So you’re thinking of buying an A-Class? Don’t. There are many better hatches available, and even within the Mercedes-Benz stable there’s something better. It may be considered a crossover, but the Mercedes-Benz GLA250 is a Mercedes hatchback done right. I’ll explain…
I’ve never really been much of a fan of the A-Class. Right from launch I felt it was incomplete and outclassed by every one of its premium competitors. It couldn’t hold a candle to the VW Golf, largely due to the incoherent suspension setup which couldn’t decide if it wanted to be sporty or not.
It was always too firm, but underdamped – resulting in a jittery ride and a shoddy handling balance. In an earlier review of the A Class, I mentioned that it felt as if two separate groups had designed the front and rear of the chassis, and not once had they met up to compare notes. But in transitioning from trendy hot hatchback to urban crossover, the Mercedes-Benz GLA250 has matured and hit the sweet spot.
It’s not that much more than an A-Class, the Mercedes-Benz GLA250 boasting a mere 70mm more ground clearance, but it’s the additional suspension that rights all the wrongs of the junior Merc hatch.
The harsh riding A Class becomes supple and forgiving and the Mercedes-Benz GLA250 handles with more fluency. It may not corner with the same outright pace as the A250, but it grips better over mid-corner bumps and the mild body roll telegraphs front end grip quite deftly.
The softer handling makes the Mercedes-Benz GLA250 a more enjoyable car to drive; and with 4MATIC 4WD standard it’s able to handle most ‘loose road’ situations, be it wet weather or light Colin McRae imitation dirt driving. Despite having an ‘offroad’ setting in the drive mode selection system, it’s fairly incapable at handling anything more than a bit of dirt. Cock a wheel in the air and you’re going nowhere.
The boosted ride height and faux off-road body cladding are all that differentiate the Mercedes-Benz GLA250 from being a hatchback. The beefier styling cues are, personally at least, an improvement on the hatch’s visuals. However there’s a caveat to that, and an option box that must be ticked to get the full visual flair of the GLA250 – the standard xenon headlights look dreadful and are only average at best when it comes to night time illumination.
But despite being more or less a hatchback, performance isn’t quite up to hot-hatch levels. Power comes from a 2.0-litre turbo 4-cylinder, with outputs to the tune of 155kW and 350Nm. No manual ‘box is available, leaving drivers to deal with a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
Power never feels as potent as the figures would suggest, and even the claimed 7.1 second 0-100km/h dash seems a bit optimistic. The gearbox is no doubt partly to fault – it isn’t the smoothest or most intuitive, although for daily use it’s sufficient without being abhorrent. Manual shift prompts are met with delay though, and a certain level of foresight is needed when doing it yourself.
Leave it to its own devices, and treat the Mercedes-Benz GLA250 with some modicum of respect, and the gearbox will look after consumption fairly well. After a week in my hands, the dash displayed consumption figures of 8.5l/100km – fairly middle of the road figures, but nothing to scoff at either, and not much more than a regular A Class would serve up.
However, in one area the Mercedes-Benz GLA250 serves up far more than the A Class does – and that’s in the back where the GLA offers 140 litres more luggage capacity. It’s more than you’ll find in any premium hatch – and perhaps that’s the biggest give-away that the GLA is a crossover, but it’s the only real give-away, and a welcome one.
In all aspects but one, the Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4MATIC bests the A Class – it’s more comfortable, more spacious, handles better, and arguably looks better. It drives as a pliant premium hatchback should. But there’s a catch to that, and an expensive one. At R641 176, the Mercedes-Benz GLA250 is an expensive alternative to the A Class, and one that hasn’t yet benefitted from the updates the A Class has.
It’s the better alternative to the A Class, but if you’re really after a premium junior SUV, you might be better off looking at something like the BMW X1 or Mazda CX-5.
Words by Roger Biermann
Photos by Roarke Bouffe and Vaughn Humphrey