Compact crossovers are popular with many suburbanites because they combine the practicality of a hatchback with the stance of an SUV (sports utility vehicle). Compared to full-sized SUVs such as the Range Rover, compact crossovers are also easier to manoeuvre in downtown traffic and tight carparks. In addition, suburbanites like these vehicles’ outdoorsy image, even if the only jungle they’ll ever be driving around in is a concrete one.
German luxury carmakers have been capitalising on the compact crossover trend for a few years now. BMW for instance, launched the X1 back in 2010, and Audi followed suit with the Q3 in 2012. It seems like Mercedes-Benz has been snoozing all this time, because they had nothing to offer – till now.
Mercedes’ very first contender in this segment is the GLA, which is based on the brand’s A-Class hatchback. You’d be hard-pressed to tell that both models are related, however, for they look nothing alike. The lines on the former’s body – from its bonnet to its flanks – are a lot more pronounced, making it look more muscular and powerful than the latter. And unlike the A-Class’s rear, which ends rather abruptly, the GLA’s rump is better executed, too.Further enhancing the GLA’s road presence is its size – it is longer, wider and taller than the A-Class by 125mm, 24mm and 64mm, respectively. Dimensionally, the only similarity between the two siblings is their wheelbase length of 2699mm.
The test vehicle seen here – a GLA250 4Matic – has been equipped with the optional $10k AMG Line package, which gives the crossover a more aggressive bodykit. Standard on the GLA250, though, is the Dynamic Handling package, which lowers the GLA’s ride height by 15mm to improve its handling and give it a more athletic stance.
In contrast to its stylish exterior, there’s nothing special about the GLA’s interior, which is exactly the same as the A-Class. Don’t get me wrong – the cabin’s build quality is still sound. But because Mercedes did a swell job with the exterior, we were hoping that the interior would have been livened up more, too. The GLA, however, does offer greater cargo space than the A-Class – it has a total capacity of 1235 litres, or 80 litres more.Apart from being more practical, the GLA (this variant, at least) is also more pleasant to drive than the A-Class. The turbocharged 2-litre engine, which produces 211bhp and 350Nm, feels more responsive here than in the A250. As a result, the GLA250 not only feels quicker when moving off from a standstill – it’s also more willing to be pushed. Even the car’s 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox also feels smoother in this application than in the A250.
In addition, the GLA250 is more surefooted than front-wheel-driven A-Class models thanks to the standard 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. Unlike permanent four-wheel-drive systems with equitable torque distribution, 4Matic is more efficient because it varies the amount of torque sent to the front and rear axles in response to how slippery the road surface is.
The 4Matic system also features an off-road mode (which is activated via a button on the dashboard) that helps optimise traction on poorer surfaces. This function is unlikely to be used, however, since most suburbanites won’t be conquering anything beyond a grassy knoll.What suburbanites will appreciate, though, is the car’s surprisingly pliant ride despite its lower and stiffer suspension. The sport suspension-equipped A250 we drove last year was unyielding, so the GLA250’s softer ride is most welcome. The composed manner in which this crossover tackles bends is pleasing, too. Indeed the GLA250’s handling belies its size – it feels no bigger than the five-door hatchback it’s based on.
What could have been improved, on the other hand, is the steering. Although the GLA250 is equipped with Mercedes’ Direct-Steer function, which varies the steering ratio in relation to the vehicle’s speed, the system doesn’t feel as accurate here as it does in the A-Class. This, however, is probably due to the optional (and overly large) 19-inch wheels that the test vehicle came with.
Despite its misses, the GLA is still likely to be the one that draws well-heeled suburbanites shopping for a premium compact crossover. The GLA is stylish, practical and has the prestige of the three-pointed star. In this regard, maybe Mercedes-Benz wasn’t actually asleep all this time. Perhaps it was just preparing to stun its rivals by making a “glam slam” entrance to the compact crossover party.
Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic 2.0 (A)
TYPE Inline-4, 16-valves, turbocharged
BORE X STROKE 83mm x 92mm
COMPRESSION RATIO 9.8:1
MAX POWER 211bhp at 5500rpm
MAX TORQUE 350Nm at 1200-4000rpm
POWER TO WEIGHT 140.2bhp per tonne
GEARBOX 7-speed dual-clutch with manual select
DRIVEN WHEELS All
0-100KM/H 7.1 seconds
TOP SPEED 230km/h
CONSUMPTION 15.2km/L (combined)
CO2 EMISSION 154g/km
FRONT McPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
REAR Multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar
FRONT / REAR Ventilated discs / Discs
TYPE Continental ContiSportContact 5
SIZE 235/45 R19
TRACTION CONTROL ABS with ESP
KERB WEIGHT 1505kg
TURNING CIRCLE 11.8m
PRICE INCL. COE $205,888 (after $5k CEVS rebate)
WARRANTY 3 years/100,000km
+ Attractive design, smooth powertrain, large boot
– Low headroom in the rear, imprecise steering, so-so interior