GLA completes the ‘compact’ circle for Mercedes-Benz
In a new car market now predominated by SUVs, writes Iain Robertson, Mercedes-Benz is well entrenched with models in every relevant class and the latest GLA model rounds off the German brand’s A-Class newcomers making their 2019 debuts.
You do not have to be a fan of the ‘Three-Pointed-Star’ to appreciate its worldwide appeal. As one of the originators of the motorised transport scene, it has an incredible and largely respectable legacy. Yet, it has not been free of problems and its ill-fated strategic partnership with the Chrysler Corporation took its eye off the ball during the final decade of the last century and not only created myriad unreliability issues but dented its internal pride most damagingly.
In fact, it took almost twice as long to recover its status, as its period of involvement with the US firm. Fortunately, Chrysler is now Fiat’s problem! Yet, as a modern carmaker, Merc still needs relationships with other manufacturers, however tenuous they might be (such as its current one with Nissan/Infiniti), as they help to share the product development load.
The original A-Class, which was a ‘Probleme-Kind’ of its own, could have been immensely self-destructive for the firm but Merc persevered with its ‘compact’ line-up and the latest iteration, which appeared in late-2018, is a settled and stable rival to the BMW 1-Series. There has been an over-a-million sold GLA model before, which this new version replaces quite appositely and with tremendous confidence. It is a substantial 10cm taller than before (161.1cm overall), although the body is 1.5cm shorter. As a packaging exercise, it responds to the call for greater rear legroom but all occupants benefit from the extra space.
Possessing a lengthy and trusted history of safety innovation (perhaps only Volvo has a better stance overall), Merc delivers in abundance with its Driver Assistance Package. Dissecting the enormous range of electronic management systems, let alone what must be an enormous wiring loom, demands the extra space made possible by the larger body shell. Yet, it has an aerodynamic profile that is so refined, its drag factor of 0.28Cd verges on being market leading, which pays dividends in overall refinement and efficiency.
Short overhangs, at the front and rear, combine with protective cladding all round and 4MATIC models feature the Off-Road Engineering Package as standard. This comprises an additional driving program, a downhill driving assist function and an off-road animation in the media display, along with, in combination with matrix-style LED headlamps, a special light function for off-road driving. Of course, not all models are intended for multi-surface applications. Mind you, Merc anticipates that the GLA will become not just its best-selling SUV but that it will support the popularity of the rest of the A-Series family, when it is launched officially in the early part of 2020. Intriguingly, it will be built at plants in Germany, France and China.
Typical of the GLA are the accentuated shoulders of the bodywork and the coupé-like lines of the side windows. The contoured side profile gifts the car its dynamically elegant stance and offers an interesting play of light and shade. As with other Merc SUVs, the radiator grille features distinctive openings along with a single louvre and a central star. Look closer, especially into the headlamp units, and you will spot the high level of quality, detail and precision, which have been long-standing Merc hallmarks.
The instrument panel consists of a series of displays that are available in three variants: two 7.0-inch displays (17.78 cm), with one 7.0- and one 10.25-inch display (26 cm) and, in the widescreen version, with two 10.25-inch displays. On the passenger side, the cut-out area is finished with a trim element. Of a flattened digital construction, the screen operation is similar to that of many smartphones.
The circular air-vents, five in all, feature a high-quality turbine look with technically devised air guidance vanes. The door centre panel flows seamlessly into the armrest, while the grab handle features a tubular profile. Naturally, the firm’s MBUX infotainment system (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) is said to be one of the world’s most intuitive to use, a factor that I agree with, as it can be driver configured with the aid of a range of options. Its powerful computer, clear screens and graphics, customisable presentation, full-colour head-up display, navigation with augmented reality, learning software and all voice control activated, with the prompt ‘Hey Mercedes’, are the well-proven advantages of the system.
Thanks to a higher and more upright seating position, allied to a vastly improved and unobstructed view outwards, the utility value of the GLA has been enhanced considerably. Its rear seats can be adjusted by 14cms optionally and the rear seat backrest can be set more upright, to accommodate bulkier loads. The backrests come with a 40:60 split as standard but it can also be split 40:20:40, with each section folding down individually.
A height-adjustable load floor, also standard, offers considerable load options. When the rear seat backrests are folded down and the load floor is in the upper position, an almost flat loading area extends to the front seats. For bulkier objects, the load floor can be put into its lower position, the crossmember behind the rear seats can be removed and the rear seats with optional fore/aft adjustment can be moved forward. Flexibility has been well considered.
The GLA’s handling envelope has been contemplated carefully, with many components produced from aluminium to reduce un-sprung weight and to ensure that it corners and rides superbly, while imparting high confidence levels to the driver. Two versions of GLA will be available from launch, the front-wheel drive GLA 200 being powered by a transverse 1,332cc four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine that develops 163bhp and drives through a 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual gearbox. The 4MATIC AMG alternative features the 1,991cc option with 306bhp and an 8-speed transmission. Both are fuel efficient and moderately low on the emissions front. Fuel economy and CO2 emissions data will be available in the New Year and you can expect sportier options to appear not long afterwards.
Conclusion: Even if you are not an SUV fan, you will be able to appreciate the GLA model and its role as a spacious family estate car is secure.