ROAD TEST: Mercedes-Benz GLA 220 CDi 4Matic
Johannesburg - Long before Twitter had coined the word “trending” and made it a household term for the latest hot buzz, Mercedes-Benz, that most august of German car manufacturers, had been producing cars which “trended” in the minds of car lovers.
Think back over the past 15 years: it has been new Mercs which have turned the car sales business here on its head. No other manufacturer has been able to boast such feverish responses to new model introductions; no other maker has had such long waiting lists (or seen so many of its cars change hands, as slightly used, for more than their showroom sticker tag).
The company’s C-Class saloons are a case in point: everybody who aspires to a medium executive car seems to want one – much more so than its natural rivals, Audi’s A4 and BMW’s Three Series. And when the new A-Class broke cover in South Africa last year, there were puddles of drool wherever they went. It’s still not easy to get your hands on one – you’ll have to wait around three months, so I hear.
Earlier this year, the company pushed the hysteria to a new level, by combining the lure of the A Class with the macho appeal of that current favourite, the SUV.
Like many others in the SUV class, the Mercedes-Benz GLA appears to be little more than a jacked-up A Class, with some butch bodywork and slightly raised ground clearance to help the mummies on the school run.
Yet, after driving the GLA 220 CDi for a week, I was pleasantly surprised – because it leaves you with a feeling of “it is and it isn’t”.
Certainly, it is like all the other wannabe SUVs, especially in its front-wheel-drive form: promising much but really capable of delivering little when it comes to offroading.
But it isn’t like its A Class sibling in important respects, not the least being space and ride comfort. I was disappointed in the A Class because it is a bit cramped in the back (in hatchback or sedan – CLA – form) and it has a ride which is more suited to a race circuit that our badly potholed local roads.
The GLA has a decent-sized boot, there is good legroom for backseat passengers and the roof doesn’t seem to sit as close to your head as it does in the lower-slung A Class. But the ride – even on the optional 18-inch rims fitted to our test vehicle – is much better than that on the A Class. There is still the occasional crash from a road imperfection but, generally speaking, progress in the GLA is serene.
Everything inside comes together particularly well from an ergonomic point of view (although I still rate Audi cabins higher on the user-friendliness and quality scale), which makes piloting the Merc a tactile pleasure. Despite the raised ride height and the softer suspension, the car is still sharp, when it comes to turn-in and steering feedback, when compared with others in its class. There is very little body roll either.
ENGINE’S NO PEARL
The GLA 220 CDi we had was powered by Merc’s 2.1 litre turbodiesel engine, which puts out 125kW and 350Nm of torque. That means it will hit 100km/h in just over nine seconds at Highveld altitude, yet still offer decent fuel economy.
A pearl of an engine – from a sound and smoothness point of view – it is not. But the cabin insulation is good and the optional Harmon Kardon sound system is excellent, so the engine goes about its business a long, long way away.
The 4Matic models are fitted with Merc’s part-time all-wheel-drive system, which offers improved traction in all conditions, although cynics (like me) would say that it’s still not as good as permanent all-wheel-drive.
The GLA is a better car than its A Class sisters. It is bigger, it rides better and it offers more flexibility for the adventurous-minded. Whether it is worth the price premium (the GLA we tested cost just over R500 000) is debatable.
Clearly, though, that is not an issue for the scores of people queuing up to get one. Top marks, Mercedes, for understanding the market. -Saturday Star
Mercedes-Benz GLA 220 CDi 4Matic
Engine: 2.1-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel
Gearbox: Seven-speed automatic
Power: 125kW @ 3500-4000rpm
Torque: 350Nm @ 1400-3400rpm
0-100km/h (claimed): 8.3 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 215km/h
Price: R504 931
Maintenance plan: Six-year/100 000km
Fuel requirement: Low sulphur (50ppm) diesel
Fuel consumption: In the city, expect around 9 litres/100km (from the 4Matic version) and around 6 litres/100km on the highway.
CO2 emissions (claimed): 132g/km
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