Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class VS Kia Sportage
- 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
- Unique looks
- Great ride and handling
- Great safety tech
- Lower grades interior big step down from GT-Line
- No hybrid variant
- Service costs are on the pricey side
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|
You know how Daniel Radcliffe used to just be that awkward kid from Harry Potter and now he’s a ruggedly handsome, but quirky bloke that could easily play James Bond? Well, that’s what’s happened to the Kia Sportage.
This mid-sized SUV has gone from the bug-eyed little unit of 2016 to this bigger wilder-looking new generation model.
Read more about the
After reading this review of the new Sportage range, you’ll know more than the car dealer. You’ll know how much it costs, which Sportage is the best value, all about its safety tech, how practical it is, what it costs to service and what it’s like to drive.
Ready? Let’s go.
|Fuel Type||Regular 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.
The old Sportage was popular but it was too small and lacked refinement and cabin-tech which the latest version of the RAV4 and Tucson had. This new generation leapfrogs those cars in all ways, from design, craftsmanship and tech to ride and handling.
The only area where the Sportage is lacking is not having a hybrid variant, which can be bought overseas, but not here.
The sweet spot in the range is the SX+ with the 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine. It’s the best value with the best engine.
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 new-generation Sportage is an angular, aggressive-looking thing of beauty… to my eyes anyway.
I love that it appears to be designed without caring if people are going to like the look of it or not and it’s this brave confidence in its uniqueness that I think will win people over and prevent it from dating too quickly.
It seems that we live in an age where our cars all wear extravagant masks and the Sportage’s is the most intriguing of the lot with its arrow-like LED running lights and big, low mesh grille.
It feels almost extra-terrestrial. And so does the tailgate with those superbly detailed tail-lights and tailgate lip spoiler.
Inside, the angular look is carried through the cabin and seen in the door handle and air vent design.
The Sportage’s cabin is stylish, modern and feels well crafted even in the entry grade S. But it’s the GT-Line where the curved enormous screens come in and leather upholstery.
Yes, the lower grades aren’t as fancy as the GT-Line. They don’t have all the textured surfaces, and the S and SX have many blank panels where the higher grades sprout actual buttons.
It’s a shame Kia seemed to focus all its energy into the top-of-the-range car’s interior design.
Still, I can’t believe this is a Kia. Well, I can actually. I’ve witnessed the standard in design, engineering and tech climb higher and higher over the past 10 years to a point where the quality feels almost indistinguishable from Audi and far more creative in design.
At 4660mm end-to-end the new Sportage is 175mm longer than the previous model but it’s about the same width at 1865mm wide and height at 1665mm tall (1680mm with the bigger roof rails).
The old Sportage was smaller than the latest Toyota RAV4. The new one is bigger.
The Kia Sportage comes in eight colours: 'Clear White', 'Steel Grey', 'Gravity Grey', 'Vesta Blue', 'Dawning Red', 'Fusion Black', 'Snow White Pearl' and 'Jungle Wood Green.'
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.
A bigger Sportage means more room inside. A lot more. The boot is 16.5 per cent larger than the previous model at 543 litres. That’s a litre more than the RAV4’s cargo capacity.
Room in the second row has also increased by eight per cent. For somebody like me who’s 191cm that’s the difference between being cramped in the back and sitting comfortably with plenty of knee room behind their driving position.
Cabin storage is excellent with big door pockets in the front, four cupholders (two in the front and two in the rear) and a deep centre console storage bin.
There are two USB ports in the dash (a type A and a type C), plus another two in the second row for the higher grades. A wireless phone charger comes on the GT-Line.
All grades have directional air vents for the second row and privacy glass for those back windows is on the SX+ and up.
Sportages with the manual gearbox have less centre console storage space than their automatic siblings which have an expansive adaptable area around the shifter for loose items.
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 entry-point into the Sportage range is the S grade with the 2.0-litre engine and manual gearbox and it lists for $32,445. If you want an auto it’ll be $34,445. The S with this engine is front-wheel drive only.
The 2.0-litre engine also comes in the SX grade and that’s $35,000 for the manual and $37,000 for the auto. The 2.0-litre in SX+ guise is $41,000 and it’s auto only.
Also auto only are the grades with the 1.6-litre turbo-petrol and diesel engine, they're all-wheel drive-only, too.
There’s the SX+ with the 1.6-litre for $43,500 and the GT-Line for $49,370.
Then the diesel comes in: S for $39,845, SX $42,400, SX+ for $46,900, and GT-Line for $52,370.
Coming standard on the entry-grade S are 17-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a digital instrument cluster, a six-speaker stereo, reverse camera and rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, fabric seats, air conditioning, LED headlights and those LED running lights.
The SX adds 18-inch alloys, a 12.3-inch display, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto (but you’ll need a cord), sat nav and dual-zone climate control.
The SX+ gets 19-inch alloys, an eight-speaker Harman Kardon stereo, heated front seats with a powered driver’s seat, privacy glass and a proximity key.
The GT-Line has dual, curved 12.3-inch screens, leather seats (powered front ones) and a panoramic sunroof.
The sweet spot in the range is the SX+ with the 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine. It’s the best value with the best engine.
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.
There are three engines in the Sportage line-up. A 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol making 115kW/192Nm, which was also in the previous model.
A 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine producing 137kW/416Nm and again, this was in the old Sportage.
But a new 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine has been added (replacing the previous 2.4-litre petrol) with an output of 132kW/265Nm.
A six-speed manual or auto can be had with the 2.0-litre petrol engine, a regular eight-speed automatic comes on the diesel and a seven-speed dual-clutch (DCT) automatic is the 1.6-litre engine’s transmission.
If you plan on towing the diesel is the way to go with a 1900kg braked towing capacity. The petrol engines with the auto and DCT have a 1650kg braked towing capacity.
The 2.0-litre petrol Sportage is front-wheel drive, while those with the diesel or 1.6-litre are all-wheel drive.
What’s missing is the hybrid version of the Sportage which is sold overseas. As I’ve said in the fuel section below, if Kia doesn’t bring one into Australia, I think it’ll become a deal-breaker for those tossing up between a RAV4 Hybrid and a petrol-only Kia Sportage.
This would be one of the Sportage’s very few weak points.
Kia says after a combination of open and urban roads the 2.0-litre petrol engine with the manual should use 7.7L/100km while the auto will use 8.1L/100km.
The 1.6-litre turbo-petrol engine is more efficient using 7.2L/100km, while the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine will need just 6.3L/100km.
Kia sells a hybrid version of the Sportage overseas, and it will need to bring it to Australia. This area of fuel use and power systems will, as I’ve said, soon become a deal breaker for many Aussies.
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.
Not only does the dual-clutch automatic feel smoother in the Kia than the Tucson and acceleration with any engine in the Sportage feels better than what the RAV4 can deliver, but the ride and handling is on another level, too.
I find the Tucson too floaty, the RAV a bit wooden and the Outlander lacking composure and hard on most roads.
On the wide range of roads I tested the Sportage on it was not just comfortable but a better handler as well.
Pretty simple answer for this. The Sportage is the only one of these SUVs which has had an Australian engineering team design the suspension system for our roads.
This was done by driving them and trying different combinations of shock absorbers and springs until the ‘tune’ was right.
This type of care is what sets Kia apart from not just most car manufacturers but even its sister company Hyundai, which has done away with local suspension tuning and the ride has suffered as a result.
To be fair the steering isn’t what I’d have expected from Kia. It’s a tad too light and lack feels but that happens to be the one area the local engineering team weren’t able to have a great deal of input over due to restrictions from COVID-19.
For something which looks like a cheese grater from the outside, visibility from the inside is excellent. And from the inside there’s hardly wind noise, either.
I drove the diesel Sportage which felt like it had the most shove (well it has the most torque and power). I also piloted the 2.0-litre petrol with the manual gearbox and that was fun on country roads, although it’s hard work in city traffic.
But the best was the GT-Line with the 1.6-litre turbo-petrol engine which doesn’t just accelerate hard and fast for the class, but the shifts are smooth from the dual clutch auto, more so than the DCT in the Tucson.
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 Sportage is yet to be given an ANCAP safety rating, and we will report on this when it’s announced.
All grades have AEB which can detect cyclists and pedestrians even at traffic junctions, there’s lane departure warning and lane keeping assistance, rear cross-traffic alert with braking, and blind spot warning as well.
All Sportages have a driver and front passenger airbag, driver and passenger side airbags, two curtain airbags and new to the model is a front centre airbag.
For child seats there are three top tether mounts and two ISOFIX points in the second row.
All Sportages also come with a full-sized spare wheel under the boot floor. No silly space saver here. Do you know how rare that is these days? That’s outstanding.
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.
The Sportage is covered a seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.
Servicing is recommended at 12 month/15,000km intervals and the cost is capped. For the 2.0-litre petrol engine the total cost over seven years is $3479 ($497 per year), for the 1.6-litre petrol it’s $3988 ($570 per year) and for the diesel it’s $3624 ($518 per year).
So, while the warranty is longer than is offered by most car brands, the Sportage's service pricing is generally dearer than the rivals.