern with A Class-inspired but larger taillights, integrated spoilers and sporty twin exhaust pipes surrounded by large aluminum insert.
The A-Class is undoubtedly the most desirable car in the luxury hatchback segment and it shares a lot with the GLA in terms of styling, which effectively makes the GLA the best looking car in the luxury compact SUV segment.
A taller seating position is what makes the otherwise familiar cabin fairly distinctive. The infotainment screen taking pride of place atop the centre console, five turbine-style air vents, knobs, stalks and switches scream quality. The instrument cluster is crisp and clear and includes a useful multi-information display for trip, fuel economy and gear indicator. Gear selector stalk is on the steering column and frees up more space for storage and cubbyholes in the centre console. Soft closing lids keep it neat and tidy, too. Absence of automatic climate control is surprising, just like the A and B Class.
Seating comfort in front is top on the line with electric adjustment and three-way memory function that make long drives fatigue-free. However, headroom is not the best in class and tall drivers might get a hemmed-in feel. The panoramic sunroof adds a nice airy feel to the cabin, though. Rear seats are spacious but slightly lacking in underthigh support. There are no rear AC vents and you get a small chit holder in its place. Rear visibility is not great either but reverse camera is part of standard kit and it addresses the issue to an extent.
The 421-litre cargo space is as wide as the M Class but the space saver tyre is simply thrown in there and you will find it tough to arrange your luggage in the boot. The GLA also offers safety features like tyre pressure sensors, attention assist and seven airbags along with ASR, ABS, BAS, ESP etc.
Moving the GLA along are two engines – a 2.0 litre turbo petrol or a 2.1 litre diesel. The petrol engine makes about 181 bhp and 300Nm of torque between 1200-1400rpm. It’s fast enough to keep an enthusiast happy and Mercedes claims that it will hit 100kmph in 7.6 seconds and on to a top speed of 205kmph. The diesel engine develops 134bhp and 300Nm with a 0-100 time of 9.9-seconds and 205kmph top speed. Although not as sporty as the petrol, it packs enough pulling power to accelerate briskly and be the pick of the bunch for highway driving. With a mileage of 17.9kmpl, the diesel GLA 200CDI will be a more popular choice.
Power is transmitted to the front wheel through a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. The generally smooth and clever transmission can be better controlled using the paddle shifters when you need.
Ride and Handling
An added 30mm of ride height compared to the international model (183mm ground clearance) makes the GLA more suited to Indian driving conditions. Longer spring travel and softer tuning ensure a more comfortable ride than the A Class. It helps the car a lot when taken off-road, too. The cabin is well insulated from external noises and that makes it a nice place to be in during long journeys. Probably the only department where the GLA doesn’t match up to the A Class is handling. Yet, with its hatchback underpinnings, the GLA has surprisingly little body roll and it grips well around corners.
Mercedes Benz will launch the GLA on 30th September only in front-wheel drive variant. An all-wheel drive and AMG editions will follow soon. There will be only one fully loaded trim available and expect it to command a hefty premium. However, class-competitive cabin quality, safety features and the equipment level make it a great buy. After all, the GLA’s captivating looks alone can give competition a run for their money – need I say more?