Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class VS Mazda CX-8
- 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
- Easier to park than a CX-9, with almost as much space inside
- Much more useful boot than CX-5
- Very comfortable to drive
- Big price jump between Sport and Asaki
- No CarPlay until late 2018
- No petrol option
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|
Remember Mr McGreg from The Simpsons who copped the brunt of Dr Nick Riviera? "With a leg for an arm and an arm for a leg."
It may have the long wheelbase and seven-seat layout of a CX-9 but the narrower width of a CX-5, and the headlights from the latter and tail-lights from the former, but it's all for good reasons, and plonks the new model right between the two in Mazda's very appealing SUV line-up.
This is indeed a foot in both the mid-size and large SUV camps, but also gives Mazda an answer to the emerging range of seven-seat mid-sizers like the CR-V, Kodiaq, 5008, X-Trail, Outlander, and upcoming Tiguan Allspace.
Its journey to Australia has not been an easy one, being classified as a Japan-only model when it was revealed late last year and arriving with a relatively limited model line-up and no petrol drivetrain option.
With the coat-tails of CX-5's five-year run as Australia's favourite SUV to ride on, combined with the CX-9's credentials forming the other half of its gene pool, there's a very good chance a lot of Australians will be glad it made the trip.
We were among the first to drive the CX-8 at its Australian launch this week.
|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.
Mazda has taken a little of Column A and a little of Column B to bridge the gap between CX-5 and CX-9 quite nicely. It could only be better with the CX-9s petrol engine and perhaps a few more trim levels, but it's a good thing. Having said that, the sweet spot is definitely the two-wheel drive Sport, because it comes with what I consider to be all the important features, and represents the best value.
Will the CX-8 tempt you up from a CX-5 or down from a CX-9? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
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.
Rather than a smaller CX-9, it's fairest to describe the CX-8 as a long-wheelbase CX-5 given it shares all panelwork from the B-pillar forward with the latter. Everything rearward is unique aside from its tail-lights, however.
CX-8 development boss Hideki Matsuoka explains his team started with the CX-9 though, with the seven seat layout a core element of the project. Rear legroom was another key criteria, which is why it uses the CX-9's 2930mm wheelbase to match the large SUV.
The rear doors have been extended accordingly to optimise rear seat access, following a formula only used by the Kodiaq, 5008 and Tiguan Allspace to date.
Retaining the CX-5's 1840mm width was also important for easier manoeuvrability, but it's worth noting that the CX-8's 11.6m turning circle is closer to the CX-9's 11.8 than the CX-5's 11.0.
The 129mm narrower body, shorter front and rear overhangs and 175mm shorter overall length than the CX-9 are certain to be beneficial when parking though.
The net result can look like an elongated CX-5 from the front three-quarter view – surprise, surprise – but in isolation it's yet another fine Kodo-era SUV design.
The interior is a similar package, with the dash and door trims from the CX-5 blending with the split-lidded centre console from the CX-9. Everything rearward is also unique, and the top-spec Asaki's presentation nudges premium brands with actual wood trim on the dash and nappa leather on the seats, particularly in the optional and CX-8-specific 'Dark Russet' colour.
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.
Mazda defines the life stage of a typical CX-8 owner as having two kids under their belt and considering a third, with the need to often bring their friends along for the ride.
This sits above the CX-3's 'young people or young couple' profile and the CX-5's 'couple thinking about kids or have a kid', but beneath the CX-9 as the go-to for large families.
The key element of the CX-8's remit is clearly the third row of seats, which has been designed to suit heights up to 170cm, which essentially means taller kids. This 172cm tester found it quite cosy, but possible, so you wouldn't want to push it much further. Legroom is officially within 5mm of the CX-9, but the limiting factor is headroom.
Access to the third row is as easy as you could hope for thanks to those long doors opening 80 degrees, with the second row sliding forward from either side with a single action. The third row also folds flat with a simple single action for either pew.
The second row is really just a narrower version of the CX-9's with the same legroom and ample headroom for this tester. It won't swallow three adults or child seats as comfortably as a CX-9, and you'd need to choose your child seat carefully if attempting the latter.
The sliding second row seat is likely to make for much more comfortable front seating with a rearward facing child seat fitted, too.
On that note, the CX-8 has the same child seat anchorage layout as the CX-9, with ISOFIX mounts for the outward second row seats, and top tether points for all five rear seats.
Despite having a shorter rear overhang than the CX-9, the CX-8 still manages to have a useful 209 litres (VDA) of space in the boot (loaded to the roof) with the third row upright, which expands to 742 litres VDA (loaded to the roof), or a much bigger space than the CX-5 with the third row folded.
Both rear rows fold flat to reveal 1727 litres (VDA) in total, and there's a further 33 litres of underfloor storage.
The CX-8 retains all the other important practicality elements, including bottle holders and cupholders for all three rows, 12-volt and USB points, and there's tri-zone climate control that gives second row passengers an extra zone, but like the CX-9 there's no individual ventilation for the third row.
If you're looking to tow with the CX-8, it carries the same 2000kg braked tow rating as the CX-9, which is 200kg ahead of the figure applied to all CX-5s.
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.
Unlike the broad variant spectrum available with other Mazdas, the CX-8 is limited to just two trim levels; Sport and Asaki.
The Sport is available in two- and all-wheel drive configurations, which carry list prices of $42,490 and $46,490 respectively and sit a significant margin beneath the $61,490 Asaki.
The CX-8 Sport slightly undercuts the petrol-only CX-9 Sport by $1400 in either two- or all-wheel drive (AWD) forms.
The nearest diesel CX-5 would be the GT diesel at $46,590, but remember that every diesel CX-5 comes with AWD.
The CX-8 Asaki is only available with AWD, and priced $12,300 more than the top-spec CX-5 Akera, but $3300 less than the top-spec CX-9 Azami. In a nutshell, it's a bit cheaper than the CX-9 at either end of the range.
The Sport's standard feature list includes all the important safety gear, which you can read about in detail below, plus cloth seat trim but leather steering wheel, three-zone climate control, 7.0-inch multimedia screen with sat nav and digital radio, but no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto until it becomes optional later this year.
Sports also come with a head-up display, active cruise control, LED auto headlights, auto wipers, heated and power folding door mirrors, plus auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and can be best identified on the outside by their 17-inch alloys.
Over the Sport, the Asaki adds things like nappa leather seat trim with power adjustable front seats, seat heaters for the first two rows, a heated steering wheel, Bose stereo, real wood trim, rear window blinds, a power tailgate, proximity keys, a 360 degree camera system, front parking sensors, adaptive headlights, plus LED daytime running lights and fog lights.
Does that sound like an extra $15,000 worth? I'm not sure, particularly given the best way to pick the Asaki on the outside is by its bigger 19-inch alloys.
Mazda expects the two-wheel drive (2WD) Sport to represent 60 per cent of CX-8 sales, with the AWD version just 10 per cent, and the top Asaki making up the remaining 30 per cent.
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.
Yes, the CX-8 is diesel only, in a similar way to the CX-9's petrol-only status. The CX-8 was designed exclusively for diesel-loving Japan, which doesn't get the bigger CX-9 which was largely developed to suit petrol-loving US tastes.
Australia's proven love for Mazdas – currently the number two brand in our market - got the local business case across the line, which also included New Zealand. Fun fact: This leaves the Antipodean markets as the only two in the world to retail both CX-8 and CX-9.
The CX-5's relative breadth of drivetrain options comes down to the mid-size SUV's global appeal.
The 2.2-litre twin-turbo-diesel is the same revised 140kW/450Nm unit fitted recently to the CX-5 and Mazda6. Maximum torque is available from just 2000rpm, which helps mask the six-speed torque converter auto's relatively low ratio count.
AWD versions come with the clever 'i-ACTIV' drive system, which embraces numerous sensors to predict surface changes before the tyre encounters them and react accordingly.
The 2WD CX-8 Sport carries an impressive 5.7L/100km official combined fuel consumption figure, and the two AWD variants are only 0.3L behind at 6.0L/100km.
The 2WD CX-8 figure matches diesel CX-5s, which are AWD, and compares with the 8.4 and 8.8 figures applied to 2WD and AWD versions of the CX-9 respectively.
With the 72 litre fuel tank from the 2WD CX-9, this suggests a very impressive theoretical range of 1263km for the 2WD CX-8, or 1200km from the AWDs.
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.
My first impression behind the wheel is very diesel CX-5, which is of course a good thing.
If you've been following Mazda's recent efforts with refinement in the updated 6 and CX-5, you'll be pleased to know the same formula has been applied to the CX-8. These cars are achieving their goal of troubling the established premium brands for comfort.
You can certainly feel the extra length over the CX-5, and for the most part this means better ride comfort over bumps as there's less pitching forward and backwards.
It also feels longer when chucking a U-turn or parking – don't forget that extra 60cm of turning circle.
As always, the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel makes for relaxed cruising, but you can feel the effect of the extra 200 kilos of weight over the CX-5. It's not quite as spritely, but still more than enough for highway overtaking, and it's still more nimble around corners than a proper large SUV.
The CX-8 would probably be a better package with the CX-9's turbo-petrol, but the diesel's economy will probably win over a lot of buyers, particularly with that huge theoretical range between fills.
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 CX-8 is yet to be tested by ANCAP to see if it's worthy of the maximum five star ratings applied to the CX-5 and CX-9, but an announcement is expected in the near future.
Mazda expects it will get top marks, so our safety score is a tentative on that basis. Do check before signing on the dotted line.
Both trim levels come with airbags covering all three rows, front and rear AEB, reversing camera, rear parking sensors with cross traffic alerts, traffic sign recognition, auto high beams, blind-spot monitoring, lane guidance and lane departure warning.
The Asaki adds rear parking sensors, proximity keys and active headlights.
One feature Japanese CX-8s miss out on, which Australian versions don't, is 'Intelligent Speed Assistance'.
This coordinates the active cruise control with the traffic sign recognition to automatically adjust your speed as you pass through different speed zones. This is likely to be particularly popular with Victorian CX-8 owners...
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 CX-8 is covered by Mazda's regular three year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is starting to look a bit brief among the many five year and beyond periods on offer from other manufacturers.
The 'Mazda Service Select' capped price servicing plan applies, if 12 month/10,000km intervals are adhered to. Base scheduled maintenance for the first three services will set you back $318, $458 and $318 respectively.