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Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class 2014 review

EXPERT RATING
9
Benz's cheapest SUV yet is bad news for its rivals and glad tidings for buyers.

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Benz's cheapest SUV yet is bad news for its rivals and glad tidings for buyers. The poster child of the prestige car market is taking it off. Off-road, that is, in the form of a Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class SUV.

It sits on the same platform as the hugely popular A and CLA-Class models that have earned Benz media kudos and queues of prospective buyers. Given the rampant popularity of the compact SUV market, there's every reason to suspect demand will overwhelm supply in this segment as well.

Value

Mercedes is making life tough at the bottom end of the prestige spectrum, as evidenced by a starting price of $47,900 for the turbodiesel GLA200 CDI in front-wheel drive guise. Buyers need to look at the petrol line-up for all-wheel-drive, starting with the GLA250 at $57,900 and topping out with the $79,900 GLA45 AMG.

All models will use a dual-clutch seven-speed automatic. Specification will be on a par with the dearer CLA four-door coupe but here includes an automatic tailgate.

Technology 

Though the GLA is built on the same basis as the A-Class, it straddles tarmac and gravel with a 4Matic AWD system that directs 100 per cent of the torque to the rear wheels as driving conditions demand. A button on the centre console activates the hill descent system, which uses engine and/or physical braking to moderate the pace on down slopes.

That's abetted by an off-road transmission mode in 4Matic models to optimise shift points and accelerator response on loose surfaces like gravel and sand. The engines are the same turbo petrol and diesels as those found in the A, B and CLA Class vehicles and none of them is found wanting for real-world performance.

Design

The GLA continues the youthful look found on the A and CLA Class and with good cause. About 75 per cent of buyers of the road-going versions are new to the brand and about 10 years younger than Benz's average demographic. A prominent three-pointed star graces the twin-louvre grille and the front has an aggressive, planted look.

The grey cladding on the lower sides of the vehicle is more utilitarian, helping to protect the body from stone chips and flung‒up branches. Gaping wheel arches and a low glasshouse gives the GLA a jacked-up and hunched down look at the same time. The interior follows Benz's compact car theme with five large circular air vents spanning the dash and galvanised "silver shadow" trim.

Safety

It hasn't been hit yet but there's little doubt - based on the already tested chassis - the GLA will earn five stars. The software-based safety systems are all on display, either as standard fare or as options.

Driving

The GLA is effectively a grown-up A-Class. It adds cargo space at 420 litres to be good without being groundbreaking but is otherwise the best riding SUV in any class. Significantly, rear headroom is improved. A GLA250 is the sweet spot in price and performance. A 0-100km/h time of 7.1 seconds is quick but its real-world performance is better than the numbers suggest.

On the standard comfort suspension (a stiffer sports suspension will be sold as part of an AMG Pack option), it wafts over misaligned cement road panels yet hustles through turns with barely perceptible body roll. It's as refined as castor sugar all the way to the red line and inspires confidence through tight turns and high‒speed sweepers.

The GLA45 is hard-core car porn. It amps up every aspect of the drive from engine sound to suspension stiffness and startling acceleration. It surges all the way to the electronically governed 250km/h limit and upshifts in sports mode are accompanied by a rally style engine flare that solicits smiles from even jaundiced journos.

Verdict

The GLA is the pick of the Benz compact car litter. The diesel is the entree but the all-paw models with petrol engines set a new standard for compact SUVs.
 

Pricing Guides

$36,644
Based on 60 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$26,000
Highest Price
$49,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
GLA250 4MATIC 2.0L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $32,200 – 42,990 2014 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class 2014 GLA250 4MATIC Pricing and Specs
GLA45 AMG 4MATIC 2.0L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $41,990 – 49,990 2014 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class 2014 GLA45 AMG 4MATIC Pricing and Specs
GLA200 CDI 2.1L, Diesel, 7 SP AUTO $26,000 – 39,900 2014 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class 2014 GLA200 CDI Pricing and Specs

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EXPERT RATING
9