GL Ace

Mercedes com­pact SUV trumps Subaru and Mazda

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Front Page - JOSHUA DOWLING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING EDI­TOR joshua.dowling@news.com.au

RE­MEM­BER when SUVs used to be called four-wheel drives and weren’t merely a fash­ion state­ment?

Back then, they were the au­to­mo­tive equiv­a­lent of hik­ing boots. To­day’s SUVs look more like fancy run­ning shoes with thicker soles.

Es­pe­cially the new breed of SUV: the high-rid­ing hatch­back. They’re bridg­ing the gap be­tween city run­about and weekend get­away car.

Mercedes-Benz is the lat­est to join this new niche with its GLA. It’s slightly big­ger than a Mercedes-Benz A-Class hatch and pro­vides a slightly el­e­vated view of the road ahead with­out look­ing like a soc­cer-mum SUV.

The Nis­san Dualis and Suzuki SX4 are the main­stream takes on the theme, while the BMW X1, Audi Q3 and Mini Coun­try­man are among the first faux-wheel drives to join the pre­mium seg­ment.

There are three mod­els in the range: the 2.2-litre turbo diesel GLA 200 tested here, the 2.0‒litre turbo petrol GLA 250, and the high per­for­mance 2.0‒litre turbo petrol GLA 45 AMG.

The lat­ter two are all-wheel drive but the GLA 200 is two‒wheel drive (in this case pow­er­ing the front wheels), a com­mon theme among the price-lead­ers in the class.

The re­al­ity is that few of these ve­hi­cles go off-road; the ex­tra ground clear­ance is more than enough to con­quer the drive­ways to most winer­ies.

VALUE

Benz Aus­tralia loads its cars with equip­ment for which its ri­vals charge ex­tra and the GLA is no ex­cep­tion.

Stan­dard fare on all mod­els in­cludes nine airbags, sat­nav, rear-view cam­era, front and rear park­ing sen­sors, au­to­matic tail­gate, par­tial elec­tric ad­just­ment for the driver’s seat, dual-zone air­con and Blue­tooth tele­phone con­nec­tiv­ity and au­dio stream­ing.

You could be for­given for think­ing that nav­i­ga­tion, a rearview cam­era, front and rear park­ing sen­sors and Blue­tooth au­dio stream­ing are stan­dard on the GLA’s lux­ury com­pact SUV ri­vals. You’d be mis­taken.

BMW charges ex­tra for all of the above on its X1. Audi’s Q3 only in­cludes au­dio stream­ing. Mini charges for nav­i­ga­tion but a fac­tory-fit­ted rear-view cam­era is not avail­able on the Coun­try­man at any price.

Benz ser­vic­ing in­ter­vals are 25,000km or one year, whichever comes first. The kilo­me­tres are un­usu­ally high — I’d be tak­ing it in ev­ery 10,000-15,000km. That said, Mercedes-Benz reck­ons most cus­tomers do less than 15,000km an­nu­ally.

Capped-price ser­vic­ing is not avail­able on the GLA, nor its lux­ury ri­vals other than dur­ing spe­cial of­fers.

As most of the main­stream top 10 car brands of­fer this peace of mind and trans­parency, it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore the lux­ury brands fol­low. Be­cause the GLA is a new model in a rel­a­tively new seg­ment a fore­cast on re­sale value is not pos­si­ble. Suf­fice that other Ben­zes in this price range typ­i­cally re­tain about 55 per cent of their value af­ter three years (aver­age) if the car is in good con­di­tion, has trav­elled low kilo­me­tres (45,000km) and has a log­book ser­vice his­tory.

TECH­NOL­OGY

The brochure will tell you about the ex­ten­sive use of high­strength steels, which make the GLA more se­cure in a crash and more solid in cor­ners.

But what tick­led our fancy was the “high tech” par­cel shelf — the cover over the hatch­back’s boot area. It’s made from re­cy­cled paper (us­ing tech­nol­ogy patented by Benz), weighs half as much as a con­ven­tional par­cel shelf and won’t cost the earth. Benz says, 46 com­po­nents in the new GLA are made from nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als.

DE­SIGN

The GLA gains MercedesBenz’s new de­sign lan­guage: sleek head­lights that sweep into the large grille, and sub­tle, ta­pered sculpt­ing along the flanks and doors.

Of course, there’s a prac­ti­cal side to its shape. The GLA is slightly larger than the A-Class hatch ( just 12.5cm longer) and yet it’s still com­pact enough to fit in the same size park­ing space.

The GLA’s slightly taller roof and slightly big­ger bum means lug­gage space has in­creased to 421L with the seats up and 1235L with the seats down (up from 341L/1157L in the A-Class).

SAFETY

How did they come up with nine airbags? Two front, two cur­tains, a side airbag in each front seat, a side airbag in the outer po­si­tions of the back seat, and one for the driver’s knee.

Other stan­dard fare in­cludes a fa­tigue mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem and sta­bil­ity con­trol to keep you on the straight and nar­row. An “ac­tive bon­net” is de­signed to

DRIV­ING

re­duce the po­ten­tial in­jury to pedes­tri­ans in a crash. There is as yet no crash test score but a five-star rat­ing is likely. Con­fes­sion: the GLA 200 is so quiet at sub­ur­ban and cruis­ing speeds I didn’t know the en­gine was a diesel. Only when you floor the throt­tle does the fa­mil­iar noise emerge.

The other sur­prise is how well the dual-clutch au­to­matic trans­mis­sion works.

Ear­lier ap­pli­ca­tions of this gear­box in other MercedesBen­zes have not been so well ex­e­cuted. There is less hes­i­ta­tion when mov­ing from rest than be­fore, and the gear­box will even “creep” for­ward in low-speed traf­fic, just like a con­ven­tional torque con­verter au­to­matic.

In “eco” mode the en­gine shuts down pretty smoothly but jolts back into life with a bit less subtlety (as most of these sys­tems do). If you’re like us you’ll get into the habit of dis­abling the “eco” mode ev­ery time you start the car.

Why can’t you dis­able “eco” mode per­ma­nently? Be­cause that’s one of the se­crets be­hind the GLA’s amaz­ing low 4.6L/100km econ­omy rat­ing, and govern­ment reg­u­la­tions in other mar­kets won’t al­low it to be per­ma­nently dis­abled.

Vi­sion all around is pretty good and park­ing is a cinch when you’re armed with front and rear sen­sors and rear-view cam­era with large screen dis­play. The taller driv­ing po­si­tion means you can read the traf­fic ahead a lit­tle bet­ter, though it’s not as com­mand­ing as a full-size SUV.

The seats are com­fort­able and the driv­ing po­si­tion has plenty of ad­just­ment. The steer­ing is well-weighted on the move and light at park­ing speeds.

The GLA’s com­pact di­men­sions also come in handy on a wind­ing road, where it feels more nim­ble than an SUV should. There is am­ple cor­ner­ing grip, and the GLA feels se­cure in al­most any sit­u­a­tion.

Ride com­fort is gen­er­ally good, al­though the thicker side­walls on the run­flat tyres made the sus­pen­sion feel a bit “busy” at low speeds on what looked like smooth roads.

It jig­gles a bit on some sur­faces at sub­ur­ban speeds, but this is hardly a deal-breaker.

VER­DICT

Mercedes-Benz has aced its ri­vals again with a sharp price and a gen­er­ous stan­dard equip­ment list.

That the GLA is one of the bet­ter lux­ury com­pact SUVs is merely a bonus.

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