When Mercedes-Benz first introduced the GLA in 2014, it was an easy recipe for success. A decently-stylish, slightly jacked-up crossover-type thing that was timed perfectly with the rising popularity of decently-stylish, slightly jacked-up crossover-type things. Aimed at the sort of people who wouldn’t be serviced by an A-Class because they sometimes drive on grass, the GLA sold in incredibly healthy numbers all the way through to its 2017 refresh, which has yielded little indication that its momentum is losing steam anytime soon.
The GLA was refreshed in 2017 and brought with it some minor aesthetic revisions to see to see it though until the next-generation arrives. Split into the GLA180, GLA250 4Matic, and GLA220d, there’s certainly plenty of GLA’s to choose from. However, with plenty in the way of competition, both from proper SUVs and more agile hatchbacks, will the second-half of the GLA’s life be as successful as the first?
“Here’s the thing about small SUVs: they’re often just beefier-looking, higher-riding and considerably more expensive takes on regular hatchbacks. But that doesn’t stop them selling by the buckload.” — WhatCar?
While the GLA gets most of its underpinnings from the A-Class hatch, it’s actually a little longer and a little taller (and not just because of the ride height). As such, the GLA is a slightly more practical proposition over the hatch it’s based on, which is the case for most of its rivals. The GLA carries tough-looking body-cladding, chunky alloys and the typical grille design found on Merc’s SUVs, lending further credence to its SUV positioning.
The recent refresh of the GLA resulted in sleeker headlights, flasher taillights, and… that’s about it, really. While that means that it retains the distinctive styling that we’re familiar with, sleek creases and interesting surface-play intact, it does mean that it still looks less of an SUV and more of a hatch with taller suspension. It’s not ugly, or ungainly. It just wears its hatchback-roots a bit too proudly.
Engine & Drivetrain
“Beyond that remains the same…” — Car & Driver
Being a derivative of the A-Class means that the drivetrain options are essentially carried over. The range consists of the 180, 250 4Matic, and 220d, with only the 250 gaining the all-important all-wheel drive system that you might want from your compact SUV.
Starting with the GLA180, you get 90kW/200Nm from the 1.6-litre turbo-petrol engine, which is about enough to get you around town. Fuel consumption is rated at 5.7L/100km, and this engine is best suited for town use, as it can run out of puff on the motorway.
One step up will bag you an oiler, in the form of the GLA220d. The 2.1-litre turbodiesel under the bonnet provides a more brawny 130kW, along with an impressive 350Nm of torque. As typical of oilers, fuel consumption is amazingly miserly at just 4.5L/100km, and is remarkably refined in operation.
Top-dog in the GLA range is the GLA250 4Matic, packing a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine delivering 155kW/350Nm. While torque the torque figure is identical with the lower 220d, the range-topping GLA puts its power to all four wheels via Mercedes-Benz’s proprietary 4Matic all-wheel drive system, providing enhanced traction on the road. With more power and more driven wheels, fuel consumption takes a hit, and officially returns 7L/100km on combined testing.
All GLA’s employ a 7-speed automatic gearbox, operable via a column-mounted gear shifter.
“Interior quality more or less lives up to the Mercedes’ reputation, with solid furniture, hard-wearing upholstery (note ‘Artico’ is a fake leather, not the real thing) and well-oiled switchgear.” — TopGear UK
Mercedes-Benz has been enjoying a design renaissance of late, and the cabin of the GLA reflects that. While it isn’t quite as breathtaking as what you’d find higher-up the Mercedes-Benz family tree, you have to bear in mind that the GLA is built to a price (albeit a premium one). And compared to the competition in the market, the GLA’s cabin is certainly distinctive, and definitely premium. The cabin design is rather pretty and very fitting with Mercedes’ design language, albeit with some measures taken to keep to budget. Major contact points feel plush and well screwed together, though let your fingers wander to lower areas and you’ll soon discover where Mercedes has employed the cheaper plastics.
It’s hardly bad news though. Like we said earlier, major contact points live up to expectations, so you won’t be reminded too often that you’ve opted for a baby in the Merc range. It certainly does a better job at feeling plush than some of its rivals. It might not have quite the same visual drama as the Infiniti QX30 (which is actually based on the GLA, which you can tell if you watch the switchgear), but it’s a mature, well-executed effort overall. Practicality is just about passable, with middling levels of space for both passengers and cargo, though it’s worth noting that rear passengers will not appreciate the one-piece front seatbacks, which limit forward visibility from the rear.
Behind the Wheel
“The GLA is the best-riding and most comfortable compact car that Mercedes has produced of late. We’re aware that’s somewhat faint praise – and deliberately so.” — Autocar
The GLA is very much a Mercedes from behind the wheel, in the way that it doesn’t surprise nor excite, but rather just get the job done in a mature and reasonable fashion. It’s reasonably quiet, reasonably comfortable, and reasonably manoeuvrable, though visibility out the rear is a serious sore point, with C-pillars about the size of a sycamore tree.
It’s not the most agile thing in the world, with the suspension tuned in such a way that its balance of comfort and control almost entirely removes fun from the equation. It’s surefooted and stable, more so in the sole all-wheel drive model, but front-paw cars don’t suffer too much. Really, the 4Matic system is best left alone unless you regularly do miles over unsealed surfaces, and even then you shouldn’t let the GLA lead you to believe it’s an off-roader. For that sort of stuff, look elsewhere.
Refinement is somewhere you’d expect the GLA to fare really well (if solely for the badge), but it cane somewhat disappointing. It isn’t quite as hushed as the BMW X1 or indeed the Audi Q3, though it does ride better than the latter car thanks to its more car-like stance and slightly less cushiony suspension.
Safety & Technology
“The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) has not rated the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class for safety.” — WhichCar
As you’d expect from a Mercedes-Benz, there’s plenty of tech on offer as standard with every GLA. Things like cruise control, all-round parking sensors, and even parking assist that can help you get into tight parking spaces. That’s not bad for a premium hatch that starts from a little over $40k. Add to that a premium infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a powered tailgate, and an electric parking brake, and you’re pretty much covered.
That’s even before we mention the LED lights front and rear, collision warning, partial automatic braking, and driver fatigue alert. This is all standard kit, along with the usual traction control, ABS, and brake distribution. 9-airbags are smattered about the cabin to help cushion impacts should the worst happen, and will likely be of great comfort for those considering the GLA as a family car.
The GLA isn’t the prettiest crossover on the market, and its position in the world is indeed a bit hard to define. Neither a hatch nor an SUV, with the pros and cons of both worlds, the GLA has seemingly knocked a style-driven segment on the nose by commanding strong sales throughout the first generation, with sales figures maintaining their momentum through the refresh. Seems middle-of-the-road might be the best approach to this segment.
Fans of boxier, more upright SUVs will want to look at contenders like the Audi Q3 and BMW X1, though fans of the jacked-up hatch would be best looking at the Infiniti QX30 and Volvo V40 CrossCountry as well.
If a GLA has got your eye, we’d recommend the excellent GLA220d for those who will rarely see unsealed surfaces beneath their wheels. It’s a punchy enough engine with a greater range of ability than the small petrol engine in the GLA180, and promises to return absolutely fantastic fuel consumption figures out on the open road. Furthermore, it’s fairly refined for an oiler, and great for the sort of chilled-out cruising the GLA does best. However, if you do drive over loose terrain more often than most, consider investing in the GLA250 4Matic, as there’s little doubt that you’ll appreciate the safety net that comes with all-paw traction.
WhatCar? – 2.0/5.0 – “The Mercedes GLA looks good – both inside and out – but rivals are better to drive and cheaper to buy and own.”
Car & Driver – 4.0/5.0 – “Consider the GLA a hot hatch for 401k-contributing adults: It’s kind of a crossover and kind of a performance hatchback. Underneath its ruggedly styled sheetmetal, it’s basically a CLA250 [saloon]. Despite its added height and a squat stance, it has a fleet-footed feel with a firm suspension that yields a choppy [motorway] ride.”
Autocar – 4.5/5.0 – “Adequate, acceptable, fair: these best describe the GLA. They’re not terms that we should be using to describe any kind of premium product. Nor are they flattering for a car that Mercedes expects us to pay more for than either of its German rivals, let alone cheaper and better cars from volume brands.”
WhichCar – 4.0/5.0 – “The Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class is a good looking small car that’s half hatch and half high-riding SUV. It has a stylish cabin, lots of luxury and safety equipment, and the option of all-wheel drive. Efficient petrol and diesel engines extend to an eye-widening high-performance model. Auto braking is standard.”
TopGear UK – 7.0/10 – “Look! An A-Class with roof rails and enhanced ground clearance. Don't be cynical, it works rather well.”
AutoExpress – 3.0/5.0 – “The Mercedes GLA is, in essential terms, an A-Class with more rugged styling, a raised ride height and a higher driving position. That lets it target the seriously lucrative premium crossover segment, although other cars of this type - like the BMW X1 or Audi Q3 - are more convincing. Minor updates for 2017 do little to change its position.
Telegraph UK – 6.0/10 – “The Mercedes GLA isn’t as practical as an Audi Q3, nor as fun to drive as a BMW X1, and unless you can live with the slightly sluggish entry-level engine, it’s far from cheap. However, every version is smartly styled inside and out, and the GLA should prove safe, affordable to run, and easy to drive.
CarsGuide – 3.5/5.0 – “The cheaper BMW X1 is a better drive than the Merc but has a dull interior while the Audi Q3 is a more convincing SUV. Both are several grand cheaper to start with but don't have such a lavish standard equipment list, nor a three-pointed star on the front.”