Mercedes GLA 200 CDI AMG Line (2014) review

Published: 21 July 2014

This is the Mercedes GLA, essentially Merc’s Golf rival – the A-class – with its wellies on. The compact crossover is the baby of the Mercedes SUV family, and gives Stuttgart an answer to cars such as the Range Rover Evoque and Audi Q3.

The GLA comes with a selection of four-cylinder petrol and diesel models; we’re testing the entry-level 200 CDI in top-spec AMG Line trim, yours for £28,030.

So it’s just a jacked-up A-class?

No, the two do look very similar, but it’s really just a shared platform. The GLA’s boot space, for instance, is substantially larger than its hatchback sibling, up from the A-class’s 341 litres (836 litres with the seats folded) to 421 litres or 1157 litres with the rear seats folded.

Outside, there’s the usual crossover addenda: more robust-looking front and rear bumpers, and chunky claddings for the wheel arches and sideskirts.

The oily bits remain the same between A-class and GLA. All models are front-wheel drive with optional 4Matic all-wheel drive, save for the high-performance GLA 45 AMG model which, just like the A45 AMG, sends its prodigious shove to all four wheels.

Tell me about the powertrain…

We’ve already tested the range-topping 220 CDI at CAR; the 200 CDI uses the same basic 2143cc turbodiesel engine, tuned for less power and extra economy. So the 220 CDI’s 168bhp/258lb ft becomes 134bhp/221lb ft, with the benefit of the previous 55.4mpg and 132g/km becoming 62.8mpg and 119g/km.

This isn’t the most refined of engines, but Mercedes has clearly put a lot of graft into shielding its machinations from occupants’ ears: it spends most of its time relegated to the distance, and only when you rev it hard does its coarser nature come to the fore. Clearly, this is not a very fast car, but it’s never frustratingly slow either, and typically serves up a decent turn of speed for most situations bar the occasional ill-considered overtake.

A six-speed manual is available, but our car was fitted with the seven-speed dual-clutch, which carries a premium of £1450. It’s a column-shifter with paddles fitted to the steering wheel, which cleans up the centre console and is perfectly intuitive apart from when you knock it into neutral in an attempt to switch on the wipers, as most will during the early stages of acclimatisation. It’s a smooth and well-mannered transmission, but it’s not the most interactive or swiftest when you change gear manually; best let auto mode take the strain.

How does the GLA drive?

It’s accomplished if a little uninspired. At first the steering feels like it lacks definition at the straight-ahead, which it does, but you quickly acclimatise and mostly it feels well-weighted, quite quick-witted and accurate too. The handling is sure-footed, thought not in the least sporty or as fun to drive as a Golf or an Evoque, but the real difference compared with the A-class comes with the ride quality: even on its optional 19-inch AMG alloys and Yokohama tyres with plump sidewalls – plus sports suspension that lowers this crossover by 15mm! – the ride is really very good, and certainly far better than the sometimes surprisingly crashy A-class.

Mercedes’ priorities are pretty clear: this is a refined, comfortable, economical car. It’s not going to set your hair on fire when you chuck it down a B-road, but it is a perfectly nice way in which to dispatch a long journey. 

Anything else to report?

You sit appropriately high in seats that are comfortable if lacking a little in under-thigh support, and there’s also knee- and head-room for four six-footers too.

The brushed aluminium trim and huge air vents that dominate the dashboard do add a touch of Audi TT glamour. It’s just a pity that the price to pay for such glittering eye candy is the relegation of the air-con controls to the depths of the centre console, meaning you have to look down and away from the road to tweak the settings to where, you’re never quite sure.

Finally, the collision warning system was the ultimate paranoid android, flashing and bonging eight times during our 700 or so miles together in situations that were not in the least dangerous; everything from cars in other motorway lanes to hedgerows were dialling up DEFCON 1.

How does the GLA fare off-road? We didn’t try, and nor will owners; to be fair, Mercedes only makes claims for light off-roading.

VERDICT

The Mercedes GLA 200 CDI might take an A-class and pitch it into battle with the Range Rover Evoque, but this is a very different kind of compact premium SUV. Where the Evoque has the needle wound round to agility and engagement and flaunts its still head-turning style, the Merc is happier to waft, cushion and, generally, soothe, while blending a little more into the background. The GLA is a more one-dimensional car, but it’s a perfectly likeable one at that.

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

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