The Mercedes-Benz GLA is moving up in the world, literally.
The compact SUV, which is based on the A-Class hatchback, now rides more than 10cm taller to deliver the higher seating position so many buyers crave.
In its first major revamp since its launch in 2014, the GLA has morphed from what essentially was a hatchback with more rugged styling to a bona fide SUV, with a taller roof and more boxy dimensions.
The new GLA is shorter than its predecessor, but the car’s designers have shifted the wheels to the corners of the body to create more space for passengers.
There’s more head room in the front seats and more legroom for those in the rear.
The bad news is the get-in price is now significantly higher. The previous generation GLA180, which cost $45,600 plus on-roads, is replaced by a GLA200 that starts at $55,100 before on-roads. Mercedes justifies the price rise with a completely revamped cabin, more equipment and a more powerful and modern turbocharged engine. The next step up the model ladder, the all-wheel-drive GLA250, has increased by $3500 to $66,500, while the GLA 35 and GLA 45, which arrive later in the year, will be priced at $82,935 and $107,035 respectively. The 35 is a new model, while the previous 45 cost just $92,100.
Tick a few option boxes and the price can blow out — our GLA 250 test car had about $16,000 worth of extras, adding AMG styling cues and additional equipment such as active cruise control, head-up display, adaptive suspension and active lane keeping.
The GLA 200 has a 1.3-litre turbo four-cylinder that puts out 120kW and 250Nm through a seven-speed auto. That’s a healthy 30kW and 50Nm more than the previous 180. Standard equipment includes twin high-resolution digital screens, ambient lighting, imitation leather, wireless charging for smartphones, satnav and digital radio.
The GLA 250 ups the ante with a bigger 165kW 2.0-litre turbo, an 8-speed twin-clutch auto, full-length sunroof, lowered suspension, bigger 19-inch wheels and electrically operated, heated seats.
The 250 also has an “off-road engineering package”, which has an additional drive mode that alters the power delivery of the engine and the sensitivity of the ABS for off-road driving. The lights deliver a wider spread of light for negotiating tricky terrain, while the car will control its speed on a downhill run. A readout in the head-up display tells the driver how far the car is leaning or tilting. The package is undermined somewhat by the fact there is no spare tyre.
Blind-spot alert, lane-keep assist and auto emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection are standard, but active cruise control and rear cross-traffic alert are optional.
Inside, our test car was beautifully appointed, with sporty looking red seats with black bolsters, stitched faux-leather on the dash and touch points, brushed alloy highlights on the doors and splashes of imitation carbon fibre on the dash. The crisp dual screens are easily navigated by touchpads on the steering wheel, allowing drivers to keep their eyes on the road while flicking through the various information screens. The head-up display also puts all the vital information at eye level. On top of that, Mercedes has one of the most intuitive and effective voice activation systems. Say “Hey Mercedes” and it will call phone numbers, enter satnav routes and find nearby petrol stations among other things.
On the road, the GLA continues to impress. The engine provides lively acceleration off the mark and feels responsive when asked to overtake or tackle a hill, while the dual-clutch auto is smooth and quick-shifting, although around town it can sometimes produce a jerky shift on light throttle or when decelerating.
The GLA is predictable and secure through corners, though, with impressive grip and precise steering. In comfort mode, though, it can feel a little floaty over bigger bumps and jiggly over corrugations.
Our only gripe during a test drive was the active blind spot assist, which will hit the brakes and apply steering input if you appear to be wandering from your lane. It can be quite disconcerting.
Inside, there’s plenty of head space for taller drivers and the kids aren’t short-changed, either. The boot is bigger than the previous model but still struggles to swallow a golf bag and buggy.
An impressive, if pricey all-rounder. Beautifully presented, comfortable and well equipped.
MERCEDES-BENZ GLA 250 VITALS
Price: About $73,000 drive-away
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo petrol, 165kW/350Nm
Warranty/servicing: 5 years/u’ltd km, $2050 for 3 years
Safety: 5 stars, 9 airbags, auto emergency braking, lane keeping assistance, blind-spot assist
Boot: 435 litres