Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class VS Mitsubishi Pajero
- 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
- Simple, proven mechanicals
- Oodles of space
- Smooth on tarmac, capable off it
- No driver aids due to age
- Third-row seats complex and tiny
- One of the oldest 4x4s on sale today
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|
If you're in the market for a genuinely large, rugged-duty four-wheel drive diesel wagon, your choices are rapidly diminishing... and if you're looking for one that's relatively affordable, your choices are even fewer.
But has age wearied this old battle horse? We're testing the 2018 update to see if it's still relevant in today's market.
|Engine Type||3.2L 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.
There's no doubt that the Pajero is getting on in age, and there's no sign of Mitsubishi replacing it any time soon.
Then again, it doesn’t really need to. It sells quite well, it's really affordable, all of the bugs have been ironed out of it, and it's as tough as old boot leather.
It's not the most handsome thing on the road, and its active safety spec is behind that of more modern vehicles, but it's easy to forgive these oversights (okay, not the safety aspect so much) when it's as practical and lovable as this.
Is simple - like the Mitsubishi Pajero - the best? Or is tech the way to go?
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.
Park your 2018 Pajero next to a model from the mid-naughties and from side on, you would be hard-pressed to tell the difference. Over the years, there have been superficial updates to elements like bumpers and tail-lights, but the Pajero's large boxy visage remains virtually untouched from its 2006 introduction.
It features a huge glasshouse, which makes for a very airy and bright cabin, while its box-like rear section endows the 4x4 wagon with a massive rear cargo space. It's certainly not going to win any beauty awards but that's really not the point of the Pajero.
On the inside, too, the only concession to up to date motoring is the touchscreen multimedia system. Again, there have been small cosmetic changes over the years to the Pajero's design language inside the car, but it really doesn't feel that much different to one of its 12-year-old siblings when you hop aboard.
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.
The Pajero is sold as a seven-seater and the rear two seats are tucked underneath the boot floor. There is also a 60/40-split fold second row, which can be tumbled forward to make a larger space as well as provide access to those two rear seats.
The third row really is the definition of a jump seat; it’s a narrow bench with short seat backs that are extended by comically oversized head rests, which need to be detached to stow the rear seat under the floor.
In fact, it is quite a complicated system to erect the seats in any sort of hurry and the parts are quite weighty, as well. People of a smaller stature will struggle a bit to configure those rear seats in any sort of hurry.
The same criticism can be levelled at the second-row seats, which basically need two separate movements to revert from tumbled to assembled. In their favour, they do offer a reclining back, which adds to rear seat comfort, and there is absolutely no shortage of headroom or kneeroom for even the tallest passengers.
There are ISOFIX mounts on the second-row outside seats, as well as a pull-down centre arm rest that hides two cupholders. Unusually in a relatively modern car, there are no door cards of any description in the rear doors, which means bottles can't be stowed there.
While the front doors have narrow short pockets, they are not equipped to hold any sort of bottles, either. The only way that you'll hold the drink is via the two cupholders that sit side by side in between the two front seats.
The big Paj is unashamedly aimed at people who like to treat their cars hard and put them away wet, and there is a lot of hard plastics here that will resist the rough and tumble of an outback life but may detract from the Paj’s ambience for suburb dwellers.
Overall, though, the Pajero is incredibly easy to operate and live with. There is an absolute lack of unnecessary bells and whistles and it features just what you need to drive up and over any obstacle in your path.
Visibility around the car is excellent in all directions, though the tall bonnet may make it awkward for some drivers to park the car. There are sensors and a reversing camera for parking, which does make life easy, although there are no line markings on the display to help you line up a trailer.
Our tester is carpeted, and one can easily see large rubber mats placed on the floor for a little bit more off-road resistance.
Internal cargo space rivals that of a panel van, with a low floor, high roof and large door aperture making the 1069 litres (VDA) of space with the second row in place (or 1798L with all rows folded) a doddle to access. The right side-hinged one-piece swinging door won’t suit everyone, though, and we weren’t able to access the rear of the Paj when our trailer was in place.
The spare wheel is mounted to the rear door, which isn't always the easiest thing to access, either, particularly for smaller adults. As well, you'll have to get under the floor to retrieve the jack and the wheel brace, as they are located in with the third-row seat.
There are luggage tie-downs in the cargo area while vents are situated in the roof throughout the car and the third-row passengers also get their own cupholders. Second-rowers miss out on any sort of power points but they do have access to ventilation controls.
And a big tick for the extendable sections within the Pajero sunvisors - such a rarity these days! It’s like no-one commutes north or south any more in car design land...
There's no digital speedo, sadly; in fact, there's not much digital stuff going on at all other than an ageing, but still useful, digital fuel and information gauge on top of the centre console.
The Bluetooth-ready head unit is similar to those found in other Mitsubishi products and features Apple Car Play and Android Auto. It's reasonably simple to use, though some of the submenus are quite hidden, making them hard to access. And the USB ports are mounted in the glovebox; not a drama, per se, but more inconvenient than most.
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.
In terms of its value, the $58,990 Pajero GLS presents very well against its most logical rival, the $59,990 Toyota Prado GXL. It's arguably got more capability than than the younger Prado, though size- and ability-wise, the Paj isn’t too far off the venerable LandCruiser GXL, which is almost $25,000 dearer.
Out of the box, the Pajero GLS comes with automatic lights and wipers, a leather-clad steering wheel and shifter, leather-bolstered seats with cloth inserts, heated front seats, a rear diff lock, front and rear fog lights, regular (non-adaptive) cruise control, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system with Apple Car Play, Android Auto and Bluetooth streaming. There is no navigation fitted to this particular version.
The Paj features a multi-stage 4x4 system that Mitsubishi calls Super Select II, as well as independent suspension front and rear, and the company's tried and trusted 3.2-litre DiD four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine mated to an old-school five-speed automatic gearbox. It rides on 18-inch alloys that are shod with a more street-orientated all-terrain tyre.
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.
The fourth-generation Pajero was updated in 2011 with the then-new 4M41 3.2-litre four-cylinder direct injection turbo diesel engine, and it instantly transformed the Pajero into a much nicer rig.
Even seven years on, the engine still feels refined and powerful, and it gives nothing away to its more modern, smaller capacity four-cylinder turbo diesel rivals. It musters up 141kW of power and 441Nm of torque – the latter number sounds a bit anaemic in this age of 500Nm utes, and the two-tonne-plus weight of the Paj plays against it too, but in use, even with a two-tonne race car/trailer combo on the back, it did the job perfectly well.
The engine connects to Mitsubishi’s Super Select II 4x4 system via an old but tough five-speed auto.
The Super Select II system allows the driver to pick rear-wheel drive, or three distinct 4x4 modes. High-range 4WD (centre diff unlocked) is suitable for everyday use, and should arguably be the default setting. High-range 4WD (centre diff locked) is better for dry and loose conditions, while low-range 4WD is your go-anywhere, do-anything mode, especially when combined with the lockable rear diff.
What does that do, you ask? It basically prevents the diff from sending all power to the wheel it thinks needs it the most, enabling both rear wheels to help when the going gets slippery. It's a definite no-no on the streets, though; you'll 'wind up' the diff by not allowing the other wheel to rotate freely when you're turning a corner, and it doesn't like that.
If you want to tow with the 2255kg Pajero, it can haul 3000kg of braked trailer, and has a generous gross vehicle mass figure (total legal weight of car, trailer, passengers and load) of 6030kg. If your trailer is over 2500kg, the downball weight maximum is 180kg, which increases to 250kg if the trailer is under that figure.
Sure, the Pajero not getting any younger, but it all works brilliantly well... and that's testament to its basic good character.
After 380km aboard the Paj, including 55km with a laden trailer behind it, we returned a dash-indicated fuel figure of 10.4 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined fuel economy cycle, and our 38 litres of fuel used equated to a real-world 10.0L/100km.
Against a combined fuel economy claim of 9.1 litres, this is a great result.
The Pajero’s tank holds 88 litres of fuel, giving it a theoretical range of 980km.
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.
Around town and between cities, the Pajero is a big, soft, cuddly, easy-to-drive companion on both tar and gravel. It's not exactly precise through the helm, but it stays away from being overly agricultural, and compares well to younger rivals like the Everest.
In fact, it's surprisingly easy and comfortable to drive every day, with a responsive, well modulated power delivery through the five-speed auto, good brakes and good road manners at cruise. It's easy to manoeuvre in town, too, though there's no doubting that it's a big car from behind the wheel.
On paper, it seems like it’s a little less sophisticated than some of its more modern rivals when it comes to off-road ability, but with the rear diff lock and low-range capability, the Paj does perfectly well without modern niceties like hill descent and ascent control modes.
The gearbox can be overridden so a gear can be held when clambering up or ratcheting down a steep terrain, and while the more citified tyres are a little bit of a compromise when the going gets really rugged, dropping the pressures will help immensely to find additional grip when needed.
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.
This is where the Pajero’s age plays against it. It’s equipped with six airbags (including full-length curtain bags) and brake assist, as well as a reversing camera, but its architecture prevents the addition of driver aids like lane departure warning and auto emergency braking (AEB).
It still holds a maximum five-star ANCAP safety ranking, which was achieved in 2011. If it were retested for 2018, it could potentially lose up to two stars for the missing driver aid equipment.
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.
Mitsubishi offers a five-year/100,000km warranty on the Pajero.
It also offers a fixed-price service deal for the first three years of the Pajero’s life, with service intervals of 15,000km or 12 months (whichever comes first).
The first three services over 36 months total $1810 (which is $460 more than the Pajero Sport, by way of comparison).