There is no denying that Mercedes smallest SUV is a sexy little car. It has sculpted lines like those of a toned young athlete, with a tight ass for a boot. We had a brief rendezvous – a fling, if you like – with various models in the new face-lifted Mercedes-Benz GLA model range at the local launch.
Based on the A-Class, the GLA comes with slightly more ground clearance, some scuff pads and the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. It may not be the type of car that an off-roading enthusiast would settle on for a long term relationship, but taking it for a spin is a whole lot of fun.
The exterior of the GLA is really pleasing on the eye, with the a unique look from vehicle to vehicle because Mercedes allows for a host of customisable options, such as different grilles, suspension heights and even added rear spoilers. In South Africa the GLA comes standard with the comfort (off-road) suspension that gives the crossover an additional 30mm of ground clearance. If that doesn’t suit you, Mercedes will be happy to offer you the sports suspension and whatever other available options you desire, at a price.
GLA 200d and GLA 220d
The interior of the GLA has received minor updates such as the new dials with red needles and chrome trim on the electric seat adjustment buttons in the doors. The craftsmanship leaves you in no doubt that this is a German luxury vehicle and new optional features for all GLA models include the 360‑degree camera and hands-free access, which allows the boot lid to be opened and closed with a foot movement. The images from the front, reverse and exterior mirror cameras can be viewed as a full-screen image or in seven different split-screen views on the media display.
First we drove the GLA 220d with Merc’s 4Matic all-wheel-drive system followed immediately by the 200d without the all-wheel-drive. Both the 200d and 220d use the same 2.1-litre four-cylinder engine, but the latter is more powerful and comes with 4Matic four-wheel drive as standard. The difference between the two was not an obvious one and we certainly didn’t feel like we had downgraded when we moved to the former. Admittedly, we were driving on smoothly tarred roads and when we cornered harder it was with the 220d, which pretty much stuck to the road like glue. However, when it came to the luxurious feel and even the acceleration there wasn’t a huge difference.
We fiddled with the various settings and decided that the best combination was to leave the suspension set to comfort, with the steering and drive adjusted to sport. This meant that we still felt like we were getting good feedback from the road through the steering without a jarring ride.
In summary, both the 220 and 220d offer good visibility, are extremely comfortable and fun to drive and are more practical than the GLA45 AMG.
Speaking of which…
Mercedes GLA45 AMG
Simply put, the Mercedes GLA 45 AMG was a pleasure to drive, although personally I wouldn’t want to live with one all of the time. The 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo (M113) engine makes this among the most powerful cars in its segment with a maximum output of 280kW and 475Nm of torque, mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. This results in a claimed 0-100 km/h time of 4.4 seconds and top speed is limited to 250 km/h.
Although I knew that this wasn’t a supercar but rather a performance SUV, I was a little concerned that the it may want to lurch forward a little as I eased my foot gently onto the accelerator to exit the parking area. However, there was no reason for concern as the GLA45 AMG moved smoothly and slowly in obedience to my input. Once on the open road, it handled with aplomb with responsive steering and it accelerating enthusiastically up and over hills and down the other side on the N7 highway, as we headed out of the city and towards the farmlands. We did a driver change and my partner for the day, took the wheel and threaded the car expertly around corners at a decent lick, powering the low slung SUV to overtake other road users in a blur of charcoal. Both of us giggled like school girls.
That was the fun bit, however it is a hard ride with firm suspension (which is adjustable but still, even in ‘comfort’ mode it’s relatively hard) and 225/40 ZR20 Continental tyres don’t help cushion the ride, although they do help to grip the road when cornering . The bucket seats are also not everyone’s cup of tea – which you’ll find in the GLA45 AMG, ours with red trim to enhance the sporty look.
Looks, inside and out
The front of the GLA45 AMG is slightly sharper looking with new air intake grilles, and some chrome, high-gloss black detailing and standard LED headlamps to differentiate it from the rest of the GLA range. It’s not a great leap from the previous GLA45 AMG inside or out but this was a nip and tuck and not re-invention. Pictured above is the Yellow Night edition of the GLA45 AMG which has a particularly sporty appeal, for those who like that sort of thing.
Does the price really matter?
The target market for this car is the young, affluent urbanite who wants to be seen. When the emotional magnetism of the GLA combines with desire and ego, who’s to say what someone would be willing to spend…
There are vehicles that offer a more financially competitive package but when luxury, design excellence and German engineering are mated so well and you can afford one, why not?
GLA 200 R485 400
GLA 250 4MATIC R654 700
Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 4MATIC R856 700
GLA 200 d R513 000
GLA 220 d 4MATIC R592 500
Text: Elise Kirsten
Images: Elise Kirsten and supplied by Mercedes-Benz