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Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class


Audi Q7

Summary

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class

Buuuuuuuur, parp, buuuuuuuuuuuur, parp. Anyone who knows anything about cars immediately recognises the sound of a 45-engined A-class derivative. It's the sound you hear in a tunnel as old mate blasts past with a giant carbon-fibre wing atop his hatchback. It's the sound you hear at 3:00am on a summer morning (if your suburb has no speed bumps, of course).

In short, that sound means big power from a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, a seven-speed transmission, and a bunch of Germans who clearly had a sense of humour in charge of tuning the exhaust note.

Sure, the GLA compact SUV is probably a slightly unexpected source of all that noise. But then, Merc's Ingolstadt rivals stuffed Audi's stupendous five-cylinder engine into a Q3 to make the hugely improbable RSQ3, so why not do the same with their skirts-lifted A-Class?

To be honest, my expectations for this car were low. So do I owe Mercedes a grovelling apology? Or can I still claim the moral high ground after a week of GLA 45 "ownership"?

Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L
Fuel Type98ron
Fuel Efficiency7.5L/100km
Seating5 seats

Audi Q7

Audi’s big banger Q7 relaunched late last year with a slimmer-hipped, lower slung replacement for the old bruiser.

Interestingly there was just the single variant, a 200kW diesel turbo V6 with a six-figure starting price. A few months down the track we’ve finally scored a lower-powered, entry-level Q7.

There are a few bits missing that are standard on the more highly powered version, so with a relatively narrow price difference, is it a good fit for options-box tickers?

Safety rating
Engine Type3.0L turbo
Fuel TypeDiesel
Fuel Efficiency5.9L/100km
Seating7 seats

Verdict

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class7.1/10

My wonderful wife, who is not really into this kind of car, admitted to me in a quiet voice that she really liked the GLA45 as long as it was in Sport + mode. And I have to agree. While I'm very fond of the ridiculous Audi RSQ3 (that turbo five-cylinder sounds amazing), I think I'd stump up the extra for the GLA.

Importantly, it can be comfortable, it can be quiet and it's a better fit for most humans than the A or CLA. It is getting on a bit and could do with a further clean-out of the poor ergonomics, but in what is likely its final year on sale, it's still a belter.

Has Peter finally lost it? Can the GLA45 be the best of the A-side 45 trio? Tell us what you think in the comments below.


Audi Q77.4/10

The 200kW Q7 is a brilliant car and the 160kW is little different. It’s hard to make the economic case for spending less, though, as options will quickly land you in 200kW price territory unless, of course, you’ve stretched yourself for the $96,300 in the first place.

If you have stretched, you’re getting an even better overall car than the excellent BMW X5. The fundamentals of the Q7 are such that you could almost whack the 2.0 TFSI from the A3 in it and it would still be just fine.

Does the Audi Q7's new styling sway you or is the options list too pricey? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Click here to see more 2016 Audi Q7 pricing and spec info.

Design

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class7/10

The GLA45 isn't a looker, but then, none of the GLAs are. There's a certain blobbiness to it. A bit of Teletubby mixed with...um, another Teletubby. It's not ugly, it's just not particularly attractive. The 20-inch wheels do much to lift the appearance and negate the effect of the raised ride height compared to the A45/CLA45.

The body kit stops just short of lairy, which is heartening. So if you want to stand out, venture out into the aftermarket world.

Inside was a mild surprise. The last time I drove a CLA 45 I used the word "gaudy". While the GLA isn't amazingly better, the texture of the Alcantara replacing the brushed metal-look plastic, or the carbon of the option pack, was much more pleasant. The brightwork in the cabin is still a bit odd looking, and it's still overcooked with its red detailing, but it is an otherwise beautifully built and well-detailed interior.


Audi Q78/10

The new Q7 is, thankfully, a lot less imposing than the first generation. That car really did loom and as time went by it became ever more covered in bling. The restraint of the new car is admirable (and good business sense – there’s bound to be a bigger Q8 before long) and looks more like a jacked-up wagon than a full-on SUV.

As is Audi’s wont, there’s lots of aluminium, particularly in the MQB Evo chassis itself (shared with some pretty posh things like the Bentley Bentayga) as well as doors and bonnet.

Despite being smaller, there are still seven seats in the Q7, with a reasonably accessible pair of rear pews providing you’re at least four years old and in possession of two working legs. That third row gets its own air-conditioning vents, cupholders (there are six in total) and somewhere to store your ration of Smarties.

The middle row of seats can be slid fore and aft through about 15cm to liberate or rob the third row of space. The middle rear seat passenger does have to contend with a fairly solid transmission tunnel, however.

Storage is well scattered around the cabin, with four bottle holders, a shallow bin under the centre armrest and a few cubby holes here and there to supplement the good-sized glove box. Audi says the minimum boot volume is 770L with the third row of seats down and 1955 with both rows folded away. With the third row up, an educated guess says somewhere in the region of 300L is still available. There's also ISOFIX child seat mounts for all five rear seats.

The driver gets a clean, clear dashboard with two big dials flanking the central info screen and, as usual, everything is spot-on ergonomically. The dash is considerably less visually weighty than the old car, with full width air-con vents, the middle section blowing diffuse air so you’re not in a windtunnel from a 1980s music video clip.

Practicality

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class7/10

The front seats are utterly brilliant and feel as good as they look. On first acquaintance they may feel under-padded, but once you've adjusted them to your liking, you never want to leave. The AMG cars also feature one vast improvement over a normal GLA - the ergonomic disaster of a column-mounted shifter is removed, with a console-mounted shifter added where a small cubby once lived. It's so much better, although the Park button is oddly difficult to press.

When luxuriating in those snug front seats, you'll have access to two cupholders and door-mounted bottle holders, as well as a console bin (where the USB ports are) and a tray under the climate controls. Rear seat passengers will find legroom tight but headroom good, even with the huge sunroof.

The GLA's boot holds an entirely reasonable 421 litres, rising to 1235 when you drop both rear seats.


Price and features

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class7/10

The GLA 45 lightens your wallet by no less than $89,211 - more than double the GLA 180 front-wheel drive, and about $5000 more than the bonkers (and ancient) RS Q3.

Packed into the GLA's kit bag are 20-inch alloy wheels, a 12-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, comprehensive safety gear, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, electric and heated front seats, sat nav, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, leather trim (some real, some not), auto parking, powered and heated folding mirrors, a massive sunroof and dynamic dampers. There's no spare tyre, just a tyre-repair kit.

The multimedia system is Mercedes' COMAND unit and it is as user-unfriendly as ever. It does, however, power a very decent stereo, and also offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Thankfully our car was bereft of both the carbon-fibre package ($990) and the aerodynamics package ($1990).


Audi Q77/10

With a price just a few thousand down on the original 200kW version, it almost seems like Audi doesn’t really want you to buy the base model. The price difference is “only” $7600. Remember that bit.

Despite the lower sticker, there is a generous equipment list, particularly on the safety front. Standard are a 10-speaker stereo with DAB+, Bluetooth and dual USB ports, 19-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, blind spot sensor, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors and park assist, cruise control, electric front seats with driver’s seat memory, satnav, bi-xenon headlights with level adjustment, auto headlights and wipers, leather trim (some real, some not), electric tailgate and tyre-pressure monitoring.

Our car had the optional Audi Connect wifi hotspot feature ($750), metallic paint (at a hefty $2400), Assistance Package - which adds adaptive cruise, active lane assist, pre-sense front, traffic jam assist, collision assist and turn assist ($4075), LED headlights ($2800!), Parking Assistance Package, which adds auto-parking and 360-degree cameras ($1300), full body paint finish ($1300) and interior inlays of high gloss black and oak (an even more mystifying $1690). This brought the total to an eye-watering $110,615.

That’s only $5000 less than a similarly optioned 200kW, which has a few more standard additions, more power obviously, bigger wheels and the full digital “virtual dashboard” from the lovely TT. Of course, neither Q7 is particularly cheap. If you’re willing to lose all-wheel drive, you can have a BMW X5 starting at $86,200 for the rear-wheel drive 170kW 2.0 diesel (but only with five seats).

Audi’s MMI system controls the operation of the retractable 8.3-inch screen that rises majestically from the centre of the dash. MMI looks after the entertainment, satnav and various settings of the car and does a fine job of it, supplemented by a generous touchpad for you to write out your destination with your finger, or choose your radio station.

You can also speak in reasonably normal terms to the nav via voice activation and it will take you to the nearest public toilet, or a petrol station or a nearby Italian restaurant.

Engine & trans

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class8/10

AMG's fabled 2.0-litre turbo four lurks under that higher bonnet, still kicking out an improbable 280kW and 475Nm. Drive reaches the road via Merc's own seven-speed twin-clutch transmission and all four of its wheels.

All that power and grip translates to a 4.4-second dash to 100km/h for the slightly tubby (over 1600kg) GLA, but just between you and me, anything under five seconds feels scorchingly quick.


Audi Q77/10

The 160kW is the same basic unit as the 200kW, just with the lower power figure and 500Nm of torque (down from 600Nm) to push its 2135kg frame to 100km/h in 7.3 seconds.

Fuel economy, courtesy of the ZF eight speed automatic and stop-start, is a claimed 5.8L/100km and, it must be said, a fairly unlikely figure to achieve. We saw 9.2L/100km on the dash display, which is still pretty impressive for such a large vehicle.

The Q7 is also rated to tow 3500kg with trailer brakes.

Fuel consumption

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class7/10

The official combined-cycle figure suggests the GLA45 will consume 7.5L/100km. Obviously that figure is largely irrelevant, and not just for the usual reasons, but because you don't buy a GLA45 to potter about in. I got, uh, 12.5L/100km, so you can imagine how much I was enjoying it.

As you might expect, you'll need to feed it 98RON.


Driving

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class7/10

When the 45-badged cars first launched, they were something of a revelation. BMW's turbo six-cylinder fans sniffed at the 2.0-litre's staggering outputs and all-wheel-drive chassis, but this car really captured the imagination. The GLA45 might be slightly unexpected, but it's better in almost every way as a daily driver than the A or CLA.

For a start, its higher ride height seems to translate to a much better ride quality. Anything on 20-inch wheels should have an appalling ride, but the GLA45 manages to be firm yet comfortable. Put the other two in Race mode and you'll need to up your private health insurance extras to include osteo, physio and whatever "o"-ending specialist fixes your back.

The improved ride quality meant I was far happier to chuck this car around. While it doesn't have the same ultimate overall performance of the lower cars, it's far more comfortable whether you're on it or just driving around. The front seats are supportive and comfortable, and the steering is excellent.

As for the engine...well, it still farts like toddler during a moment of silence at a funeral, but you can't deny its technical brilliance and huge power outputs. I remember the CLA45's engine as being a bit highly strung. Perhaps I couldn't separate the overall high-strung nature of the car from the engine, but I felt the same engine in this car wasn't as jumpy.

The way it propels this car into triple figures is tremendous fun. It's not as charismatic as the Audi five-cylinder, perhaps, but that doesn't matter in the end - it's properly fast, attached to a better chassis and offers a cabin with a driving position fit for humans.


Audi Q78/10

It might be down 40kW and 100Nm of torque, but the Q7 still feels pretty nimble for what is a very heavy car, despite its average weight loss of 325kg. The mid-range is very strong, meaning effortless overtaking from rarely more than a toe on the throttle pedal. When your car is this big, the last thing you want to be worrying about is whether it will trip over itself when you’re in the cut and thrust of the school pick up or daily commute.

This is the first Q7 I’ve driven without the air suspension and it was a pleasant surprise. It rode and handled almost as well and you’d have to wonder whether it’s worth the extra outlay. When a press fleet has nothing but air-suspended cars, it makes journalists suspicious; I’m pleased to say there was no need. The only real difference is more noticeable body roll when you’re getting a bit ambitious in the corners. Not really a Q7’s core business.

The steering is quite light but weights up nicely in dynamic mode. It’s tidy in the bends and excels in the wet or dry; its stay with us coincided with some truly apocalyptic rain, which the car simply shrugged off. Needless to say, the cabin is extremely quiet, with just a slight rustle around the wing mirrors and a distant growl from the engine.

Safety

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class7/10

The GLA comes with nine airbags (including driver's knee), blind-spot sensors, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, forward-collision warning and mitigation and driver-attention detection.

The GLA does not have its own ANCAP rating, but the A-Class on which it is so heavily-based scored five stars in 2013.


Audi Q77/10

Eight airbags, blind-spot sensor, forward-collision mitigation, forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, rear cross traffic alert and active safety bonnet all add up to the maximum five ANCAP safety stars.

The Assistance Package, which adds adaptive cruise control, active lane assist, pre-sense front (to keep you from crashing into the car in front), collision assist (helps you out with your braking and steering when the car thinks you’re heading into a crash) and turn assist (stops you turning into the path of an oncoming car).

Ownership

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class7/10

The Mercedes standard warranty is three years/unlimited kilometres with roadside assist to match. Service intervals are a very reasonable 12 months/20,000km.

The company also offers capped-price servicing - first service is $576 but the second and third are a whopping $1152 each. Three years will set you back $2880.