Gareth Butterfield tests the Mercedes GLA compact SUV
IS it just me, or is Mercedes building some exceptionally beautiful cars at the moment? The CLA is one of the prettiest cars on the road, the new E Class is better looking than it’s been for years and I still stop and take a breath whenever I see the absolutely stunning C Class Coupe pass me by.
I’ve been watching the Mercedes range with great interest recently; not just because I’m suddenly seeing such a gorgeous line-up of cars, but because I’m still trying to get my head around the range – which has never been more complicated.
On the face of it, it’s fairly simple. there’s an A Class, a B Class, a C Class – for some reason there’s no D Class but I’m sure they’ll plug the gap fairly soon – and then there’s the E Class.
But then we get to the SUVs. In the past, there was a nice luxurious ML-something-or-other, a monstrous and rarely-seen G Wagon for the Arabs and that was about it.
But then, all of a sudden, the range of SUVs has become very confusing. The “G” Wagon, Class, Thingy, is still there in all its brutish but brilliant glory, but there’s also the GLS which is a more luxurious and even bigger mud-plugger.
And there’s still an ML lower down the range but that’s now a GLE. Or, is that perhaps the GLS? I’m not sure. Confusingly, there’s also two other round pegs to slot into the square holes; the next one down in this suddenly wide range of SUVs is the GLC – which is obviously smaller than the GLE, but it’s bigger than the smallest big Merc, which is the GLA. Still with me?
So, we’ve got to the start of the range. The GLA is the smallest SUV, so let’s begin at the very beginning. And it’s the car I’ve been testing.
For a kick-off – and I’m sorry if I’m covering old ground here – it’s a really lovely thing to look at. My test model is a particularly sporty one with some AMG goodies stuck on and big wheels, a snazzy steering wheel and figure-hugging sports seats. It feels like an A Class inside, but it’s a bit higher off the ground and looks so much beefier.
Truth be told it’s very closely related to the A Class – which, confusingly, isn’t really Mercedes’s entry-level car because the B Class is, except it’s inexplicably more expensive… but let’s not get bogged down in all that again. What we have here is an A Class with greater ground clearance and an existence that’s seemingly solely based around annoying BMW and Audi.
But in reality there’s more to it than that, in the same way there’s more to it than the A Class upon which it’s based. It has a bigger body for a start, so it’s more practical. It has a softer ride because of its higher stance, so it’s more comfortable and, to be honest, it’s still pretty good in the bends.
There’s four engines to choose from; two petrol and two diesels and they’re all pretty good, although the diesels are a bit clattery at high revs, a flaw that is well compensated by excellent fuel economy.
Because it’s bigger and softer than the A Class it’s also more comfortable and practical and, because you get four-wheel-drive in all but the lowliest diesel model, it’s also more versatile.
In fact, it’s also a very adaptable model. You could, if you fancied, adopt for an off-road focused version with jacked-up suspension. Or you could, if you were a little more interesting, opt for the bonkers, 376bhp GLA 45 AMG version which sits lower but can get from 0.60mph in 4.4 seconds.
Being a potential BMW X1-beater it comes at a price, of course, but that cost won’t come in the shape of fuel economy if you can be thrifty enough to opt for the base 200d, which is good for 63mpg.
And even the standard spec is pretty good with a lavish, expensive-feeling interior and the best infotainment system in the business – well, at this end of the market anyway.
Some people might find the interior a little cramped and there are a few typical Mercedes quirks – such as the steering column-mounted gear lever – which might not find favour among the masses, but in general the cabin is a lovely place to be.
And while the BMW X1 and the Audi Q3 present it with some stiff competition there’s always the Mercedes’ trump card. If you buy one of these, at some point you’ll end up parking it next to one of its rivals. And you’ll get out, look at the two cars parked together and you’ll inevitably smile.
They’re all good cars. All three are at the top of their game and represent appealing ownership prospects. But the Mercedes is infinitely more beautiful. It’s got a more interesting and appealing design and it oozes presence and class.
And if you’re trying to pretend that’s not more important then, quite frankly, you’re kidding yourself.