Matt Hubbard reviews the new Mercedes Benz GLA 200 CDI AMG Line
When the first photos of GLA were revealed I wasn't very enthusiastic about it. Why would Mercedes Benz, purveyor of class motors to the gentry and airport-run taxis worldwide, make such a thing, a small SUV?
But then I had a think. Audi, no less a class operator than Mercedes nowadays, makes a ton of money flogging chunky 'crossovers' to school run mums from Surrey to California. BMW's SUV range is larger than its traditional saloon range. Porsche's Cayenne outsells all the other vehicles in its range combined. Everyone's getting in on the SUV act because that's what customers want.
And the fact they can charge more for an SUV than the saloon or hatch it's based on, for what is no more than a four wheel drive system, some plastic bodywork and raised suspension, makes it a blinding deal for the manufacturers.
The benefits to the consumer are that they can see over hedges, some extra practicality and...erm...every other parent doing the school run has one.
I live close to several expensive public schools in West Berkshire. The lanes around my house, normally so much fun unless a Honda Jazz decides to get in the way, are clogged up at school open and closing times with German SUVs of every size and description.
And even though the GLA has only been available for four months there are quite a few whizzing around the leafy lanes already. Mercedes knew this would be a popular car which is why they made it and, from my observations, it is proving to be.
And it is a well built, practical car that's not overpriced, is very pleasant to drive and won't cost much to run.
The shape is a little too conservative to my eye. In essence it's a beefed up A Class. The two are built on the same platform but the GLA is slightly larger in every area, although not that much taller. I was quite surprised how low it is, in the same way the Audi Q3 is only just bigger than an A3 or even a Ford Focus.
If the GLA was a proper off-roader it would be taller. But that's not what customers want. The model I tested didn't even have four wheel drive. I presumed all GLAs would be 4WD but no, some models are front wheel drive. I was fooled into this and said it was four wheel drive in my video review, and then spun the front wheels pulling away from a junction - just before I had to give the car back and too late for a reshoot.
Again, consumers don't necessarily need or want four wheel drive. They want to sit higher up than in a 'normal' car. So Mercedes is giving them what they desire.
The upshot to this is a rather magnificent 62.8mpg on the combined run. The extra friction and weight from an all wheel drive system would reduce this, and increase the CO2 and therefore tax.
The test car was painted Cirrus White. It is far too bland in this colour. Mountain Grey or South Seas Blue Metallic make the GLA look far more interesting, and likeable.
The interior is splendidly solid and easy on the eye, in a conservative, don't push the boat out way. It is quite lovely, although the all black with aluminium trimmings of the test car felt a bit too dark. Go for Artico Sahara Beige for something a bit less depressing. Artico, by the way is fake leather.
Sitting in the comfiest seat outside of a Volvo my shoulder was level with the top of the door's window line. You do sit low in the car. The driving position is great and there are lots of spaces and places to put your stuff in.
The rear seats accommodate three adults and the leg room is much more than I expected. As you can see in the video I had the driver's seat pushed right back and there was still a lot of rear legroom.
As an avowed petrol head and lover of sports cars I'm almost ashamed to say I enjoyed driving the GLA. The 200 CDI's engine is a bit of a weakling but otherwise the steering felt perfectly weighted, the chassis feels light and chuckable and the car just doesn't roll in the way old school SUVs did.
If you want a smallish SUV the Toyota RAV4 would be the most sensible buy, although it returns 20mpg less than the GLA 200 CDI. The Volvo XC60 is a close rival to the GLA and has a slightly more appealing interior. The BMW X1 and X3 are impressive but have image issues. The Audi Q3 is a perfectly respectable car. The Range Rover Evoque is more stylish and has a better image than any of those I've mentioned but is priced higher.
The Mercedes GLA sits well in the small SUV firmament. It does its job and it does it exceedingly well. It has Mercedes DNA stamped throughout. If you buy one you'll probably like it, a lot.