Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class VS Mini Countryman
- 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
- More mature looks
- Safety overhaul
- Still fun to drive
- Ride can feel overly firm on standard suspension
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Inevitable price hikes
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|
Andrew Chesterton road tests and reviews the new Mini Countryman Cooper, Cooper D, Cooper S and Cooper SD All4 with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch in Canberra.
Mini's new Countryman is officially the least mini Mini ever made. So un-Mini, in fact, it now stretches over 4 metres in length for the first time ever. It's also taller and wider than the car it replaces, making it the biggest Mini ever produced by the brand.
But there's method to Mini's super-sizing madness, with the brand desperate to make sure its new Countryman isn't just big, but is also a big deal for the first time in its brief history.
The outgoing model makes up about 15 per cent of Mini's sales in Australia - despite playing in the most popular segment - and the brand's bosses reckon they know the problem. Internal surveys reveal more than 30 per cent of people who were considering a Countryman, but ended up buying something else, did so because it was too small and impractical to be used as a family car.
And so it's grown in every direction. Its now 20cm longer, 1.5cm taller and 3.3cm wider, and it sits on a 7.5cm longer wheelbase. And while those numbers might not sound massive, it makes a difference in the cabin, and adds an extra 100 litres of boot space.
So is a maximised Mini a good thing?
|Engine Type||2.0L 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.
Bigger is better for Mini's Countryman. More space, more technology and with a more mature styling treatment, the Countryman finally offers the right ingredients to appear on family shopping lists.
2017 Mini Countryman range specifications
Price: From $39,900
Fuel consumption: 6.0L/100km (Cooper), 4.8L/100km (Cooper D) 6.5L/100km (Cooper S), 5.2L/100km (Cooper SD)
Tank: 51 litres
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited
Service Interval: Condition based
Engine: 1.5-litre petrol, 100kW/220Nm, 2.0-litre diesel, 110kW/330Nm, 2.0-litre petrol, 141kW/280Nm, 2.0-litre diesel, 140kW/400Nm.
Transmission: 6-sp auto/8-spd auto
Spare: Run flats
Turning circle: 11.4m diameter
Dimensions: 4,299mm (L), 1,822mm (W), 1,557mm (H)
Would you prefer a Countryman to an X1 or a Q2? 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.
Like an old-school Mini that's been stung by something flying and horrible, the Countryman has swollen in every direction, with Mini also smoothing out some of the design quirks of the outgoing model.
A redesigned grille and bonnet give the front end a calmer, more mature look, while the higher roof line and the fact the 18-inch alloy wheels have been positioned at the furthest corners of the car make the Countryman seem bigger but more well-proportioned than the car it replaces.
Inside, there's a half-premium, half-techy air to the cabin. All models get well-bolstered, leather-trim seats, a meaty steering wheel and some genuinely cool touchpoints including the bright-red switch that fires up the engine. The dash is still dominated by a huge and light-ringed (part of a more extensive illumination set up that also shines ambient lighting in the footwell) circular display that houses the multimedia screen, while the air-vents have now been placed vertically.
There's a new-found maturity to the cabin. Nicer materials, less in-your-face dials and a genuine sense of premium. The cabin lighting is hit and miss though, but the little Mini dial that lights up on the sidewalk as you approach and unlock the car will surely put a smile on some owner's faces.
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.
Growth is good for Countryman buyers, with more room for passengers and luggage. Shoulder room and leg room have both grown (albeit by about 5cm), and the interior never feels cramped no matter whether you're sitting in the front or the back.
Boot space has increased, too, growing from 350 litres to 450 litres with the 40:20:40 rear seat in place, and from 1,170 to 1,390 when it is folded flat.
Standard fit includes two cup holders for front seat passengers, plus room in the doors for bottles, but both the S and SD models also get a pull-down divider in the rear seat that houses another two. There's two ISOFIX attachment points, one in each window seat in the back.
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 bad news first: there's pricing pain right across the streamlined Countryman line-up, with the like-for-like cost of entry into an automatic model climbing by $3,400, and the cheaper still manual option banished from the line up altogether.
The range now kicks off with the entry-level Cooper, now starting from $39,900, sitting below the Cooper D at $43,900. The first of the fun-flavoured variants arrives next, the $46,500 Cooper S, with the 2017 line-up topping out with the $51,500 Cooper SD (Sport Diesel) All4 - the only model to get all-wheel drive.
You do get a heap more kit for your money, though, even if some of the items really should have been included on the outgoing model, too. You get a reversing camera for the first time, for example, but you'll also find front and rear parking sensors, an auto-parking system, cruise control, 18-inch alloys and a powered boot you can open by waving your foot under the rear bumper.
Elsewhere, expect leather-trimmed seats, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry, a 6.5-inch screen (still not a touchscreen, but you can option one) paired with a six-speaker stereo and an admittedly cool light system that illuminates the Mini logo on the footpath when you unlock the car.
But the big news is the standard safety equipment that makes an appearance even on the entry-level Cooper. But more on that under our Safety heading.
Spring for the Cooper D and you'll find the same kit, but add two gears to your automatic gearbox, now an eight-speed. The Cooper S adds a sports transmission, a rear centre armrest, LED headlights and the steering wheel from the John Cooper Works models. You also get a drive-mode selector, but adjustable dampers are a cost option. The SD model gets the same as the S, only with all-wheel drive.
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.
Things kick off with a less-than-exciting three-cylinder engine housed within the entry-level Cooper. The 1.5-litre power plant produces 100kW at 4,400rpm and 220Nm from 1,400rpm, fed through a six-speed automatic before being sent to the front wheels. It'll squeeze a 9.6sec zero-to-100km/h sprint out of the cheapest Countryman.
Step up to the Cooper D and you'll find a 2.0-litre diesel under the bonnet producing 110kW at 4,000Nm and 330Nm from 1,750rpm. It will reduce the sprint time to 8.8secs, using the first of the eight-speed automatics in the Countryman line up.
The sporty Cooper S squeezes 141kW at 5,000rpm and 280Nm from 1,350rpm from its 2.0-litre petrol engine, channeled to the front wheels via an eight-speed sports automatic, which is enough to produce a 7.4sec sprint to 100km/h.
Finally, the Cooper SD All4 gets a 2.0-litre diesel donk producing 140kW at 4,000rpm and an impressive 400Nm from 1,750rpm, fed to all four wheels through an eight-speed sports automatic. The 100km/h sprint takes an identical 7.4 seconds, however.
The entry-level Cooper will sip a claimed/combined 6.0 litres per hundred kilometres and produce 138g per kilometre of C02. The Cooper D is the most miserly of the Countryman family, returning 4.8 litres per hundred kilometres on the claimed/combined cycle, and will produce a 126g per kilometre of CO2.
The sportier models will predictably cost you more at the pump, with the Cooper S drinking 6.5 litres per hundred kilometres (claimed/combined) and emitting 149 grams of CO2 per kilometre, while the Cooper SD need 5.2 litres on the same cycle, while emitting 138 grams of C02 per kilometres.
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.
There's s reason F1 cars don't offer much boot space, and that's because bigger is rarely better in the slippery world of aerodynamics and performance. So the model we were most excited about driving - the overgrown Cooper S - was also the one we approached with the most trepidation.
Happily, it still feels the most urgent of the current crop (a JCW version is still en route) with a zero-to-100km/h time that doesn't set the world on fire, but equally doesn't feel anything resembling slow. The optional variable dampers ($700) make a different on rougher road surfaces, with the harsh and jarring ride of old banished in favour of something a little more smooth, but no less connected.
Equally important, though, is that its weight gain hasn't hurt it in backroad hillclimbs. While the tired old "like a go-kart" description can't be applied to something now the the genuine size of a small SUV, it still feels constantly planted to the road, with direct steering and plenty of feedback fed through the meaty steering wheel.
Step up to the range topper, the diesel-powered SD All4 and things take a turn for the weirder. On paper, the all-wheel-drive model should kill it. A mere kilowatt less power than the Cooper S, but a bucketload more torque, along with the ability to channel that power though a clever all-wheel-drive system should see it devour the sprint. But with that extra kit comes extra kilos (1530kg versus 1460kg), and so the offical time is bang-on that of the petrol-powered S.
But it never feels as quick in the real world. It lacks some of the free-revving fun of the petrol, instead choosing the next gear early in the rev range in automatic mode, and flat-out refusing to shift down a gear as you approach a corner should you take over the shifting via the manual paddles. It feel no less planted than the Cooper S, and it grips and sits beautifully on the twister stuff, but the fun factor just isn't the same.
While we didn't sample the Cooper D, we spent some time in the fun and frugal Cooper. Its three-cylinder engine offers enough power to keep you entertained in the city, but things get a little less fun out on the open road where the climb from 80km/h to 100km/h can feel eternal. The ride, too, feels rougher, with the suspension set to a sportier ride which allows harsher bumps into the cabin.
But all of that stuff will fade into obscurity when you're off the twisting roads and back in the city - and let's face it, that's where the Countryman will spend the bulk of its time. And it's here where Mini's changes make the most sense. The cabin feels light and airy, you can fit more stuff in the boot, the interior treatment is first-class and the addition of crucial driving aids will make day-to-day driving so much easier.
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 Countryman has gone from one of the worst in show (no reversing camera?) to one of the strongest standard safety performers. The now-standard reversing camera joins front and rear parking sensors and an automatic parking system that will take over the steering for you when manoeuvring into a tight spot.
But you'll now also find Mini's Driver Assistant Package, which includes forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and AEB, and street-sign recognition that reads the signs as you pass them and displays that info on the in-car screen. You can add to that active cruise that will come to a complete stop with traffic before accelerating to speed again, and five airbags (dual front airbags, a side airbag for the driver and two curtain airbags covering both rows of 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.
The Mini Countryman is covered by a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty and requires what BMW calls "condition-based servicing", meaning your car is serviced when it needs to be, rather than after a predetermined amount of kilometres. Owners can prepay their maintenance costs for five years or 80,000km for $1,240.