Mercedes doesn't boast a lot of experience in the compact crossover vehicle game, but the GLA 250 4MATIC shows that as a company, it's an extremely quick learner. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
With 208bhp from a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine driving all four wheels, you might think Subaru Impreza Turbo but no, this is the Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4MATIC. Rehashing a classic engineering formula with the sort of modern efficiency that sees this compact crossover achieve 39.7mpg, while retaining the ability to hit 60mph in 6.9 seconds is sure to result in a steady stream of orders for Mercedes.
Mercedes-Benz isn't a company that tends to get caught on the hop when designing cars. For a manufacturer that has had such brazenly niche vehicles as the R63 AMG on its books, it's an astonishing oversight that, for right-hand drive markets at least, it has never had a compact SUV or crossover vehicle to compete with the likes of the Audi Q3, the BMW X1 or upmarket versions of countless Japanese contenders. This has been such a massive and lucrative market sector that the absence of a Mercedes product has become ever more pointed. Yes, you could buy the boxy GLK model on the continent, but that was never sophisticated enough to make the big numbers here. Stuttgart's answer is the GLA-Class. It's spun off a modified version of the A-Class chassis, which would have once meant it was awful, but now promises only good things. The GLA 250 4MATIC is a punchy petrol-powered version that might well show the talents of this chassis at their best. Can it carve a niche for itself?
Bar the psychotic GLA 45 AMG model, this 250 4MATIC is the quickest variant in the range. The engineering has an inherent rectitude to it; all-wheel drive, with the motive force coming from a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine. Stop us if you've heard that one before. In this guise, the 1991cc four makes 208bhp, which is enough to punt the GLA to 60mph in a more than respectable 6.9 seconds before running out of go at a brisk 143mph. Torque is rated at 350Nm at just 1,200rpm, besting Audi and BMW's efforts quite easily here. It's deployed via a seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox, which offers a manual mode, although it's best left in Sport. In normal, it continually tries to shuffle into seventh at the earliest opportunity for fuel efficiency purposes and as a result can feel a little dull-witted when you attempt to prod it into action. Ride quality is firmish but acceptable on the 18-inch wheels worn by the SE models, but deteriorates quite sharply if you choose the 19-inch options. The default suspension set-up on SE models is Comfort, but the AMG Line versions ride on 15mm lower sports suspension. The 4MATIC system is a permanent all-wheel drive set-up featuring fully variable torque distribution. The components of the 4MATIC system include the power take-off to the rear axle that is integrated into the 7G-DCT automatic dual clutch transmission, plus the rear-axle gear with integrated, electrohydraulically controlled multi-disc clutch. There's also DSR (Downhill Speed Regulation) and an off-road transmission mode as standard. When the off-road transmission mode is selected, the gearshift points and accelerator characteristics are modified to better suit off-road driving. Ground clearance will clearly limit the GLA's ultimate capabilities in the rough and few owners will venture onto anything other than a gravel track, but this looks to be a vehicle with a certain inbuilt versatility.
Design and Build
After the almost military-look GLK, the GLA is a radical departure. It's rounded, it rides fairly low to the ground and it looks more like an A-Class that's been boosting up on nandrolone than anything particularly hardcore. Perhaps that's no great surprise given that it's spawned from a similar chassis, being the fourth of five compact vehicles Mercedes is spinning off this theme, the first three being the A, B and CLA models and the fifth being the CLA Shooting Brake. The Concept GLA was first shown at the 2013 Shanghai Motor Show but the show car's exuberant detailing has been pared back for production. The front end now looks less angry, the design team having taken a lot of shape and creases out of the surfacing and toned down the excess. It measures 4427mm long, 1805mm wide and 1495mm height, which are dimensions broadly similar to most of its key UK-market rivals. For reference, a BMW X1 is 50mm longer, 7mm narrower and 72mm taller. The GLA rides on a 2699mm wheelbase - the same as that used by all latest A-Class models so don't expect limousine-standard legroom in the rear seats. Luggage space is 421-litres with the seats in place, and 836-litres with them folded down completely. An optional 'Load Compartment package' moves the rear seat backs to a more upright position, freeing up a further 60-litres of load space.
Market and Model
The GLA 250 4MATIC opens at a fairly serious sum -a round £30,000 in SE trim, with AMG Line specification tacking another £1,000 to the asking price. Alternatively, you can opt for the car in SE Executive guise at around £31,000, with AMG Line Executive again adding a grand to that figure. Then there's SE Premium, AMG Line Premium, SE Premium Plus and AMG Line Premium Plus trim levels. If Mercedes isn't to utterly confuse its customers, it seriously needs to do something about its trim structure, packing eight models into a narrow £3,500 window. Try to think of four levels of equipment, with each offered in either a comfortable SE guise or a sportier AMG Line version. Should you choose the latter, the Night Package is sure to be a popular option. This adds a two-louvre high gloss black grille with chrome details, AMG bodystyling on the front, side sill and rear apron in high sheen finish, high gloss black belt line strips and roof rails. Also included are 19" AMG alloy wheels with run-flat tyres. Mercedes-Benz takes safety extremely seriously and you only need to take a look at the GLA's standard safety equipment to realise that there aren't many in its class that can rival its attention to detail here. Standard-fit features for the SUV include Attention Assist drowsiness detection and radar-based Collision Prevention Assist with adaptive Brake Assist, which now helps to protect against collisions from a speed of 4mph.
Cost of Ownership
Although it's likely that most British customers will look to one of the diesel models with a CDI badge on its behind, don't dismiss the petrol-engined GLA 250 out of hand. Even with a decently pokey 208bhp at its disposal, it'll still squeeze almost forty miles from a gallon of petrol and the emissions of 151g/km are way less than you'd get in, say, a 111bhp Toyota RAV4 2.0-litre. It's also worth factoring in the value of that twin-clutch transmission when comparison shopping against rivals who might well charge extra for such a gearbox. Weight reduction and a drag coefficient of just 0.29 help here, as well as a raft of other fuel-optimising measures. Modern four-cylinder engines with turbocharging and direct injection, as well as an ECO start/stop function as standard, make for this high efficiency. Residual values are bound to be sturdy, as the A, B and CLA-Class cars have already proved. The promise of a small Mercedes SUV with low running costs and high build values isn't going to be lost on used buyers.
Although it could have been a bit more adventurously-styled, there's otherwise very few areas where Mercedes-Benz could have done a lot better with the GLA. Genuine niggles are extremely few. The ride quality could have been a little gentler and the transmission a little more responsive to manual commands but beyond that, the minus column is empty provided you can afford the premium asking prices. No vehicle in this class is particularly spacious in the back, so it would be invidious to single the GLA out for criticism there. Build quality is good, the engine is a cracker and its handling is as good as you'd expect from something with A-Class underpinnings. Efficiency is excellent for a 208bhp petrol-powered crossover and residual values are certain to stack up well as a result, driving down the overall cost of ownership. Safety? This is a modern Mercedes-Benz; enough said. The GLA 250 4MATIC isn't cheap, but making a case for buying one isn't too difficult. Mercedes may have been late to this game, but it's making up for lost time.