Mercedes-Benz GLA 200 Review: Not Just An A In Drag

Crossovers are all the rage, but while luxury manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz still have a pretty happy slice of the sedan pie to themselves, to cater to new buyers in the market, a compact crossover SUV like the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class is a must. The GLA is now in its second generation, but unlike the first, which was nothing more than an A-Class on stilts, the new one has evolved into a machine of its own. Sure, it still shares the same front-wheel-drive architecture as the CLA-Class and the A-Class hatchback, but visually it’s now evolved into a genuine crossover competitor against the likes of the BMW X1.  Two generations in, and now boasting luxuries like the revolutionary MBUX infotainment system, Mercedes sent us a GLA 200 for a few rain-soaked days to review. While the weather may have prevented us from snapping any photos of the GLA, it provided the perfect stage for the GLA 200 to show just how far its come.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Comfy suspension
  • MBUX infotainment is class-leading
  • Exterior design now fully differentiated from standard A-Class
  • Decent power from even basic engines
  • Plush interior for Merc’s cheapest crossover

Cons:

  • Interior design is a little cluttered
  • Options drive the price sky-high
  • Relatively small boot
  • No more powerful variant locally available yet

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class Exterior

The last GLA was nothing more than an A-Class in off-road drag, but Mercedes has learned its lesson and given the GLA-Class a unique design for its second generation. There are familiar traits in the LED headlights up front, and you can easily see the family relation to the A-Class, but it’s been given a more rugged look with black body cladding, lifted ride height, and a boxier design than the A. Various design lines are available, including the AMG line which takes influence from the AMG GLA 35 without the poke to match. As standard, the GLA 200 rides on 17-inch alloy wheels, which might look a little small for the crossover, but have major benefits from a comfort perspective. If style matters more than anything else, you can always swap these out for a selection of 18-, 19-, and 20-inch wheels on the upper style specifications, with a selection of traditional Mercedes black, white, and silver exterior paints to match your style.

Mercedes-Benz GLA 200 Performance:

Engine and Transmission:

While in foreign markets, a range of engines is available for the GLA-Class, locally, you get a choice between just 2, one petrol and one diesel. Opt for the latter and you get a 2.0-liter oil-burner with 110 kW and 320Nm, paired to an 8-speed DCT automatic. But the GLA 200 makes do with a much smaller motor, a 1.3-litre turbo-petrol 4-cylinder with outputs of 120 kW and 250 Nm, and a gearbox with only seven gears. Regardless of engine and gearbox choice, the GLA-Class is exclusively front-wheel drive at this stage, and both ring up 100 km/h in a little more than 8.5 seconds.

The GLA 200 doesn’t have much power, but there’s enough torque from the turbo motor to keep things on the boil, and the 7-speed dual-clutch does a fair job of keeping the mill in its sweet spot between 1,620 and 4,000 rpm. For many, though, this won’t be enough grunt, and Mercedes-Benz would do well to consider bringing more potent variants to our shores.

Ride and Handling:

So the GLA 200 might not have much power, but what it has in spades is comfort, particularly on the base 17-inch alloy wheels. Combined with additional ride height and a bespoke suspension tune to set the GLA apart from the A and CLA, it’s a plush-riding crossover that soaks up the bumps. Our tester came equipped with adaptive damping suspension, but even with the drive selector set to Sport, the suspension is still ultra-compliant, with a mild amount of body lean.

The steering is lifeless and doesn’t relay much through to the driver, but responses are quick and the GLA 200’s turning circle is tight, making it ultra-nimble in tight parkades.

Don’t expect any semblance of sportiness and you won’t be disappointed. Whereas the last GLA-Class behaved like a hatchback, this one rides and behaves like a true crossover, prioritising comfort in an unashamed manner. In our books, this is a good thing, as the GLA can now stand alone as a model in its own right with its own personality traits.

Mercedes GLA 200 Fuel Economy:

The goal for the GLA 200 packing such a small engine in the engine bay is fuel economy. A small turbocharged engine is supposed to sip frugally, but no one drives in the real world the way fuel economy tests claim you do, which is why turbocharged fuel economy is a lie. Nevertheless, Mercedes-Benz sticks to the claim that the GLA 200 consumes a nice, round 6l/100km average. We weren’t able to match that, but 6.7l/100km we did manage wasn’t too bad. Perhaps the diesel-powered GLA 200d could come close to its own claims of 5.1l/100km.

Mercedes GLA-Class Interior:

The most obviously visible sign of relation between th GLA and its A and CLA siblings is its interior. You get the same styling interior as those models, dominated by the twin screens of the MBUX infotainment suite and digital driver instrumentation cluster. In our tester, these were the fully-specced dual 10.25-inch screens, but base models are standard with twin 7-inch displays instead. The larger pair fill the dash better, slotting in neatly above the cluster of turbine-style air vents on the dash. It’s a classy affair, and LED ambient lighting, several faux or genuine leather upholstery choices, and a high seating position on plush seats all ensure the GLA feels comfortable and stylish. The more upright seating position also affords ample head- and legroom for all occupants, despite the GLA’s small stature.

Behind the rear seats, a boot capacity of 525 litres awaits, but depending on specification, a 60/40 or 40/20/40-split rear seatback can be folded to accommodate more, and a false floor allows a fair degree of flexibility. But the load height is a little tall, which makes heavy items tricky to insert and withdraw.

GLA-Class Equipment and Safety

The aforementioned MBUX screens are the most dominant aspect of the features list, catering to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration as standard along with Bluetooth and several USB ports, but the best bit is the voice control system equipped as standard. “Hey Mercedes” is all you need to say before asking the GLA 200 anything from what the time is to asking it to turn on the heated seats. Adjusting the climate control and opening the sunroof are all within its grasp, and you can control navigation tasks too. Other features one can spec include a head-upmdisplay, ventilated seats, keyless entry, dual-zone automatic climate control in place of standard single-zone, and a 360-degree camera.

Then, a slew of safety features comprises every possible driver assist you can think of, from blind-spot monitoring to forward collision warning, steering assist, semi-autonomous adaptive cruise control with traffic navigation, and more. The standard expectations of ABS, EBD, and stability control are all present, as are 7 airbags, including a driver’s knee airbag, but an optional pair of side airbags for the back seats can take the total to 9. NCAP hasn’t yet tested the GLA, butthe mechanically similar A-Class scored a full 5 stars.

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class Price and Verdict:

Perhaps the best bit about this new generation of GLA-Class is that it no longer feels like a hatchback, but a genuine crossover, from the styling to the comfy, upright seating position, to the cargo capacity. But it also drives like a crossover, with a bit of body roll, but an overwhelming sense of comfort and plushness. The diminutive engine in our GLA 200 tester might not have the amount of grunt we’d like, but it’s decently light on fuel, and until such time as the market demands more, most buyers will be more than happy with it. The interior is a plush place to be, and the levels of tech are special – especially when fully-specced.

But that’s the problem, you have to pay a lot of cash to get a well-specced GLA 200. In base spec, R679,040 gets you behind the wheel, while the AMG Line commands more still at R731,140. But start speccing the full MBUX functionality with large screens, a head-up display, extra comfort, convenience, and safety options, and the GLA 200 can rapidly surge to heights of nearly R1.2 million – for an entry-level Mercedes GLA, the smallest crossover the brand sells! The GLA 200 is a well-rounded package, but it is expensive, and buyers would do well to practice restraint with the options list, else you’d be better off looking at other semi-luxury offerings from elsewhere, like the Mazda CX-5.

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