Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class VS Infiniti QX80
- 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
- Improved looks
- High level of comfort
- Off-road ability
- No Apple CarPlay, Android Auto
- Understeer, bodyroll
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.
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The world of upper large luxury SUVs, like Infiniti’s latest-generation QX80, occupies that rarefied air, way up high in the car market, that I’ll never breathe – and that’s okay with me.
You see, as much as I admire these plush vehicles, even if I did have the cash and the inclination to buy one, I’d be so worried about incidental damage to the exterior (shopping trolleys or other drivers’ touch-parking) or children-induced damage to the interior (car sickness, spilled food or drink, blood from sibling punch-ups in the second row) that I’d never be able to fully relax while driving the thing. (Newsflash: I’ve heard from Infiniti that the QX80’s upholstery has a soil-resistant coating.)
These pricey wagons certainly do have their fans though and now, with extensive exterior changes and some interior ones, does the QX80, based on the Y62 Nissan Patrol, actually offer anything to set it apart from other large premium SUVs? Read on.
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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 petrol-only QX80, really a Y62 Patrol with shedloads of bling, is a curious beast; a big, bold status-boosting premium SUV, which is much better suited to the US and Middle East markets than ours. However, it has a real premium feel, is very smooth to drive and the exterior and interior changes have improved what has so far been a divisive model for a brand with a small but growing fanbase here. Infiniti sold 83 of the previous QX80 in 2017 and is hoping to move 100 of these new ones in 2018; they have their work cut out for them, but if brand confidence is worth a few sales, who knows, they might even top the ton.
Is the QX80 worth its hefty price-tag, or is it simply too much cash for something that doesn’t even have mainstream connectivity functions?
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.
The bulk of the facelifted QX80’s design changes have been to the exterior and include, most noticeably, new LED headlights with a redesigned, sleeker but more aggressive front end than its predecessor’s softer, more rounded curves.
The new QX80’s bonnet is 20mm higher than before and has been extended 90mm; the side steps have been stretched 20mm wider, and the power tailgate has been re-designed to include sharper, thinner, rear LED taillights and the bumper is visually wider.
The whole body has a higher visual centre of gravity, with this latest raft of design shifts giving the SUV a taller, broader, wider and more angular overall appearance.
The interior includes a bigger, chunkier redesigned centre and rear console and those aforementioned premium touches, such as leather-wrapped heated steering wheel, updated upholstery-stitching, semi-aniline quilted leather patterning on door panels and seats, as well as its stainless-steel sill plates, all add to the premium feel.
The QX80 looks better than it did but, as the previous one was pretty hard on the eyes, the 2018 version may still polarise opinion.
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 QX80 is a big unit – 5340mm long (with a 3075mm wheelbase), 2265mm wide and 1945mm high – and, when you’re seated inside it, it feels like Infiniti designers and engineers must have worked hard to maximise the space afforded them for driver and passengers without seeming to have sacrificed any style or comfort.
And that big open space inside the cabin is easy to get comfortable in. There are soft-touch surfaces everywhere – door panels, arm rests, centre-console edging – and the seats are unsurprisingly soft and supportive but tend towards slippery when there are quick changes in speed or direction, or when tackling steep downhills off-road. (It was fun to watch front-seat passengers slip-slide around inside during the 4WD loop)
If you’re up-front you’re well catered for; big glovebox; overhead sunglasses storage; the centre console now has a roomy smartphone storage area; the twin cupholders have been upsized to cop two 1.3-litre cups with handles (up from one 1.3-litre cup and a 950ml container); the USB port has been moved to the other side of the centre console so it’s easier to get to; the storage area under the front passenger arm-rest is now a 5.4-litre compartment, able to hold up to three upright 1.0-litre bottles or tablet devices.
There are nine cupholders and two bottle-holders in total in the QX80.
There’s a sunroof if you get the urge for natural light from above.
Second-row passengers now get 8.0-inch entertainment screens (up from 7.0-inch) and two additional USB ports.
The tip-up second row seats are easy enough to operate and the third row is power 60/40 split-fold-to-flat and reclining.
There is a 12V outlet in the cargo area.
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.
Pricing has not changed: there is one model and it still costs $110,900 before on-roads and that price does not include paint other than the standard Black Obsidian; metallic paint is $1500 extra. Changes over and above the previous model’s standard features list include 22-inch 18-spoke forged alloy wheels (up from 20-inch), Infiniti’s InTouch 8.0-inch colour touchscreen (up from 7.0-inch), new Espresso Burl coloured trim, new chrome finishes all-round, updated upholstery-stitching everywhere, quilted leather patterning on seats, new headlights, LED foglights and more. There is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
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.
The previous generation’s 5.6-litre V8 petrol engine (298kW@5800rpm and 560Nm@4000rpm) remains, as does the seven-speed automatic transmission with adaptive shift control. It also has Infiniti’s all-mode 4WD system, which offers Auto, 4WD High and 4WD Low settings and it has terrain appropriate modes (sand, snow, rocks) able to be dialled in.
The QX80 is claimed to use 14.8L/100km. We reckon that fuel-consumption figure is very optimistic and if QX80 owners are partial to towing boats – as Infiniti reckons they are – or if they tackle some 4WDing, then that figure is going to climb much higher quite swiftly.
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.
In the world of luxury SUVs big is king and this thing is definitely on the chunky side of big, but it doesn’t often feel too cumbersome for its own good, or too bulky to steer in and out of Melbourne’s bustling morning traffic with precision.
During this event, we did a fair chunk of driving – highway, country roads, gravel roads and a decent bit of 4WDing – and, surprise, surprise, it did pretty well, especially when things of this ilk usually exhibit the ride and handling of an old poorly-sprung couch on wheels.
It did, however, feel top-heavy at times and revealed substantial body-roll when pushed around corners at speed or even during some sections of slow, bouncy off-roading, so I’d be reluctant to experience what it would be like without hydraulic body motion control. However, we were willing to forgive it any rocking-and-rolling when that healthy V8 growl kicked in as we gave it the boot.
The 22-inch tyre-and-wheel combination is not the way I’d go if I was going to use the QX80 for any off-road forays but, having said that, we did fine on them, at road tyre pressures, over a decent off-road loop.
It has 246mm of ground clearance and 24.2 (approach), 24.5 (departure) and 23.6 (ramp-over) angles.
The QX80 has coil springs all-round and it was only ever caught out when it thumped through a couple of surprise potholes along a dirt road.
This Infiniti model has a claimed tare mass of 2783kg, but you wouldn’t have known it was that many kegs because it powered up steep and slippery bush tracks, through deep muddy ruts, over greasy rocks and through a few knee-deep mud holes with ease. It was as easy as pulling up, switching your terrain modes and dialling in your setting: 4WD High, 4WD Low or Auto. It has a locking rear diff and very capable hill descent control, which we tested on a few rather steep sections of track.
It’s nice to see vehicle manufacturers unafraid to put their off-roaders, even their pricey luxury ones, through a decent off-road loop at launch because it shows they have confidence in its capabilities.
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 QX80 does not have an ANCAP safety rating. Safety tech as standard includes blind spot warning, intelligent parking system, forward emergency braking, lane departure prevention (incorporating lane departure warning), distance control assist and predictive forward collision warning, Infiniti/Patrol intelligent rear view mirror (which can display video from a camera mounted in the upper rear windshield) and more. It has two ISOFIX points in the second-row seats.
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.