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Mercedes GLA-d to fill crossover niche

21:59 24 October 2014

GLA takes Mercedes-Benz into the compact crossover market and is available with front-wheel and four-wheel drive.

GLA takes Mercedes-Benz into the compact crossover market and is available with front-wheel and four-wheel drive.

Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz moves into the compact crossover class with the new GLA. Motoring editor Andy Russell drives it.

Crossovers are the buzzword in the car world at the moment and if you haven’t got one, or a compact sport utility vehicle, then you’re missing out on the action in this fast-growing sector.

It’s a market that, at the premium end, Audi and BMW have made their ‘marque’ in with the Q3 and X1 respectively but Mercedes-Benz has been conspicuous by its absence.

Now that has changed with Mercedes launching a compact crossover in the shape of the GLA Class with the choice of front or all-wheel drive.

It based on the A-Class platform and also bears a strong resemblance to the entry-level hatchback which is, I feel, a bit of a shame – not because the A-Class is unappealing but many people during my time with the GLA did not realise it was actually a new model. It meant it did not attract the attention it deserved, looking more like an A-Class on steroids, especially with the AMG Line’s body styling kit which at least sets it more apart than the SE.

Mercedes-Benz GLA

Price: GLA 220 CDI 4Matic AMG Line £31,035 (range from £25,850)

Engine: 2,143cc, 170hp, four-cylinder turbo diesl

Performance: 0-62mph 8.3 seconds; top speed 134mph

MPG: Urban 47.1; extra urban 62.8; combined 55.4

CO2 emissions: 132g/km

Benefit-in-kind tax rate: 22%

Insurance group: 29 (out of 50)

Warranty: Three years, unlimited mileage

Will it fit in the garage? Length 4,417mm; width (including door mirrors) 2,022mm; height 1,494mm

On the plus side, because it looks more like a hatchback than an SUV, that could be in the GLA’s favour with buyers looking for a smaller crossover or something less chunky.

And there’s also a small choice of engines – a 211hp 2.0-litre turbo petrol in GLA 250 and 136 and 170hp versions of the 2.1-litre turbo diesel in 200 and 200 CDI, which will be the big sellers, offered in SE and sporty AMG Line trim. There’s also a high-performance 360hp 2.0-litre GLA 45 AMG. All get 4Matic four-wheel drive apart from the lower-powered diesel which is also the only engine offered with a six-speed manual gearbox as well as the seven-speed automatic.

The diesels are a bit noisy from cold and when revved hard but blend into the background once warm on the move and the more potent 220 CDI has strong mid-range punch and picks up progressively. I was impressed with around 50mpg overall and a best of 57mpg on a gentle cruise. The automatic transmission tends to hang on to gears when the engine is cold but shifts smoothly and unobtrusively once at operating temperature.

The AMG Line model I drove sits on 15mm lower sports suspension and, combined with the extra grip and traction of the four-wheel drive system and a lower body height than your conventional crossover, is really rather entertaining on twisty roads. It corners with verve and a flat stance, with good feedback from the steering, but the downside is that the low-speed ride is firm and jiggly over the scabs and scars of pock-marked urban roads, with a bit of a noisy bump-thump over sunken drain covers. Once cruising on main roads and motorways it is compliant and comfortable and eats up the miles with the minimum of fuss but those big 18in wheels create noticeable tyre noise on rough road surfaces.

Because of the GLA’s compact nature, cabin space is not as good as some rivals but four average-sized adults won’t find it a squeeze, although long-legged six-footers might feel the pinch in the back unless those up front yield some of their legroom. My test car’s dark, almost oppressivem cabin trim also did little to help create a light and airy feel either.

The boot is a decent shape – offering 481 litres of load space – goes back a long way and is boosted by underfloor storage. Rear seat backs split 60/40 and fold flat to give a long flat load floor.

Apart from being rather dark, the actual fascia is not only stylish, with those five round airvents and brightwork highlights, but has a quality look and feel to it where it is is seen and touched. It’s also logicially laid out and surprisingly intuitive to use once you have found your way around the various menus run via the central controller between the front seats. It works well but that information screen perched on top the dashboard still seems like an afterthought to me compared to the slick Audi screens which rise out of the fascia. That said, I really like Mercedes putting the automatic gear shift lever on the right of the steering column so the centre console is completely uncluttered. The AMG Line’s front sports seats. with integrated head rests, hug in all the right places and cabin storage is plentiful. Unfortunately chunky pillars hinder visibility when pulling out at junctions and reversing.

The GLA is not going to be a volume model but it fills another niche in the Mercedes-Benz line-up and that is something the brand is becoming very good at.

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Andy Russell

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EDP motoring editor, journalist who loves wheels and engines but hates cleaning them.

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