New Mercedes-Benz GLA review: honey, they shrunk the GLC!

Published:14 April 2020

The new 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLA review by CAR magazine
  • At a glance
  • 3 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5

By Georg Kacher

European editor, secrets uncoverer, futurist, first man behind any wheel

By Georg Kacher

European editor, secrets uncoverer, futurist, first man behind any wheel

 New Mercedes-Benz GLA driven
 Baby SUV version of A-Class
 Just like a smaller GLC?

The new Mercedes GLA is a very now car: designed to hoover up buyers for whom a posh badge, a whiff of SUV-sassiness and ultra-digitisation to sync with their smartphone-driven lives is important stuff.

But if you look behind the showroom appeal, is there any substance to the newcomer? Is it worth paying more for a gussied-up A-Class? Read on for our full 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLA review.

Background: GLA encroaches on GLC territory

Bodystyle proliferation is a top priority for Mercedes in the entry-level segment, which was kicked wide open by the first A-Class back in 1997. But there’s a danger that Stuttgart is over-stuffing every sector - and some top-end GLAs feel like they overlap with the bottom-end members of the recently facelifted GLC family. 

Case in point is the 224bhp GLA250 4Matic we drove in Storm Trooper livery. At €44,381, it is only €1856 less expensive than the better equipped and notably more spacious 197bhp GLC200 4Matic, fitted as standard with a mild hybrid system that includes a 10kW booster. 

Mercedes-Benz GLA review 2020

To its credit, the GLA250 is significantly livelier (6.7sec against 7.9sec from 0-62mph), faster overall (150mph against 134mph) and easier to manouevre in tight driving environments. 

Which other engines can I buy in the new Mercedes GLA?

At launch your choices are a 163bhp 1.3-litre petrol unit supplied by Renault and two 2.0-litre diesels good for 148bhp and 187bhp. All-wheel drive 4Matic is an option, manual transmission is not.

The new GLA looks like a downsized accumulation of GLC, GLC coupé, GLE, GLE coupe and EQC styling elements. What makes the 2020 second-generation version stand out are the rearranged proportions. 

How spacious is the new GLA inside?

Mercedes GLA cabin

The latest chick hatched by the MB crossover egg factory is a little shorter than the firstborn as well as 104mm taller, and since it also sits on a longer wheelbase the rear legroom explodes by 110mm. 

Your name is Dirk Nowitzki? Then please feel free to push the second-row seat back by another 140mm, but beware that you do so at the expense of the 435-litre cargo compartment. A long rear overhang makes provision for a bigger boot which can hold between 550 and 1600 litres of luggage. 

Maximum lifestyle: the Mercedes-Benz GLA SUV

What’s it like to drive?

The torque curve of 2.0-litre 224bhp petrol-fed four peaks well below the cloud cover at 1800rpm, firing up a very useful if not particularly well-bred 258lb ft. Torque slumps from around 4000rpm, however, 2000 revs before the redline.

An eight-speed dual-clutch transmission features a shorter first and a taller top gear for more take-off kick and reduced high-speed consumption, but we didn’t like the flimsy column-mounted paddles which look and feel more Yugo than Mercedes. Moreover, the gearbox tuning is never quite right; in Comfort mode, the GLA is a boring companion, whereas Sport keeps hunting around the ratios in vain for the right one.

Gadgets galore

The new 2020 Mercedes GLA is dripping with high-tech features, possibly too many for the average Joe. Spend big, and the doors will unlock when the key carrier reaches for the handle, the Energizing Coach syncs with your smartwatch to display your heart rate on the main monitor, the seats will massage your back and the climate control can be set to perk you up and get you in the mood.

New assistance systems include warnings for Open Doors With Care (when slow-moving traffic like a cyclist approaches from behind), Route- and Traffic-Based Steering and Brake Assist and even a new Car Wash mode (deactivates rain sensor, closes windows and roof, folds mirrors).

For the sake of a lower insurance rating, one must deactivate every unwanted aid afresh after every restart. Which tends to be the rule - after all, who likes randomly shaking steering-wheels, suddenly flashing door mirror triangles or loud warning beeps out of nowhere? Live with the GLA for a week, and your fingers can probably work the touchscreen like Lang Lang excelling on the piano. But the person who steps out of an Audi or a BMW and into the Benz is bound to feel oarless in a boat that needs to be rowed, presto. 

Don’t get us wrong, MBUX is very clever. In the name of progress, the in-dash chips have developed a life of their own. When the car approaches a junction, the front camera zooms in closer to the action. Tailgating activates the rear lens which sadly lacks a recording function to put the offender on film. Before arriving at a waypoint, the satnav fades in arrows, pointers, street names and house numbers. 

Ride and handling?

The GLA250 4Matic rides a magic fleecy carpet cushier than the previous vintage, so our advice is don’t destroy this newfound suppleness by specifying ego-boosting 20in rims shod with 235/45 tyres. Instead, why not opt for the available lowered Comfort suspension - which sounds like a contradiction in terms, but actually strikes a fine balance between compliance and huggability. 

Next, add the extra-cost direct steering to complete the handling upgrade from failsafe to entertaining. Four-wheel drive is also worth a consideration - not only because of the enhanced traction, but also owing to the dynamic torque split which permits brief slides on loose gravel in Sport with ESP deactivated. (As if many Mercedes-Benz GLA owners will do that!)

In off-road mode, power is as a rule evenly distributed between the axles. In the Individual setting of Dynamic Select, the driver can tune dampers, steering, throttle response and gearbox action to his or her personal preference. Trouble is, the chosen parameters feel somewhat unnatural, arbitrary and synthetic. Sport chases revs and adds a squirt of jerkiness, Eco introduces a sedative touch, Comfort stands for a non-commital common denominator. Rental car companies love this one-switch-pleases-all approach, keen drivers would appreciate a sharper and more distinct calibration.

Verdict

Good-looking and spacious, the snazziest small Mercedes is overwhelmingly expensive yet not as appealing overall as the more purposeful GLB. It’s a decent small SUV, but by trying to offer everything to everyone, this small Benz has lost some of its focus.

Read more Mercedes-Benz reviews by CAR magazine 


Our earlier review of a 2020 Mercedes GLA prototype by Kyle Fortune

Merc GLA prototype review

► New GLA on the way
► We take a ride in a prototype 
► Will fight against the X2, XC40 and Q2

An inclinometer, an off-road course and the new GLA. Not an obvious choice for off-road excursions, but then, with the new GLA Mercedes-Benz is keen to underline the SUV-ness of it all. With the current, near outgoing, one it’s all a bit jacked-up hatchback, this, new GLA, which we can expect early next year, being more obviously positioned and proportioned as a conventional SUV. That all makes it an easier sell in Mercedes-Benz’s plentiful compact vehicle offering, and a lot simpler to place against rivals like the BMW X2, Volvo XC40 and Audi Q2. 

But the new GLB’s an SUV, too…?

Correct, the GLB stretches Mercedes-Benz’s MFA2 architecture to the maximum to offer the potential to seat seven, the GLA below it only a five-seater, and despite Merc’s assertions it’s ‘more SUV’, it’s still also saying it’s a more dynamic offering than its rivals. 

That’s clear then

Quite, in Mercedes-Benz’s flurry to produce as many compact models as it possibly can - the GLA is number eight off the same platform - it’s covering every conceivable option, though, in fairness the GLA’s proportions and stance are more clearly defined than its predecessor. Think more B-Class for its interior proportions then, it obvious just looking at it that it’s taller, over 10cm say the engineers, it shortening by 1.5cm at the same time. That higher, more upright shape is to the enormous benefit of interior space and airiness, particularly in the once-cramped rear seats, as well as accessibility.   

Spacious and neat

There’s significantly more room inside, then, and the interior takes a big leap forward in regards to quality and user-friendliness at the same time. Merc’s MBUX being standard fit, and depending on your option box ticking can be had with a pair of 10.3-inch screens, the central one being touch-screen, or, like the configurable instrument screen ahead of you, changed via the touch buttons on the steering wheel or central touch pad. Shout ‘Hey Mercedes’ and you can ask it to do all that, as well asking it what it thinks of rival companies. Not much it seems.

Much the same under the skin?

Nothing much to wow underneath, given the GLA is late to the compact party we’re pretty familiar with the engine and transmissions that will be powering it, everything from a 1.5-litre turbo petrol, a 2.1-litre turbodiesel to a possible 2.0-litre GLA 45 flagship with in excess of 400bhp in its hottest incarnations. That GLA 45 might not arrive, though the GLA 35 is a certainty, as we spotted a couple being built on the test line at Mercedes-Benz’s compact car factory at Rastatt, Germany.

And on the road?

Our seat time in it was limited, and largely around a, surprisingly tough, off-road course, so we’d be lying if we said we could give detailed impressions on how it drives. Both the turbodiesel and petrol examples we were in the passenger seats of were 4Matic model, with an improved electronically controlled system, which can divert drive quicker and ore accurately. Most will be front-wheel drive, but if you option 4Matic it’ll come with an off-road pack as standard. 

That doesn’t mean skid plates, a boot mounted spare wheel and sand ladders on the roof, instead it brings downhill speed regulation and a number of off-road specific screens in MBUX and changes to the engine and gearbox maps accordingly if you’re traversing a particularly precipitous sleeping policeman on your way to work. Joking aside, it’s all rather impressive, the GLA able to tackle uncomfortably steep side slopes and scramble up and down hills that you’d need a rope to help you up if you were on foot. On the road, it promises more refinement, and the sort of predictable, surefooted progress that we’d expect from Mercedes-Benz, mixed in with a suite of safety equipment that’s as good as, if not better than, all its rivals. 

Anything else?

Nobody is admitting it, but the drive to see the GLA was in Merc’s latest plug-in B-Class, so it’s inconceivable that the GLA won’t gain a version of the same drivetrain. If (when) it does, expect the plug-in GLA to offer the same circa 40 mile battery only range, though given the positioning of the battery you’d lose the option of 4Matic. 

Mercedes GLA prototype review

When we seeing it?

It’s been seen around for a while now in the swirly disguise here, and they’re ramping up for production, so it’ll be imminent. Expect sales to start early in 2020 of the volume models, with the GLA 35 coming shortly after. 

Given Merc’s charge to electrification we’d expect a GLA 250e EQ Power to join the line-up fairly soon afterwards, too. 

Verdict

Nothing radical with the new GLA, here, just something of a sensible shift into a more clearly defined category than it was in before. More space, greater economy and Mercedes-Benz’s class-leading tech certain to make it an appealing choice among its plentiful rivals.

Specs

Price when new: £0
On sale in the UK: Summer 2020
Engine: 1991cc four-cylinder petrol, 221bhp @ 5500rpm, 258lb ft @ 1800-4000rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed twin-clutch auto, all-wheel drive
Performance: 6.7sec 0-62mph, 149mph, 40.9mpg, 158g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1600kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4410/1834/1611mm

Rivals

Other Models

Photo Gallery

  • We've tested the new 2020 Mercedes GLA SUV
  • New 2020 Merc GLA side profile
  • Mercedes-Benz GLA interior
  • Mercedes-Benz GLA is a rival to the BMW X1 and Volvo XC40
  • We tested the new GLA 250 4Matic
  • Mercedes-Benz GLA boot
  • Mercedes GLA front grille
  • Mercedes GLA badge
  • Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 engine bay
  • Mercedes-Benz GLA
  • Mercedes-Benz GLA
  • Mercedes-Benz GLA
  • Mercedes-Benz GLA
  • Mercedes-Benz GLA
  • Mercedes-Benz GLA

By Georg Kacher

European editor, secrets uncoverer, futurist, first man behind any wheel

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