By: IOL Motoring Staff
After taking a quick glance it would be easy to think that the new Mercedes GLA, just released in South Africa, is simply an A-Class in a safari suit. Mercedes calls this its first compact SUV, but our man on the launch, Jesse Adams, feels the phrase “crossover hatch” might be more applicable.
“This car will naturally be mentioned in the same breaths as BMW's X1 and Audi's Q3, but I think Volvo's adventure hatch, the V40 XC, is probably the closest vehicle in terms of purpose and design.”
As much as it resembles the A-Class, though, the GLA does have its fair share of unique design touches (in addition to the obvious extra cladding), like its upward curving rear door design, wide shoulders and more robust-looking rear end. In fact, the GLA is a whole 125mm longer and 51mm taller than its hatch sibling.
There's a practical gain too, in the 421-litre boot and flexible rear seatbacks that can be reclined or folded down completely. You can even order an automatic tailgate if opening and closing the boot yourself is just not your style.
The cabin otherwise largely echoes that found in the A-Class and CLA, thus offering a stylish design clad in high-end materials and providing buyers with a wide choice of seat upholsteries and colour combinations.
The GLA also offers the latest Comand Online multimedia system, complete with new functions, additional apps and a modified graphic colour scheme.
The crossover is available in three grades (Style, Urban and AMG Sport Line) while packages like 'Night', 'Exclusive' and 'AMG Exclusive' can also be ordered.
Engine choices, however, are limited to two diesels for now, although two petrol options will come on stream in September this year.
Kicking off the range for now, then, is the highly efficient GLA 200 CDI, powered by a 100kW/300Nm 2.1-litre turbodiesel that sips a claimed 4.3-litres per 100km on the combined cycle. The perkier oil-burning option is the GLA 220 CDI, which boasts a 125kW/350Nm version of the aforementioned engine. Claimed consumption here amounts to 5.1 l/100km.
The turbocharged petrol range will include a 115kW/250Nm 1.6-litre (GLA 200) and a 155kW 2-litre (GLA 250), and the latter is good for a 7.1-second 0-100km/h sprint, according to Mercedes-Benz.
The GLA 200 and GLA 200 CDI are both front-wheel driven, while the GLA 250 and GLA 220 CDI send their urge through all four wheels via Merc's 4MATIC all-wheel drive system with fully variable torque distribution. These range toppers also come with the 7G-DCT dual clutch automatic transmission as standard, although this is also an option on the GLA 200 models.
Three suspension variants are available, with the 'comfort' version being standard and the lowered Sports Direct-Steer system and the off-road comfort suspension being optional.
But is this really anything of an off-roader?
Well, 4Matic models do come with Downhill Speed Regulation software as well as an off-road transmission mode, but Jesse was not exactly convinced by its bundu bashing credentials:
“In all fairness, MBSA did spec almost every unit at launch with the lowest of three suspension options, and when cars were loaded with four journalists each for an off-road demonstration, there wasn't exactly an abundance of ground clearance.
“I think drivetrains like 4Matic are best exploited in markets where snow and ice are more prevalent, as height restrictions would prevent any deep donga crossings before the need for four-wheel drive would come into play anyway.”
Still it's safe to say that the GLA, even in its most sporty trim, can trek a little further into the veld than the A-Class it's based on. Just don't get a puncture whilst there, because there's no spare wheel and runflat tyres come at extra cost. Get a flat, and prepare for a long slow limp to help.
The GLA rides on beefier tyres than the A-Class, and Jesse reckons that the extra sidewall indeed makes it ride a little softer too. “It's a great handler when the tarmac gets twisty, but on washboard-afflicted gravel roads the GLA's ride is very harsh.”
The final verdict, based on his initial drive, is that this is more a stylish accessory than a genuine bushwacker. “But stylish it is,” he concludes.
PRICES (excluding CO2 tax)
GLA 200* - R398 800
GLA 200 CDI - R422 700
GLA 250* - R558 900
GLA 220 CDI - R489 000
* Available from September.