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Driving impression: Mercedes GLA 200 CDI

17 June 2014

The Mercedes Benz GLA is a big hit in SA. Sales are shooting through the roof, which is amazing considering the GLA’s steep suggested retail price.

There’s a very good reason it’s doing so well. It’s one of the coolest cars you can currently buy in SA. The approving and jealous looks I received during my week driving the GLA were more than enough to convince me of its appeal.

Desirability, however, does not make a car great. It may look magnificent on the outside, but what’s it like to live with on a day-to-day basis?

The GLA is built on the new A-Class platform and it serves as Merc’s smallest SUV to date. Unfortunately, the smallness can be felt on the inside, which is basically the only criticism I have.

I use a Subaru XV as a daily runabout and I’ve grown accustomed to a certain amount of space. In the Scooby you can fit a stroller and two overnight bags, but the GLA is all out of space once the stroller’s in, which means you have to strap the rest of your luggage to the back seat. This is not ideal in a car that’s essentially meant to be family transport.

Things don’t improve on this inside, where the GLA tends to feel a bit claustrophobic, but this might have had something to do with the black interior. It’s worth mentioning that the rear legroom was sufficient enough for our lankiest team member.

Space constraints aside, there’s not much to complain about. It is a Mercedes Benz after all and they know a thing or two about building premium cars.

That’s the main difference between the GLA and other cars in its price bracket. Yes, there are bigger cars with more standard equipment available at the R435 000 mark, but none of them do the premium feel quite as well as the GLA.

The interior is an elegant mix of old-school luxury materials mixed with the latest in infotainment technology. The major operating controls fall easily within reach and are covered with materials that feel as exquisite as they are to behold.

Our test unit, a GLA 200 CDI, came fitted with a few optional extras, but the standard package will be more than enough for most people. This has always been the deal with Mercedes Benz. It gives you everything you could reasonably expect, but it also allows you the option of building a GLA opulent enough to rival the S-Class.

It’s also worth mentioning that the 200 CDI is the current pick of the range. Its 2,1-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel develops 100kW and 300Nm of torque. This power is sent to the front wheels via a seven-speed automatic transmission.

The silky-smooth transmission rarely makes its presence known and it does a stellar job of selecting the right gear at the right moment.

The combination of a small diesel engine and a smart transmission also means lower fuel consumption and emissions. Mercedes claims a combined fuel consumption figure of just 4,3 l/100km and a CO2 figure of 119g/km. This means the GLA 200 CDI is not liable for emissions tax.

Once you peel back the funky exterior of the GLA, you do get a car with serious substance. Mercedes has a winner on their hands, but what else would you expect from the oldest luxury car manufacturer in the industry.

The only real problem is the lack of boot space and the fact that you could have top-of-the-range variants of its Korean rivals for the price of an entry-level GLA. But, then again, the GLA is in another league as far as the interior quality and badge appeal are concerned.