Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class VS Holden Captiva
- 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
- It's cheap
- It's big
- Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
- It's old
- It's a bit noisy
- Lacks the finesse of the competition
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.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Holden wasn't the first manufacturer to find itself bereft of a big SUV when the fuse was lit by BMW and Mercedes as the last millennium came to a close. Ford responded with the Territory while Holden jacked-up a V8 Commodore and slapped the Adventra badge on it. Sadly, it didn't work, and so the Captiva was the next best option, procured from what was then called Daewoo.
As a result of that that little blip on the economic radar, the GFC, and an on-going re-organisation of General Motors, the Korean-built Captiva has lasted rather longer than anyone expected.
It first launched with two bodystyles, but is now down to one, the bigger and more practical seven seat body shell.
|Engine Type||2.2L turbo|
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.
The Captiva is very, very long in the tooth and is heading towards retirement some time in the next twelve months. Before then, it's a lot of car for the money, particularly the seven seat LS. It's not fast, flash or futuristic but it will do the job and with all of the early problems sorted, will probably do it for quite some time.
The Captiva's low scores are mostly to do with the car just being old and feeling it, with dodgier plastics, slightly undercooked ride and handling and a lack of engine and safety tech. It doesn't mean it's a terrible car, because it isn't and Holden papers up the cracks with a low starting price and good after-sales.
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.
Formerly known as the Captiva 7, the seven seat body has remained mostly the same for its 11 years on sale. The only real changes have been around the front end, with Holden several times fiddling with the grille, lights and bumpers. There's nothing flash about the Captiva, but you know exactly what it is coming at you, with the double grille and big Holden badge.
In profile there's a lot of the original BMW X5 if you squint, right down to the copyright lawyer-dodging shape of the rear quarter window. It also has that X5's big gaps between wheelarch and tyres and a good view of the wheelarch itself. If that's your thing.
Little has changed at the back apart from bumpers and the LED effect lights added in the last update in 2014. It's unlikely you're buying the Captiva as auto haute couture, though.
Inside is basic, and you can place the Captiva's genesis in the mid-2000s, there's a certain generic GM feel to it. The switchgear feels old and clacky, the plastics are hard but do fit well enough. An Audi interior it isn't. The update in 2014 to make the 7.0-inch screen fit in the dashboard is fairly obvious and it's a shame the whole dash couldn't have been replaced. The huge steering wheel surrounds a tightly packed instrument cluster with small dials and a very old-looking LCD panel for trip computer duties.
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.
The Captiva's interior dimensions are impressive. In seven seat versions, the boot space starts at 87 litres, expanding to a handy 465 litres with the 50/50 split fold rear row stowed. Flop the middle row forward and you're up at 930 litres, a good size cargo area that could swallow a flat-pack wardrobe. If you snaffle a five-seat version, you can remove the boot floor panels to reveal another couple of hundred litres of hidey holes.
There are cup holders up front (two), in the middle row (two) and in the boot (one, strangely) for a total of five. In the seven seater, two will go thirsty.
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.
The Captiva's value is heavily dependent on the model you choose. Standard features across the range (starting with the LS) include a 7.0-inch touchscreen running MyLink, a six-speaker stereo with AM/FM radio, Bluetooth, cruise control, rear parking sensors, reversing camera, auto headlights, leather steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, three 12 volt power outlets, keyless entry and start and a tyre inflation kit in place of an (optional) spare tyre.
No Captiva comes standard with sat nav as they all feature Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which both use your phone's GPS apps.
There are four models, three 'standard' specifications - LS, LT, and the top of the range LTZ, with a fourth version in the form of the five seat only Active 'special' edition, that isn't.
Pricing starts at $26,490 for the 2.4-litre LS (with five seats and five-speed manual gearbox), $28,690 for the auto, and the diesel comes in at $31,690. Seven-seat LS pricing ranges from $30,490 for the petrol and $33,490 for the diesel, both six-speed automatics.
The Active enters the price list at $31,990 drive away. Based on the five-seat petrol LS (to be discontinued in May 2017), the auto-only Active adds 18-inch alloys, textile leather seats and a cargo cover. There's also a similarly specified seven seat version at $33,490.
On to the LT, and the price rises to $37,490 for the petrol and $38,490 for the diesel, both of them seven seaters. Part of the big jump for the LT is explained by the petrol engine switching to Holden's 190kW 3.0-litre V6 and the addition of all-wheel drive (AWD). The LT picks up a sunroof, bigger alloys, side steps, cloth trim with "Sportec" bolsters on the front seats and powered heated mirrors.
The LTZ's pricing is a mixed bag. Ordinarily, the V6-powered version would attract an rrp (carmakers insist we call it MLP, manufacturer's list price) of $40,490, with the diesel adding a thousand dollars to weigh in at $41,490. However, Holden is running a long promotion offering the LTZ V6 at $35,990 drive away with three years of free servicing.
The LTZ has 19-inch wheels, leather-look trim, electric driver's seat and front parking sensors.
You can choose one of seven colours - black, white, red, silver, blue, brown and grey and all but white will cost you $550. Orange is no longer on the menu, no matter how much you want it to be 2007 again.
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.
If you like a choice of engine size, you've come to the right place. The Captiva has three engine specs in the range - two petrols and a diesel.
The smaller petrol, a 2.4-litre four-cylinder, produces 123kW at 5600rpm and 230Nm at 4600rpm. Driving the front wheels, this motor is available with choice of gearbox, either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. This 2.4 is only available on the LS and Active.
The 24-valve 3.0 SIDI V6 is available on LT and LTZ and produces 190kW at 6900rpm and 288Nm at 5800rpm.
The single diesel is a 2.2-litre iron block with common rail direct-injection and makes 135kW at 3800rpm and a stout 400Nm within a very usable range of 1750-2750rpm. You can have the oil burner in all three trim levels, driving the front wheels in the LS and four-wheel drive in the LT and LTZ.
Both the V6 and diesel are available only with the six-speed automatic transmission.
Unlike earlier Captiva models, none of these engines feature a timing belt. Those early engines suffered from issues related to the fabric belt while problems with the later timing chain driven engines are less common. Reliability of the V6 is well-proven in the Commodore while later four cylinders also perform well.
Zero to 100km/h performance varies between the engines. The 2.4 will reach 100km/h in around 10.5 seconds while the V6 is rather quicker at 8.6. The diesel falls right in the middle at 9.6 seconds.
We've not yet carried out a towing review, but according to Holden, towing capacity is rated at 750kg for unbraked trailers and 2000kg braked.
If you're after good fuel economy, the Captiva probably isn't the car for you.
The 2.4-litre petrol is quoted at 9.7L/100km on the combined cycle but, as we recently discovered, is more likely to return closer to 12.5L/100km.
Diesel fuel consumption on the official combined cycle is listed at 8.5L/100km but our most recent test yielded a slightly startling figure of 12.9L/100km. The diesel's performance, particularly in the gears, is better than either petrol but it appears you'll pay for it.
The big banger V6's official fuel consumption figure is listed at 10.7L/100km, but past CarsGuide reviews suggest 14.0L/100km is a more likely real world figure. As far as fuel economy goes, diesel vs petrol usually falls to the diesel, but not in this case.
Fuel tank capacity is identical across the range at 65 litres.
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.
You sit on the Captiva rather than in it, a feeling encouraged by the flat, shapeless seats. It doesn't matter which Captiva you choose, the front seats are not exactly huggy but they'll certainly take people of all shapes and sizes.
You twist a funny knob where the key barrel used to be to start the engine. The view out front and out the sides is commanding as there is a fair bit of glass all around, with just the view out the rear window restricted as it's quite small. If you've got passengers, forget it, but the reversing camera will save the day there.
The ride is, for the most part, reasonable, but will deteriorate along with the road surface. The suspension isn't very quiet and the overall firm feeling delivers passable handling, which you'd expect from a big heavy machine like this. It doesn't have anything like the finesse of much younger metal from Hyundai, Kia and Mazda.
The diesel specs suggest strong performance and that's exactly what you get. It's by far the torquiest of the three engines and shifts the Captiva's two tonnes with reasonable verve. It's a noisy, grumbly unit but works well with the six-speed auto.
The engine specs of the two petrols don't really tell the story. While the V6 is quicker in a straight line, its extra weight knocks the shine off the torque increase and the engine itself isn't a shining example of modern engine tech. Actually, neither of them are, missing out on stop-start and other goodies.
This isn't an off-road review, but moderately ambitious mud-plugging is doable in the AWD models, with a ground clearance of 200mm but no low range or off-road mode. We even checked the manual to make doubly sure there wasn't a diff lock button hidden somewhere.
As ever, the idea here is that when you're buying a Captiva you're buying a lot of space and a cheap ownership experience.
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.
The Captiva carries six airbags, ABS, traction and stability controls, hill descent control, brake force distribution, active rollover protection, brake assist and three ISOFIX points, in addition to the reversing camera and rear parking sensors.
The Captiva's maximum five star ANCAP safety rating was awarded in November 2011.
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.
As with all new Holdens, the Captiva owner benefits from a three year/100,00km warranty and lifetime capped price servicing. All prices are available on Holden's website.
Service costs for the diesel are significantly higher than the either of petrols, but do include oil changes.
The standard package also includes a year of roadside assist.
For common faults and complaints, check out our Holden Captiva problems page, which covers known automatic transmission problems, engine problems and diesel problems. There aren't any widespread diesel engine problems with the later version.
Resale value is often a consideration and we've looked at the last major update, released in 2014.
A seven seat Series II LS from 2014 - the second major update for the Captiva after the 2011 update addressed lingering problems - cost $30,490 when new and will trade at around $13000-$15000, below fifty per cent of the purchase price, with private sales a little higher.
An LTZ diesel from the same period sold for $41,490 and trades in the 45 to 50 per cent of purchase price and a little over 50 per cent in private sales.