Mercedes GLA 200 CDI review

Mercedes has a go at making a small crossover. Is the GLA any good?

By Tim Kendall | 28th April 2014

Vital Statistics

  • Model: GLA 200 CDI AMG Line
  • Engine: 2.1 4cyl turbo-diesel (136hp)
  • Transmission: Seven-speed auto
  • Price: £28.300 (£31,775 as tested)
  • 0-60: 9.9 secs
  • Top Speed: 127 mph
  • Economy: 62.8 mpg (combined)
  • Options fitted to test car:
    See Text

2014 Mercedes GLA 200 CDI review

Crossovers, soft-roaders, mini-SUVs – life hasn’t half got complicated since the good old days. It used to be a far more simple choice: four-by-four or a normal car. But these days you can have it all, and car manufacturers want to give it all to you, hence the seemingly limitless march of new model niches.

This is the new Mercedes GLA, which sits in the crossover niche – it’s an A-Class hatchback but with a suggestion of SUV toughness. So those aspiring to the rugged prestige of a full-fat M-Class SUV, but without enough folding can opt for a fun-sized imitation based on the new A-Class platform. Sounds a bit try-hard, doesn’t it?

The GLA. A small crossover Mercedes then?

Essentially, yes. Mercedes are automotive mixologists – frequently the first manufacturer to blend a cocktail of existing bodystyles to produce something new. But this time Nissan got there first and quite some time ago, with the hugely successful Qashqai. So everyone else has been playing catch-up for the last few years and this is Mercedes’ effort. It’s been a long time coming.

Mercedes GLA 200 CDI

Serious mud-plugging will end in tears. And muddy trousers.

The Mercedes GLA 200 CDI. Is it any good?

If you’re looking for an SUV, then no it isn’t. That’s because it’s not an SUV, rather the GLA is a high-riding A-Class with optional four-wheel drive. Show it a serious off-road challenge and you’re likely to come back with a red-face, muddy trousers and a hole in the sump. See it more as an A-Class with better ground clearance that’ll get across a muddy campsite or down an unmade road with minimal fuss and you won’t go far wrong. DrivingTalk tried a ‘4-Matic’ four-wheel drive version on the off-road course at Mercedes-Benz World in Brooklands, and whilst it coped with rutted tracks and inclines, there was more than a bit of wincing and gritted teeth as the nose and underside grounded out on rocky protrusions that a Merc ML would simply glide over. Still – it’s more than fit for purpose when the purpose in question is Waitrose carpark, the school run or an occasional high kerb.

Tested here is the entry level front-wheel drive diesel GLA 200 CDi – a good barometer for the range seeing as it’s within reach of fully-loaded Nissan Qashqai punters.

Mercedes GLA 200 CDI

Will the Mercedes GLA look good on my driveway?

It’s actually a more pleasing looking thing than the A-Class on which it’s based. Somehow, the jacked up stance, chubbier profile tyres and plastic body cladding have filled out a slightly gawky looking shape. It’s as if the A-Class has sort of grown through a difficult adolescence and become the less awkward, better-looking GLA.

Darker colours suit it well, as do the arch-filling AMG wheels of the test car. Inside, it’s much the same story as an A-Class with the same dashboard architecture and an ambience of well-screwed together simplicity. Once you’re used to the slightly fiddly infotainment which forces you to navigate through a lot of menus and sub-menus for nav and stereo functions, it’s relatively easy to use. The iPad-aping screen which looks like an afterthought is still irksome for the more OCD types amongst us though. Ahem.

Mercedes GLA 200 CDI

Standard A-Class fare in here

How does the Mercedes GLA drive?

It’s actually quite pleasing to steer, in an inoffensive, moderately involving way. That sounds like faint praise, but read on. The A-Class and CLA which share the GLA platform, are fairly hard-riding things, particularly on AMG suspension (the test car rode on AMG-Line suspension and 18” alloys). That can make progress around town a pain in the proverbial, with constant pothole and manhole cover dodging the order of the day. The GLA though, is less unsettled with a more compliant ride helping it attack crappy roads with aplomb. Thank the longer suspension travel and 50-profile tyres for making you look less like a weaving drunk.

Mercedes GLA 200 CDI

The GLA 200 CDI is the entry-level diesel. 136hp means adequate performance

Mercedes GLA 200 CDI – what’s the performance like?

In bum-basic GLA 200 CDI trim, it’s not going to set your pants on fire. However, that’s not its remit, there being a GLA 45 AMG available to take care of that brief. But with a slightly gruff 2.1-litre turbodiesel engine and 136hp to call on, the GLA 200 CDI is merely adequate in the performance department and nothing more, as evidenced by the slightly sluggish 9.9 seconds it takes to reach 62 mph. The optional seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox fitted to the test-car is smooth and responsive, but occasionally lends the car an unwanted hesitancy when pulling out at junctions, the drivetrain responding to the instruction from your right foot slightly tardily.
No doubt the slightly pricier GLA 220 CDI with the 170hp version of the same diesel four-pot, would be a better bet for getting from A to B in less yawning fashion.

It’ll set you back about £2,700 more than the GLA 200 CDi but comes with 4-Matic and the seven-speed auto as standard.

Mercedes GLA 200 CDI

AMG Line trim brings 18″ alloys with 50-profile tyres

Mercedes GLA 200 CDI mpg. Is it economical?

Economy, if Mercedes’ figures are borne out in reality, is probably the vanilla GLA’s strong suit, with a claimed 65 mpg on the cards, helped by standard-fit stop/start function (and the more economical dual-clutch ‘box).
If you don’t want your GLA to drink from the dirty black pump then there are three flavours of petrol engine on offer: a 1.6-litre turbo unit with 156hp and a GLA 250 with a 211hp 2.0-litre turbo unit that gets to 60mph in a more urgent 6.5 seconds. There’s the turbo-nutter GLA 45 AMG too, with a grunty 345hp to call on, but that’ll scare the children and earn you an asbo.

Options fitted to the test car:

Harmon Kardon sound pack (£680), AMG Exclusive Package (electrically adjustable driver and passenger seats and exterior mirrors, lumbar support, Lava Black leather upholstery with red perforations, Memory Package, black roof lining (£1,295)), Night package (£495), Active park assist (£705)

Mercedes GLA 200 CDI

Mercedes GLA 200 CDI review

  • Performance: 6/10
  • Ride & Handling: 8/10
  • Economy: 7/10
  • Equipment: 7/10
  • Want one factor: 6/10

The Verdict

If you’re in the market for a premium hatch and covet the three-pointed star then arguably, you’re better off in a GLA than an A-Class. The ride is smoother, it looks more cohesive and all-in-all it’s a more rounded package. Oh, and spend a bit more for the GLA 220 CDI and get all-wheel drive, a self-shifting ‘box and decent performance thrown into the bargain. Just don’t buy one under the illusion that it’s an SUV.

Summary

  • Compliant ride, sweet handling
  • Gruff base diesel engine, questionable mud-plugging ability

By Tim Kendall
28th April 2014

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