Greens And Aspirations
The previous Mercedes-Benz GLA was quite a hit when it was first introduced here in the middle of the last decade. Compact in size, and definitely more attainable than larger “Mercs”, the GLA caught on at a time when SUVs were becoming cool.
And it is not only Mercedes-Benz who went ahead to produce a small premium car for a younger crowd of aspiring buyers. BMW brought us the X1 (which recently was facelifted), MINI, its Countryman, Audi, now with its new Q3, the new Lexus UX, Volvo’s quirky XC40 and Jaguar who also launched their new small SUV, the E-Pace just a few years back.
No prizes if you realise that the premium compact SUV market might be a rather crowded one, but with the class above getting increasingly larger, these luxury brands have found a comfortable white space, a notch below. A smaller, transverse-mounted setup translates to some clever packaging; and there is no better way to say this, but a more economical build would mean that they are priced a little closer to their bread and butter contemporaries. And you can tell by the numbers of the previous GLA on our roads, badge appeal is a big thing here.
The new ‘Merc’ is built upon the MFA2 (Modular Front Architecture), which also forms the underpinnings for the A-Class Hatchback and Saloon, B-Class, the stylish CLA and its Shooting Brake variant. More recently, Mercedes-Benz also launched GLB, a 5+2 seater SUV; essentially a more versatile extension of the GLA, penned to mirror the style of their flagship GLS SUV.
While the new GLA is moderately shorter than the car it replaces, it does have a 30mm increase in its wheelbase. It is also slightly wider, and has a full 100mm added to its height. Styled with confident, bold shoulders, and suggested powerdomes on the bonnet, it also takes a leaf form its larger siblings, with its squared-off wheel arches, similar to those on new GLE, and greenhouse inspiration from the GLC.
Overall, the new GLA does feel a little more rugged compared to the car it replaces, from its more upright stance, and slimmer tail lamps, which leaves an impression that it is riding higher.
One of the best improvements by far, is the quality of the new GLA’s interior. While it does share plenty with its compact siblings, it carries many design elements of its own. The switchgear feels good to the touch, and seems to be built to last an even longer time.
The highlight here is the new MBUX infotainment system (Mercedes-Benz User Experience), which is also voice-activated via LINGUATRONIC which recognises natural speech. The infotainment system which is designed heavily around the touch-interface, can be controlled via a touchpad located on the centre console; by adding your finger marks on the touchscreen itself; or even through tiny touch control buttons on the steering wheel. Mercedes has also included haptic feedback for a more natural-intuitive feel. With its improved handwriting recognition, you can also scribble down your desired destinations or names from your mobile phonebook. The touchscreen and dials, both which are 10.25” displays, are mounted on one snowboard-like panel, and like its compact siblings, there is no cowl above the driver’s side display.
In moving forward with the times, the GLA is equipped with a wireless charging pad to help keep your mobile phone juiced up, and also includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. One of the tiny drawbacks is the fact that Mercedes-Benz has decided to go full on with the USB-C sockets, instead of leaving users with a mix of both Type-C and Type-A.
While head and shoulder room are largely unchanged, the improved packaging in the new GLA means that rear passengers benefit from an additional 116mm of extra legroom, or approximately enough room for you to add your now defunct Compact Disc collection forward of your feet.
Boot capacity has also been improved upon, now at 435 litres, that is 14 litres more than the old car. You also get an adjustable floor, just so that you can pack in more of your gear. The rear seats which can be rolled fore-and-aft by up to 140mm, and also folded in 40:20:40 fashion, brings up your carrying capacity to 1,430 litres, ensuring greater flexibility for passengers and cargo management.
Under the bonnet, the GLA 200 is powered by their now-familiar 1,332cc turbocharged inline-four, with an output of 163hp and 250Nm, the latter which begins at 1,620rpm. Drive is through a quick-shifting 7G-DCT, directed to the front wheels.
While the engine does a good job of hauling you around, proven by its 8.7 second to 100km/h time, it does get rather buzzy at the mid-range. That said, the new engine is quite an improvement over how the previous car’s 1.6 litre delivered the goods.
Even with the extra heft and height compared to its siblings, the GLA is surprisingly nimble around the bends. Yes it also handles better than the previous car (which the latter came across as rather dull) and feels more balanced too. I must however say this with the caveat that it will not be anywhere near as sharp as say, the CLA, or even the A-Class Saloon.
Tiny ruts and bumps are well soaked up by the suspension, though the 18” rims (the smallest available here) on our Progressive trim vehicle, would still mean that they get communicated through to your behind. Driving on the highway, the GLA delivers well on passenger comfort, and the SUV’s insulation on the whole is very good.
One of the neat touches the GLA has, is its included car wash function, which was first seen in the GLS flagship SUV. It is ingenious, since it shuts the windows and sunroof, turns the wipers off, and even activates the 360 camera (if your car has one), the last bit, just so that you can enter an automate car wash with peace-of-mind (that is if you are still able to find one of these)... all with just the activation of one command. The car wash function shuts off, once you accelerate above speeds of 20km/h.
While the GLA is a car that looks like it aspires to go to green places, it is really a road car, loaded with creature spoils, and an ego-soothing badge.
It is more refined than the previous car, but perhaps not as refined as some of the competition. Starting from $179,888*, you have plenty of choices ranging from $15k up and down from there; from direct-competing premium offerings, to even bigger, non-premium brand SUVs.
But we know that the badge beckons.
*Accurate as at 2 Nov 2020
Credits: Words and Photos by Clifford Chow