Big Benz: a no frills Mercedes crossover

 
Peter Burgess
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The Mercedes-benz GLA220 CDI 4matic AMG Line Auto

It took some time to convince my wife that she should be driving something a bit more “off-road”. She didn’t buy into the whole mums-in-their-Range-Rovers thing, and would have been happier with a posh saloon.

Now she’s one of the legions to have bought into the crossover genre and swears by her Kia Sportage. Everyone likes the security provided by the chunkier design. The view from the higher seats is a draw as well, as is the added space, particularly if you have kids.

Mercedes is a latecomer to all this with its new GLA pitching in at the image-centric Range Rover Evoque stratum. Good news, then, if you are fed up waiting for a new Evoque, or simply want something new.

Like the Evoque, the GLA owes a great deal to an existing model, in this case the latest Mercedes A-Class. That car went from podgy hatchback to sleek sportster last year, so the GLA has good genes.

There are so many decisions it’s brain-numbing. Petrol or diesel, manual or automatic transmission, front or four-wheel-drive? And that excludes Mercedes’ extensive list of optional extras. The price list for this model is longer than an edition of City A.M., so don’t place too much reliance on the quoted list price.

The two diesels, 200 and 220 CDI, will be popular choices. They drive very well and can offer great fuel economy. Even when equipped with automatic transmission, which should be the obvious choice. It has seven speeds and can still be driven like a manual car.

4MATIC, which is Mercedes-speak for four-wheel-drive, is one of those systems that you won’t be able to tell apart from the regular two-wheel-drive GLA until conditions get sticky. It appears to work well, though we find ourselves in a bit of a quandary. Unless you tick the option that jacks up the suspension by 30mm, the GLA must be the lowest-slung off-roader you can buy.

In making the GLA a sportier offering, the commanding height part of the crossover proposition has been squashed, meaning the visibility is not as good as it should be.

There’s still much to like. For just an extra couple of thousand pounds, you get significantly more room for passengers and luggage space is up by 40 per cent.

It’s interior is more imaginative than the Audi Q3 or BMW X1. Stylish air vents and a tablet-sized screen on the dashboard, are stand-out features. The seats are comfortable if you can live with their firm cushioning. Don’t be mislead by the “Artico leather” title – it’s taxi-company-ready plastic.

This review may sound negative, but the Mercedes GLA does have merit – the sense of quality, the way it drives, its running costs and the manner in which Mercedes builds-in safety to a high standard, even in its cheaper models. In the end, practicality may be enough.

Peter Burgess works for motoringresearch.com

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