Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class VS Ford Escape
- Exterior styling
- Interior and cabin appeal
- Rear space, and space overall
- Lack of boot space
- Driving position not too high for some
- Engine noise slightly un-sexy
- Sharp steering
- Sporty accessories
- Peppy engine
- Dated controls
- Tight cabin
- Harsh ride
Apparently there is an ugly Kardashian, but you don’t care, or if you do, you shouldn’t, so let’s talk about the Hemsworth brothers instead.
In any other family, Luke Hemsworth would probably be called handsome, if a little short. Unfortunately for him, standing next to Liam and the God who walks amongst us that is Chris (I had to interview him once, he really is dreamy), Luke looks like he’s barely keeping his chin above the water line at the shallow end of the gene pool.
The Mercedes-Benz SUV range has quite a variation of lookers in its family tree as well, but I would argue that the new, entry-level GLA is pretty much the Chris of the range, or at least the Liam. The unfortunate, slightly large-foreheaded GLB would obviously be the Luke.
The only problem with all this, of course, is that the car that originally gave birth to the GLA - the A-Class - is more attractive than all of them, and Craig Hemsworth, sire of the family, doesn’t quite pull that off.
The point is that the new GLA is going to be even more popular than the original one, which sold a staggering one million units worldwide, because it is not only bigger and taller, but better looking, inside and out.
And let’s face it, no one is buying an urban SUV like this for the way it can climb a snow-covered alpine pass. Even all-wheel drive is optional.
But the GLA has this niche nailed, and the new one - thanks to its style, space and the effortless way it rides - is going to be an even bigger success.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Aussies are now favouring SUVs much more than sedans and hatchbacks, and no segment is more bountiful than for mainstream mid-sizers.
With cars such as the Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4 finding success by combining practicality, tech and a high-seating position, for small families looking to haul the kids and some gear over long distances, Ford’s Escape should also be in contention.
However, sales of the Escape have slowly decreased this year (possibly due to a new-generation model around the corner), but is the soon-to-be-superseded model lacking any crucial ingredients that will keep it off your consideration list?
We’ve got the Ford Escape ST-Line to find out if it has what it takes to hang with the best in the mid-size SUV segment.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
You can tell that this car is going to be a success just by looking at it. For a lot of people, to see one will be to want one, and when they sit in that hugely high driving position and gaze upon the future-fabulous interior they’ll be even more sold.
It’s fair to say the GLA 250 does everything well - aside from providing boot space - and with great comfort, and in terms of looks, inside and out, it reaches the level of outstanding.
Personally, I’d take the lower and sleeker A Class every time.
Ford’s Escape ST-Line still proves to be a competitive SUV player so late in its lifecycle due its strong foundations.
While the only area it really excels at is its handling performance, thanks to the variant-specific changes, not everyone wants, or even appreciates, a sharper handling family hauler.
Other big letdowns are the in-car controls and in-cabin tightness, which look like they will be smoothed out in a new-generation model due to launch mid-year. But for now the current Escape is still a solid all-rounder.
I have to say that it’s quite an effort for a car company to get me interested in the look of an SUV, but from its tough, bold and yet stylish grille to its taut back end and BMW-aping rear light cluster, the new GLA really is a looker.
I had the good fortune to bring our GLA 250 test vehicle home and park it right next to the previous model, in the same colour, thus properly ruining the day of one of my neighbours.
The growth in size is clear - the new car is 12cm taller, 30mm wider and has a 30mm-longer wheelbase, yet overall it is 14mm shorter, which makes it look neater as well as stronger - but it’s the little tucks and tweaks of design that have really improved the look. The rear-light cluster is worth mentioning again, as it's just so much nicer.
While the original GLA was simply a case of making an A Class on stilettos, its success has encouraged Benz to really pour some effort into its successor, and the result is clear. This thing is a real looker.
Aiming to put the ‘sports’ in ‘sports utility vehicle’ (SUV), the Ford Escape ST-Line at least tries to differentiate itself from the usual high-riding fare.
From the outside, the ST-Line scores a sports bodykit and lower suspension, giving this Escape variant a more road-hugging appearance.
Its road presence is also helped by blacked-out (18-inch) wheels, grille, fog light surrounds, roof rails and rear valance. But don’t expect the cosmetic changes to morph the mild-mannered mid-size SUV into a snarling supercar.
Next to its Ambiente and Trend siblings, there's no doubt the Escape ST-Line stands out, but we’ll leave you to decide if it's the right amount of sporty, or needlessly gawdy.
The sporty touches also apply to the interior, which gains leather and cloth upholstery, front sports seats, and red contrast stitching throughout.
We’re big fans of the interior changes, which elevate all the touch points such as the steering wheel, seats and shifter to feel extra special.
Functionally however, the Escape is starting to show its age, especially the multimedia system, but more on that next...
The main goal of the GLA’s new, more SUV-like shape, in practicality terms, seems to have been to lift the driver even further off the ground, because the command-seating position is obviously a big selling point for someone who finds the A Class too ground-hugging.
So, while some of that growth in height has been used to increase head room to the point where I could easily wear Abraham Lincoln’s hat while driving, much of it has gone to making the driving position a full 10cm higher than in the previous GLA (it’s also 14cm higher than in an A Class).
Personally, the height of the seat drove me slightly spare, and every time I got in I tried to lower it, only to find it doesn’t go any lower, but, tellingly, my wife - who is not far off being an elf - loved it.
What I did like was the back seat, which is truly voluminous. Through clever packaging, Benz has managed to liberate no less than 12cm of extra legroom back there, and I could properly stretch out.
With its standard double-paned panoramic roof and huge windows (part of huge doors, which do come close to scraping on any gutter higher than a match box), it’s a very glassy interior indeed, and visibility is excellent.
There are two cupholders between the front seats, and there’s storage for big bottles in each door. Oddment storage is plentiful, although they could have more if they did away with the now redundant mouse pad and the so-called “arm rest” behind that, which feels more like a gear-shift lever they forgot to remove when they put the shifting functions up on a column stalk.
There’s no need for the track pad any more because the giant and truly very lovely 10.25-inch touch screen does everything via touch, and sits next to another screen the same size that acts as your dash readout, making the whole thing look like a particularly long iPad.
While other car companies, including Audi, which has long been the winner in any interior-design conversation, are still just jamming big screens on top of dashboards, Benz has turned its entire dash into a digital display, and it looks amazing, and futuristic. Like a concept car you can actually buy.
The overall feeling of quality and tech - particularly at night when it all lights up beautifully in a colour of your choosing - in this alluring interior is one of the main reasons buyers will flock to the new GLA.
The seats are not as sporty as some, but they’re comfortable enough.
The one letdown, however, which comes as a shock with all that space in the rear, is the boot, which is just 435 litres, compared to the Audi Q3’s far more practical 530 litres. It really is a surprise when you open the back and see so little there, and that really does lower the practicality mark.
Measuring 4524mm long, 1838mm wide, 1749mm tall and with a 2690mm wheelbase, the Ford Escape ST-Line offers enough space for either four adults or small families, but is slightly smaller in size than some of its key rivals.
Up front, there is plenty of leg, head, and shoulder room for passengers, but we couldn’t shake the feeling of the cabin closing in around us.
The door pockets are also thin and made up with scratchy hard plastic, though the storage bin between the diver and front passenger is generous and accommodating of larger items such as a big bag of chips.
The rear seats, while usable, suffer from the same failings as the front seats and feel a bit too snug.
Adults can comfortably sit in the two outboard pews, but the middle seat should be relegated to children or people you just don’t like very much.
Headroom is good, but legroom is somewhat lacking, and we had to reposition the front seats to be comfortable in the second row.
The boot offers 406 litres of volume with the all seats upright, expanding to 1603 with the rear seats folded flat. Both admirable figures that mean the Escape can comfortably fit a stroller, groceries, and more.
Price and features
I find it hard to believe I’m saying this about a Benz, but at a starting price of $66,500, the GLA 250 4MATIC does seem like quite a lot of car for the money. This might be influenced by the fact that I know a couple who recently dropped more than $70K on the smaller A Class (they actually went shopping for a GLA, but then fell in love with the look of the little hatch).
There, are of course, always issues with the Germans when it comes to what you do and don’t get for your tempting entry price, and in the case of our test vehicle it would stick in my craw quite badly to pay $385 extra for its Polar White paint. Yes, white paint costs extra.
While the Titan Grey Pearl and Black Lugano Leather is nice, it’s only in the car as part of the $2838 AMG Exclusive Package. Throw in the Sports Package at $1915, which gets us the sexy 19-inch AMG alloys, and the Driving Assistance Package for $1531 worth of extra active safety, drop on a dollop of LCT at $1329 and the asking price for our urban SUV hits a less-enticing-sounding $74,498.
Your standard inclusions for the $66,500 are a very lovely panoramic electric sunroof, heated and electronically adjustable front seats, with memory function, lowered comfort suspension and sports-direct steering, plus the Off-Road Engineering Package, while the standard, non AMG wheels are also 19-inch alloys, presumably just less sexy ones.
And you don't have to pay extra for Apple CarPlay, which is nice.
Priced at $39,990, before on-road costs, the ST-Line is available in exclusively with in petrol form, and sits below the petrol and diesel Titanium grade priced at $45,840 and $48,340 respectively.
Inside, sports seats replace the standard items. They're trimmed in a combination of leather (accent) and suede, with contrast red-stitching featured on the armrests, shifter boot and steering wheel.
While we love Ford’s Sync system, which is intuitive to use on the go thanks to its big, bright screen, implementation in the Escape leaves a little to be desired.
The screen is recessed to avoid unwanted glare, but the CD player (yes, you can get one in 2020!) nestled above is needlessly chunky and cumbersome.
The buttons found below the screen are also unnecessary when all functions can be handled by the touchscreen.
Further down the centre stack are the climate controls, which, while useable, feel spongey and are not well laid out.
The switchgear in the Escape ST-Line is average when the competition delivers polished and refined controls.
At least the steering wheel-mounted controls are quick and easy to use for the driver, including highly visible and clearly laid out cruise control functions.
Other standard equipment includes, push-button start, a gesture-operated powered tailgate, keyless entry, and automatic parallel parking. The auto parking function is easy to use, requiring only the push of a button and a dab of throttle.
Those after more advanced features however, such as adaptive cruise control, forward collision alert, tyre pressure monitoring and lane-keep assist will have to shell out another $800.
Engine & trans
The GLA 250 comes with 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that makes a handy 165kW and 350Nm, which is sent to all four wheels using 4MATIC all-wheel drive. The claimed 0 to 100km/h time is 6.7 seconds.
Your silky smooth gearbox is an eight-speed, or 8G-DCT automatic, in Benz speak.
The engine feels powerful enough, without being exciting, and sounds pleasant enough, without sounding sporty - it's pretty much Goldilocks for an urban SUV.
Powered by a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine, the Escape ST-Line punches out 178kW/345Nm, making it one of the most potent mainstream mid-size SUVs on the market.
Drive is sent to all four wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission.
Though all this might sound mighty on paper, keep in mind the engine is working to haul a 1700kg-plus SUV, which does tend to dull straight-line performance a little.
Overall, the Escape ST-Line’s engine is a punchy little unit that will happily rev out to its 6500rpm redline, even if it doesn’t produce the most sonorous noise at the top end.
The automatic transmission is also a good, if not great, one, that quickly up-shifts and manages slow-speed around-town duties just fine.
You will be able to catch it out when applying more throttle, though, with the six-speeder unsure when to change down and slow to do so when it makes up its mind.
And if you aren’t happy leaving the Escape ST-Line in automatic mode, there are always the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters to play with.
Our two weeks with the Escape ST-Line returned a fuel consumption average of 11.7 litres per 100km, while official figures peg the mid-size SUV at 8.2L/100km.
To be fair, we drove the Escape ST-Line exclusively in inner-city conditions, often during peak hour through Melbourne’s CBD.
With such a high driving position, the worry is that you’re going to feel like you’re sitting on the new GLA rather than in it.
But the fact is that, once I became accustomed to the fact that I couldn’t get the seat as low as I wanted to, it all became comfortable enough, and I could get on with fully appreciating the ride quality.
While the GLA has a good, Germanic solidity to the way the interior is bolted together - the doors are almost too heavy, I fact, and can be tough for little people to close - it’s the way it sits on the road that really impresses.
The little Benz soaks up the bumps, particularly in Comfort mode, and provides the kind of ride and handling quality that you’d expect in a six-figure German car. Or a Benz of old, you might say.
Critics of A Classes past were heard to complain that they just didn’t ride as softly or richly as a Mercedes should, but the company has put things to rights with its smaller cars in recent years and you really feel like you’re getting the badge you paid for here.
Step out of the cruisy, snoozy Comfort setting into Sport, however, and the CLA feels out of its, well, comfort zone. It’s almost too toey for its own good, wanting to lurch around, holding each gear desperately and making noises that are merely loud rather than sexy.
Engine noise is a little intrusive whenever you try and accelerate fiercely in the GLA, in fact, but there is some handy pace there if you really need it.
Fast driving does feel out of character for the GLA 250 variant, however, and those who want that kind of thing should wait for the AMG-fettled version that will arrive in the next month or so, bringing 225kW and 400Nm.
As a cornering weapon, this car is more of a butter knife, smoothing its way around bends with minimal bodyroll. It’s an urban SUV, and it drives like one, albeit a very good one.
Typically, the steering is also light and easy to use rather than heavy and talkative.
Being the 4-MATIC variant, the GLA 250 also offers an Off-Road mode, which takes full advantage of its torque-on-demand all-wheel-drive system, but sadly our slightly brief introduction to the car didn’t provide us with the chance to hurl it down a scree-covered mountain side, nor to test out its version of hill-descent control.
Thanks to its lowered suspension, thicker anti-roll bars and sharper steering rack, the ST-Line doesn’t flounder and sag like other SUVs when introduced to a corner.
Don’t get us wrong though, the changes don’t turn the Escape into a hot-hatch-scaring corner carver, but the ST-Line certainly feels more planted and put together than the vast majority of mid-size SUVs.
In fact, we’d put it up there as one of the best steering mainstream SUVs on the market, alongside the direct and communicative Mazda CX-5.
The by-product though is that the Escape ST-Line is a bit firmer over bumps and uneven road surfaces.
Whilst its not enough to take away from its overall polished and likeable dynamics, buyers who have young families that may prioritise comfort over sportiness will be better off looking at other Escape variants.
The GLA has not been ANCAP or Euro NCAP crash rated yet, but the first car got five stars from the Euro test and was never ANCAP tested. It’s safe to say they design their cars around being damn sure they get five stars.
You’ll also be getting no less than nine airbags - front, pelvis side and window bags for driver and front passenger, sidebags for the rear occupants and a knee bag for the driver.
In terms of active safety, the Active Brake Assist - which works up to 60km/h - is standard, as is Blind Spot Assist, with exit-warning function, which alerts the driver to approaching cyclists or vehicles when they’re about to open their door. Active Lane Keep Assist is also standard, as are the Active Bonnet, Traffic Sign Assist and Cross Wind Assist.
But you will have to stump up for the Driving Assistance Package to get things like Active Lane Change Assist, Active Emergency Braking Assist and Evasive Steering Assist.
Ford has kitted out the Escape ST-Line with all the safety equipment you would want in a new car in this class.
As previously mentioned, buyers can also option in adaptive cruise control, forward collision alert, lane-keep assist and a tyre pressure monitor for an additional $800.
With a long list of standard safety, the Ford Escape was awarded a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating when it was assessed in early 2017, which also applies to the ST-Line that was introduced in mid-2018.
Your GLA comes with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is Japanese good, if not Korean good.
In terms of servicing, you can choose to purchase a Service Plan or pay as you go with capped-price servicing.
The costs for three annual services are $2050 for the Service Plan, or $2550 with the Capped Price Servicing (first is $550, second is $750, third $1250).
Service Plans can be bought in four or five-year lots, at $2950 and $3500 respectively.
Like all new Ford Australia models, the Escape ST-Line comes with a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, along with five-year anti-corrosion assurance.
Service intervals are every 12 months/15,000km, with the first service due in two months/3000km.
The first full service will cost $360, while the second is $495 due to a brake fluid replacement that needs to be done every two years.
Service number three is back at $360, but the fourth service jumps to $750.
The Escape’s service schedule repeats this pattern until the 150,000km/10-year service, which requires a drive belt and radiator coolant replacement, increasing the cost to $895.