Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class VS Land Rover Discovery Sport
- 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
Land Rover Discovery Sport
- Space efficiency
- Nice to drive
- Bit exxy
- Bit thirsty
- So-so warranty
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|
Land Rover Discovery Sport
Land Rover’s Discovery Sport occupies a close to unique position in Australia’s premium, mid-size SUV market.
At less than 4.6m long it sits at the more compact end of the segment, but offers seating for seven. Okay, Land Rover labels the layout ‘5+2’, a refreshingly up-front concession that the third row is a kids-only zone. But it’s there.
Then the Disco Sport adds all-wheel drive with multi-mode ‘Terrain Response 2’ off-road capability. Go anywhere Land Rover cred, combined with seven-seat flexibility, and a price tag sitting just over $60K, before on-road costs.
There are several mainstream equivalents, and even some more modestly priced Euro alternatives. So, is this Land Rover, which received a substantial mid-life upgrade in 2019, a demonstrably superior package? We lived with one for a week to find out.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|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.
Land Rover Discovery Sport7.6/10
Flexible, dynamically capable, and nicely put together, the Land Rover Discovery Sport S P200 packs a lot into a small/medium SUV package. It gives some ground to its premium competitors on equipment, but has a seven-seat ace up its sleeve, with genuine off-highway ability to boot.
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.
Land Rover Discovery Sport8/10
Launched globally in 2014, and arriving here a year later, the Discovery Sport was given a comprehensive makeover in mid-2019, with an evolution of its exterior design, a refreshed interior, improved tech, and optimised packaging.
But at first glance you won’t notice a huge difference. The car’s overall proportions are unchanged, the signature clamshell bonnet remains in place, as does the familiar, broad, body-coloured C-pillar, and a strong, horizontal character line running the length of the car (just under the windows).
Although it looks like the roofline tapers to the rear, it’s more a case of the base of the windows (car designers call it the beltline) rising towards the back of the car.
Styling tweaks include a new headlight shape (they’re now LED), as well as a revised lower grille and front air vents, bringing the baby Disco more in line with its larger, and newer, Land Rover siblings.
Changes at the rear are even more subtle, with a rearranged tail-light design the only discernible difference.
Interior highlights include two large digital displays - a 12.3-inch instrument cluster, and a 10.25-inch ‘Touch Pro’ multimedia screen - as well as a new centre console design.
The previous rotary gear select dial has been replaced by a more conventional shifter, buttons and controls have been made softer and set in ‘hidden-until-lit’ gloss black panels, and the door grab handles have been relocated and reshaped to be… grabbier.
A reprofiled steering wheel with sleek black control panels attached is also new, but as with the exterior, big-ticket items like the flowing dashtop, main dash panels, and key storage areas are unchanged.
Overall, the interior feel is clean, comfortable, and precisely composed. The Land Rover design team is on its game.
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.
Land Rover Discovery Sport8/10
As mentioned, the Disco Sport isn’t huge on the outside (4.6m long), but interior packaging is impressive. A dash which slopes markedly back towards the base of the front screen helps open up the front passenger space, with 12-way electric front seats (with two-way manual headrests) adding extra flexibility
There’s plenty of storage on offer, including two cupholders sitting side-by-side in the centre console, and a drop-in cover for them is supplied if you’d prefer a shallow, dished tray. There’s also a lidded storage box (which doubles as an armrest) between the front seats, a generous glove box, an overhead sunglasses holder and door pockets with enough room for bottles.
The second-row seat is amazingly roomy. Sitting behind the driver’s seat, set for my 183cm height, I had ample leg and headroom, and at getting on for 2.1m from side to side, the Discovery Sport punches above its weight division in terms of width.
Which means you can realistically seat three adults across the middle row, for short to medium length trips, at least. Adjustable air vents for back-seaters are a welcome inclusion, as are a pair of cupholders in the fold-down centre armrest, map pockets on the front seatbacks, and decent door bins.
If you’re willing to launch a UN-style diplomatic mission to negotiate relative space for those in the second- and third-row seats, the manual slide and recline function for the centre row will act as a handy mediator.
As mentioned earlier, Land Rover makes no bones about the fact that the third row is best for kids, but having that occasional seating capacity can be a godsend in helping the car accommodate extra family friends or relatives. There are cup/bottle holders and small elasticised storage pockets for each ‘way-back’ seater.
Getting in and out is relatively painless because the back doors open to almost 90 degrees, and the centre row seats fold forward easily.
Worth noting the third-row seat is standard, and removing it is a no-cost option, the trade-off being the move to a full-size spare wheel and tyre rather than the otherwise standard space-saver.
Boot capacity comes in three sizes, depending on which seats are raised or lowered. With all seats upright, load space is a modest 157 litres, enough for a few grocery bags or some soft luggage.
Drop the 50/50 split-folding third row, via a user-friendly release mechanism, and 754 litres opens up. Our three-piece hard suitcase set (36, 95 and 124 litres) slipped in with room to spare, as did the jumbo size CarsGuide pram.
Fold away the third row as well as the 40/20/40 split second row, and no less than 1651 litres will have you thinking about starting a furniture moving side hustle.
There are sturdy tie-down anchor points at each corner of the load floor, and a handy netted pocket behind the driver’s side wheel tub.
In terms of media connectivity and power options, there’s a 12-volt outlet in the front and centre rows, and a USB port up front.
‘Our’ car was fitted with the ‘Power pack 2’ option ($160), which adds USB sockets for the second and third rows, as well as a wireless charging bay up-front ($120).
Towing capacity for a braked trailer is 2200kg (with 100kg towball download), 750kg unbraked, and ‘Trailer Stability Assist’ is standard. The stability assist system detects trailer sway movements at speeds above 80km/h, and manages them through symmetric and asymmetric braking of the car.
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.
Land Rover Discovery Sport7/10
At $60,500, before on-road costs, this entry-level Discovery Sport S P200 is at the lower end of the price ballpark occupied by a slew of small-medium premium SUVs, including the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Jaguar F-Pace, Lexus NX, Merc GLC and Volvo XC60.
But not all of them are all-wheel drive, and precisely none of them offer seating for seven.
So, this Disco Sport’s value equation is critical in allowing it to stand up to its five-seat luxury rivals, stand apart from its seven-seat mainstream competitors, and get ahead of everything in between.
To that end, aside from active and passive safety tech (covered in the Safety section), this entry-level model’s standard equipment list includes, rear fog lights, auto LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, 18-inch alloy wheels, electrically-adjustable front seats, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, ambient interior lighting, and ‘Luxtec’ faux leather and suedecloth seat trim..
Then you can add, dual-zone climate control, six-speaker audio (with eight-channel amp), Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Bluetooth connectivity, sat nav, the ‘Online Pack’ (browser, WiFi, and smart settings), 10.0-inch media touchscreen, central TFT instrument display, adaptive cruise control (with speed limiter), as well as keyless entry and start.
Overall, a solid but not eyebrow raising suite of standard features for a car that’s crested the $60K barrier.
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.
Land Rover Discovery Sport8/10
The Land Rover Discovery Sport S P200 is powered by a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbo-petrol engine producing 147kW at 5500rpm and 320Nm from 1250-4500rpm.
It’s part of Jaguar Land Rover’s family of modular ‘Ingenium’ diesel and petrol engines, built around multiples of the same 500cc cylinder design.
The all-alloy unit features variable intake and exhaust cam timing, variable (intake) valve lift and a single, twin-scroll turbo.
Drive goes to all four wheels via a nine-speed (ZF-sourced) automatic transmission, and front and rear diffs, with torque on demand to the rear axle.
Land Rover Discovery Sport7/10
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 8.1L/100km, the S P200 emitting 188g/km of CO2 in the process.
Over close to 400km of city, suburban and quite a bit of freeway running, we recorded 10.1L/100km, which is a passable result.
Minimum fuel requirement is 95 RON premium unleaded and you’ll need 65 litres of it to brim the tank.
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.
Land Rover Discovery Sport8/10
Land Rover claims 2.0-litre turbo-petrol versions of the Discovery Sport will accelerate from 0-100km/h in 9.2sec. Anything under 10 seconds is reasonably swift, and the S P200 makes good use of all of its nine gear ratios to keep things on the boil.
Maximum torque of 320Nm isn’t huge pulling power, especially when we’re talking about shifting a close to 2.0-tonne (1947kg) seven-seater. But the twin-scroll turbo’s contribution means every one of those torques (actually newton-metres) is available from just 1250rpm, all the way to 4500rpm. So, mid-range performance is energetic enough.
If you really want to press on, peak power (147kW) arrives at a lofty 5500rpm, just 500rpm away from the engine’s nominal rev ceiling. At which point, having remained a relatively low-key whirr in the background, the engine makes its aural presence felt.
The Cleary family (of five) took to the highway and some rural back roads for a weekend away during the test period, and open road performance was stress-free, with more than enough oomph for easy cruising and (well-planned) overtaking.
Seamlessly shuffling drive between the front and rear axles, the Terrain Response 2 system coped admirably with graded, but slightly rutted dirt roads, the car feeling secure and composed at all times.
Suspension is strut front, multi-link rear, and ride quality is good, especially in the context of an off-highway capable SUV. And the seats proved supportive and comfy over long stints.
Standard 18-inch alloy rims are shod with 235/60 Michelin Latitude Tour HP rubber, an on-road focused tyre which proved grippy and surprisingly quiet.
Electrically-assisted steering delivers impressive feel and accuracy, while the brakes, by ventilated disc all around (349mm fr/325mm rr), are progessive and strong.
And although we didn’t push into hardcore off-road conditions, those keen on doing so will want to know the car’s wading depth is 600mm, obstacle clearance is 212mm, approach angle is 25 degrees, ramp angle is 20.6 degrees, and the departure angle is 30.2 degrees. Enjoy the rough stuff.
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.
Land Rover Discovery Sport8/10
The Land Rover Discovery Sport scored a maximum five ANCAP stars when it was assessed in 2015.
Active safety tech includes the usual suspects like ABS, EBD, EBA, traction control, stability control, and roll stability control, with higher level systems including, AEB (low- and high-speed front), lane keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, traffic sign recognition and adaptive speed limiter, adaptive cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, and driver condition monitoring.
Off-road and towing tech includes ‘Hill Descent Control’, ‘Brake Hold’, ‘All Terrain Progress Control’, and ‘Trailer Stability Assist.’
An impressive suit, but… you’ll have to pay extra for, a 360-degree surround camera, park assist, blind-spot assist, rear cross traffic alert, and tyre pressure monitoring.
If a crash is unavoidable, you’ll be protected by seven airbags (front head, front side, side curtain covering all rows, and driver’s knee).
The Discovery Sport is also equipped with an airbag under the bonnet to minimise pedestrian injuries. Big tick for that..
There are three top tether points to secure child seats/baby capsules across the centre row seat, with ISOFIX anchors on the two outer positions.
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.
Land Rover Discovery Sport7/10
Land Rover offers a three year/100,000km warranty in Australia, with 24-hour roadside assistance included for the duration.
That’s well off the mainstream pace, which sits at five years/unlimited km, but on the upside, three years paint surface cover, and a six year anti-corrosion warranty are part of the deal.
Service requirement is variable, with a range of on-board sensors feeding into a service interval indicator in the vehicle, although you can use 12 months/20,000km as a guide.
A fixed ‘Land Rover Service Plan’ set at five years/102,000km is available for $1950, which isn’t too shabby at all.