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Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class : First Drive

  • Sep 24, 2014
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[caption id="attachment_14551" align="alignnone" width="900"]Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class front three quarter Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class front three quarter[/caption]

 

India is on its way to becoming world’s youngest country by the year 2020. And with a brighter economic scenario laying ahead of ambitious India, more young people are going to have higher purchasing power. In fact, as we know, the trend has already kicked off in the country.

To suit their active lifestyle, the young and ambitious crowd also need an automobile at their disposal at all times for work and pleasure. More and more people in the nation today are looking at upgrading to luxury vehicles, and SUVs are generally the aspirational type of vehicle here right now.

This is where the new Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class fits in, a compact luxury SUV that looks premium, modern and sporty. The perfect recipe then, for young aspirational luxury car buyers.

With the launch of the car slated for the 30th of September, 2014, I went for a spin in the brand new GLA to see if it lives up to its attractive image on the road.

[caption id="attachment_14545" align="alignnone" width="900"]Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class[/caption]

Exteriors

Although, it is based on the platform of the A and B class hatchbacks, Mercedes-Benz has worked hard to give the GLA-Class a more butch appearance. Something that the German luxury car maker has done rather well.

The large twin slat chrome lined grille houses the large three pointed star logo right in the centre, as is the trend with the current generation of Mercedes-Benz cars. The chunky bumper has deep triangular recess on either side housing faux mesh grilles, there is also a large silver central air dam in the centre. The angular headlamps have bi-xenon illumination along with LED daytime running lamps, LED indicator bulbs and LED fibre optics tracing through the headlamp. The bonnet on the GLA adds a muscular stance with curves from the grille flowing upwards to the A-pillars and two prominent V-shaped ridgelines flowing on either side of the centre section.

[caption id="attachment_14562" align="alignnone" width="900"]Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class side profile Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class side profile[/caption]

The side profile of the GLA is very sleek for an SUV and gives away the vehicle’s DNA. The A-pillars are very steeply raked and the window line really sleek. The piano black finish on the B-pillars, trademark Mercedes trapezoidal ORVMs and chrome lined window sills add premium appeal to the car. It’s lower down that the subtle black plastic cladding, raised ground clearance and flared wheel archs that give away the SUV nature of the car.

[caption id="attachment_14557" align="alignnone" width="900"]Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class rear Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class rear[/caption]

From the back, the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class looks really rather appealing. It has a squat down appearance with its low roofline, wide stance and large bumper with a silver skid plate in the centre, housing two nice and large chrome exhaust pipes. The small boot lid and large tail lamps also add to the sporty appeal.

 

[caption id="attachment_14547" align="alignnone" width="900"]Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class dashboard Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class dashboard[/caption]

Interior

The interiors of the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class in typical Mercedes fashion comes fitted with good quality plastics and leather and the cabin of the compact GLA feels every bit as well built and luxurious as that of bigger Mercedes-Benz cars.

[caption id="attachment_14553" align="alignnone" width="900"]Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class instrument binnacle Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class instrument binnacle[/caption]

The dashboard has a dual tone theme with sliver inserts on the round turbine style air vents, around the stereo switchgear as well as on the air conditioning knobs and on the steering wheel. The leather wrapped steering wheel is nice to hold and the rim is of just the right thickness. All the switch gear in the car including the steering mounted controls are shared with other Mercedes models and feel solid and built to last.

[caption id="attachment_14565" align="alignnone" width="900"]Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class sun roof Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class sun roof[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_14560" align="alignnone" width="900"]Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class seat controls Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class seat controls[/caption]

Mercedes is going to sell the GLA-Class in India only in the top-end trim, this equips it with a host of features such as rain sensing sun roof, automatic headlamps, parking sensors, reverse camera, climate control, cruise control, steering mounted audio controls, Bluetooth telephony, electro chromatic ORVMs, electro chromatic IRVM, electrically folding ORVMs, one-touch power windows, electrically adjustable front seats with three memory settings, a Harman Kardon surround sound system, ambient lighting and more.

[caption id="attachment_14550" align="alignnone" width="900"]Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class front seats Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class front seats[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_14559" align="alignnone" width="900"]Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class rear seat Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class rear seat[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_14558" align="alignnone" width="900"]Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class rear seat arm rest Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class rear seat arm rest[/caption]

The front seats of the Mercedes GLA are comfortable and supportive. They also have electric bolster adjust which allows you to adjust back support well. Although, the electric seat adjust does not have an electrically adjustable head rest. The issue here is that with a tall rear passenger, the front passenger has limited under thigh support as the sloping firewall requires the legs to placed at an upward angle. The rear seat itself has been set at a good angle and provides comfortable seating for passengers with adequate under thigh support and good back support. The rear seat arm rest comes with cup holders.

[caption id="attachment_14546" align="alignnone" width="900"]Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class boot space Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class boot space[/caption]

 

[caption id="attachment_14564" align="alignnone" width="900"]Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class spare wheel Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class spare wheel[/caption]

Being a compact luxury SUV, the Mercedes GLA-Class has a limited boot space of 421 litres, a fair amount of that space is also accounted for by the space saver spare wheel fastened to the floor. The split rear seats can be folded down to make for 1,235 litres of space. Because of the design of the car, the low loading lip at 186mm makes it easy to load objects in and out of the boot.

 

[caption id="attachment_14548" align="alignnone" width="900"]Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class engine Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class engine[/caption]

Engine and Gearbox

Diesel review

The Mercedes-Benz GLA for India is going to be offered initially with the choice of a 2.0 litre four cylinder turbo petrol engine and a 2.2 litre four cylinder turbocharged diesel engine.

The 2.2 litre common rail diesel engine in the GLA-Class does duty in a variety of Mercedes-Benz models. In the GLA, it develops 135PS of peak power between 3,600 - 4,400 rpm and 300Nm of max torque between 1,600 - 3000 rpm. On paper, this amounts to a very good usable power band with peak torque available from low down the rev band, as well as a strong mid range. The engine is mated to a 7-speed double clutch automatic gearbox and has three driving modes, namely, Eco, Manual and Sport.

Twist the key fob in the ignition and the diesel engine fires up in a refined manner. In ‘Eco’ mode, the powertrain is tuned for efficiency and you can make this out in the way gear changes are dealt with by the powertrain. Under linear acceleration response is smooth, but when there is a sudden need for power there is delay between input to the right pedal and the gearbox downshifting for delivering added oomph. The economically mapped powertrain pays dividends on the efficiency front with a rather commendable claimed fuel efficiency figure of 17.9 km/l.

[caption id="attachment_14554" align="alignnone" width="900"]Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class motion Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class motion[/caption]

Switch to ‘Manual’ mode and the powertrain holds gears in the engine’s mid range band allowing for spirited driving with power always being on tap. The driver now needs to change gears manually via paddle shifters behind the wheel. In this mode, gear changes are much more responsive and the Mercedes-Benz GLA diesel has good driveability when there is need for better response from the powertrain when the driver really wants to get going.

Then there is ‘Sport’ mode. In this mode, the gearbox again operates as an automatic unit, but the throttle map is altered to suit a more upbeat driving style. Gear changes are the quickest in this mode, the engine is always kept spinning in the meat of the power band in order to deliver a more active response to inputs on the accelerator pedal.

Because of its efficiency oriented nature, the engine isn’t outrightly punchy, it has linear power delivery. Having said that it will spin to its 4,500 rpm red line (with an audible diesel engine note), although it is happiest in its mid range. The Mercedes-Benz GLA 200 CDI hits triple digit speeds in ease and is capable of going from 0-100 km/h in 9.9 seconds and on wards to a top speed of 205 km/h.

NVH levels are also kept in check, although you are aware of the diesel engine note at most times, smaller things like little vibrations off the throttle pedal are also present.

 

[caption id="attachment_14566" align="alignnone" width="900"]Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class tracking Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class tracking[/caption]

Petrol review

Moving on to the petrol model, the GLA 200 is more suited to the SUV’s tagline of ‘Always Restless’! The direct injection turbo motor likes to be revved and has a very sporty note for a petrol SUV indeed. The in-line 2.0 litre engine develops a healthy 183PS of maximum power @ 5,500 rpm and peak torque of 300Nm between 1,200 rpm and 1,400 rpm. This engine too is mated to the 7-speed double clutch automatic gearbox and is offered with three driving modes, just like the diesel GLA 200 CDI.

Like the diesel, the petrol too takes a little time between gear changes in ‘Eco’ mode in the interest of fuel efficiency under urban driving conditions. As a matter of fact, the Mercedes-Benz GLA 200 has a claimed fuel efficiency figure of 13.8 km/l.

Switch to ‘Manual’ mode and the gearbox holds on to cogs longer to keep the engine spinning higher up the rev band to deliver a good amount of surge from the potent engine. Because the GLA 200 is lighter and more powerful than the GLA 200 CDI, it feels more spirited on the road and is always eager to respond to throttle inputs, making it an indulging drive indeed.

In ‘Sport’ mode, the GLA 200 feels the best to drive with the gearbox shifting gears the fastest and holding on to the right gear at the right time allowing the driver to truly exploit the potential of the performance focused powertrain.

The Mercedes-Benz GLA 200 is capable of sprinting off the line to 100 km/h in a brisk 7.6 seconds and on wards to a top speed of 225 km/h. The engine is smooth and free revving and encourages the driver to have a fair bit of fun, when in the mood to. And that sporty exhaust note only adds to the SUV’s enthusiastic nature.

 

[caption id="attachment_14563" align="alignnone" width="900"]Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class side profile motion Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class side profile motion[/caption]

Ride and Handling

The Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class is built on the same platform as the A and B Class hatchbacks, it is underpinned by a monocoque chassis with McPherson Strut front suspension with coil springs and twin-tube gas shock absorbers, while at the back there is a multi-link suspension with coil springs and twin-tube gas shock absorbers.

The standard car comes fitted with 235/50 R18 section tyres, although there is an option of fitting the GLA with 235/45 R19 tyres.

On the road, the Mercedes-Benz GLA has very neutral handling traits. This gives the car very predictable road manners and you always know how the car is going to react to driver inputs. The suspension of the GLA-Class provides a comfortable ride over most surfaces. Although, sharp bumps thump through and are audible. The diesel GLA’s suspension is on the stiffer side and the vehicle has a skittish ride over broken tarmac. Sharper bumps are even more audible in the diesel model and Mercedes should have worked towards providing a more damped ride, as is the case with bigger Mercedes-Benz models.

Throw the GLA around a corner and the rewards of the stiff suspension are instantly materialized. The compact SUV turns in nicely, the whole car feels agile and it has to be said that the GLA has been perfectly setup to tackle fast corners. Push harder and the wide tyres provide adequate traction which along with the chassis and suspension setup makes it genuine fun to punt around in the GLA-Class. Ofcourse, taking it to the limit will result in understeer from this front-wheel drive SUV, but it is so controlled that you will enjoy taking the GLA to its limits every time.

[caption id="attachment_14555" align="alignnone" width="900"]Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class off-road Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class off-road[/caption]

It's also worth mentioning that under hard acceleration, there is some initial torque steer present with the vehicle pulling slightly to one-side. The ride is always so controlled and well balanced that it urges you to drive this compact SUV like you mean to, something not all front-wheel drive models can associate with.

Mercedes-Benz has also given the GLA-Class a ground clearance of 183mm, which is a good thing, as there is adequate ground clearance even if you want to take the GLA for some mild off-roading.

 

[caption id="attachment_14549" align="alignnone" width="900"]Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class front Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class front[/caption]

Safety

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class comes with a five-star EuroNCAP safety rating which makes it a very safe vehicle indeed. Aside from impact beams and crumple zones, the GLA-Class also comes fitted as standard with anti-lock braking system with electronic brake force distribution, electronic stability programme, traction control and seven airbags.

[caption id="attachment_14556" align="alignnone" width="900"]Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class off-roading Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class off-roading[/caption]

Verdict

The Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class is a very potent vehicle in the compact luxury SUV market. It is luxurious, safe, well equipped and grabs eyeballs with its attractive design language. As is the nature with these compact SUVs, it is a bit tight on space for tall passengers, that said you have to commend Mercedes as the GLA feels fairly airy and spacious inside for a vehicle of its size.

The diesel Mercedes-Benz GLA 200 CDI is tuned for fuel efficiency, this should let it account for a large chunk of GLA-Class sales. It is effortless to drive in traffic with its wide peak torque curve and makes for a great urban run about. Although, ride comfort could have been slightly better for a vehicle in its class. The petrol Mercedes-Benz GLA 200 is a fun to drive car with its responsive powertrain, more so in Sport mode, predictable drive dynamics, and sporty exhaust note.

All round, the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class seems to be just the right vehicle for the compact luxury segment and should give tough competition to the popular Audi Q3 as well as the BMW X1. The only aspect remaining now, is for Mercedes-Benz to price the compact SUV competitively in its segment.

[caption id="attachment_14544" align="alignnone" width="900"]Mercedes-Benz GLA Mercedes-Benz GLA[/caption]
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