Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class VS Range Rover 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
Range Rover Sport
- Super comfortable
- SD4 engine very sensible
- Looks a bit dated in darker colours
- Options pricing scary
- Missing a couple of useful safety features as standard
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|
Range Rover Sport
Let's get straight to the point. The thing that will send shivers through the muddy-boots-and-shotgun set. The thing that will upset Range Rover traditionalists to their very core.
|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.
Range Rover Sport7.4/10
The Range Rover Sport is a fine alternative to the largely German competition. As the name suggets, it's aimed at the Audi Q7/BMW X5 set, even if it isn't as quick or as agile as the sportiest of those.
The surprising thing about this particular machine is the four-cylinder diesel. While probably considered a heresy by many, it's an excellent engine for a car that has had a much-needed interior technology boost.
It is looking a bit old elsewhere, though, especially beside the Velar and Range Rover. It can't be long before an exterior facelift comes along.
Can you even contemplate a four-cylinder Range Rover?
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.
Range Rover Sport7/10
The Range Rover Sport is clearly here to evoke (cough) both Range Rover's forward-looking design language, pioneered in the Evoque, as well as the traditional look of the Range Rovers of old. Only problem is, in the darker grey of the test car, it looked a bit dated. Which is weird.
All of the good things were there (like LED daytime running lights, headlights and tail-lights) but the two-tone effect of the blacked-out pillars and roof just didn't really work. Well, not for me anyway.
The finer details of the Range Rover and the Evoque don't seem to have made it to the Sport. I saw one in a lighter colour and thought it looked much better, more modern. Maybe I was having an off week.
The cabin is really good and has had a little freshening up. The 10-inch touchscreen is new and carries the new version of Jag's InControl system. Underneath is the very appealing, if slightly overblown, climate control screen, with its funky dials-with-temperature-display treatment. The materials are excellent throughout, and it's a very comfortable, relaxing cabin.
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.
Range Rover Sport8/10
Like its big brother, the Sport isn't small. It's only 15cm shorter, at 4.85 metres, and, if you so choose, you can cram two more seats in to make seven. If you don't, the boot will hold a striking 684 litres. Drop the back seats and that figure jumps to 1761 litres.
Front seat passengers have plenty of storage options, with two deep bins, one of which is underneath the pair of sliding cupholders - I was sorely tempted to fill them with water, slide them out of the way and launch Thunderbird 1 from the huge space underneath.
There are another two cupholders in the back, and pockets in the doors, but they're not really good for bottles. That's what the Thunderbird 1 hidey-hole is for.
Passengers have plenty of space, with good leg and headroom for those in the rear - who will be quite happy, even if they're over 180cm. My 185cm son was happy enough being chauffeured about.
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.
Range Rover Sport7/10
The SE SD4 occupies the second rung on the Sport ladder, weighing in at an almost reasonable $98,400. That gets you 19-inch alloys, an eight-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, remote central locking, keyless start, front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera, cruise control, leather trim, electric front seats, sat nav, a powered tailgate, powered everything else, heated folding mirrors and a full-size spare.
The most recent version of Jaguar Land Rover's 'InControl' is accessed through a new 10-inch touchscreen. The new software is less colourful than before, but it's easier to use and understand. The optional 13-speaker stereo is a belter, but is still bereft of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto - although we are regularly assured it's on the way.
'Our' car had the following options - 'Off Road Pack' (twin-speed transfer box, 'All Terrain Progress Control', adaptive dynamics, terrain response and air suspension; $5610), 'Comfort and Convenience Pack' (power gesture tailgate, 60/40 split rear seats, keyless entry and start, soft door close and other bits; $5130), sliding panoramic sunroof ($4420), 20-inch alloys ($2520), matrix LED headlights ($2450), head-up display ($2420!), illuminated metal treadplates (oh, come on - $2310), metallic paint ($2200), surround camera system ($1890), heated front and rear seats ($1630), 'Drive Pack' (blind-spot monitoring and driver-condition monitor; $1080), tow hitch receiver ($1000), DAB ($950), privacy glass ($950), upgraded 13-speaker sound system ($800), solar attenuating windscreen ($680), wade sensing ($610), cabin air ionisation ($460), auto high beam ($330) and domestic plug power sockets ($130). All up, that's $138,920.
If you ask me, paying for blind-spot detection and keyless entry at this level is pretty stiff.
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.
Range Rover Sport8/10
The SD4 badge means a Ingenium diesel, JLR's very own brand of engine, lurks beneath the bonnet. In this case, it produces 177kW and 500Nm of torque. It's worth noting that the older 3.0-litre SDV6 diesel in the Range Rover betters this new 2.0-litre, four-cylinder twin-turbodiesel by just 13kW and 100Nm.
You can tow a mammoth 3500kg braked and 750kg unbraked, although it's worth noting that the first figure requires bravery and/or training. And a lot of braking room.
Range Rover Sport7/10
Range Rover's official figure puts combined-cycle consumption at 6.5/100km, which seemed realistic, even for this 2100kg machine. We got just under 10.0L/100km in mostly suburban cruising with a couple of short highway runs. So a decent miss, but not really a particularly varied week.
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.
Range Rover Sport7/10
It might not be that much smaller than its Range Rover big brother, but it feels much easier to manoeuvre from the moment you slip behind the wheel. You sit lower in the Sport, and it feels more agile from the second you get moving.
Just for starters, the steering is much quicker, meaning less arm-twirling. The suspension is firmer, and the front end much more interested in firing through corners. While the Range Rover is super-smooth and calm, the Sport has a bit more aggro and doesn't mind being driven hard.
In the places where it will spend most of its time - suburban streets and highways - it's brilliant. Yes, it's big, and therefore you need your wits about you (a standard blind-spot monitor would help), and parking spaces aren't always big enough, but the smooth ride and cosseting cabin will ensure calm progress.
For a whopper of a car, you'd think a four-cylinder turbodiesel would get a bit lost, but it's more than up to the task of shifting the two-tonner, spinning happily and quietly to keep you moving. The Ingenium engines are terrific things in petrol or diesel, but this diesel feels very much at home here.
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.
Range Rover Sport8/10
The Sport arrives with six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, brake assist, reversing camera, forward-collision warning, forward AEB and lane-departure warning. Irritatingly, a blind-spot monitor is an option, which sucks in a car this big.
Neither ANCAP nor EuroNCAP has awarded a safety rating to the Sport.
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.
Range Rover Sport7/10
Range Rover offers a three-year/100,000km warranty with roadside assist for the duration. That's starting to look light-on as non-premium makers pile in to offer five years. The roadside assist covers the usual stuff, but they will also come and get you out of a bog if you've gone rogue on four-wheel-drive trails.
You can cap your service prices with a service plan up to five years/130,000km, and servicing is required every 12 months/26,000km.