Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class VS Nissan Pathfinder
- 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
- Tough looks the N-Trek brings
- Spacious interior
- Big boot
- Interior starting to date
- No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto
- Thirsty engine
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.
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Do you like Nissan's Pathfinder yet find it lacking a certain something? Masculinity perhaps, musculature, or just a sense of menace, rather than middle-of-the-road nice-ness? If you've always hankered after a seven-seat family hauler with a mean streak, or at least a mean look, then you’re going to love the Pathfinder N-Trek special edition.
So, what makes this Pathfinder an N-Trek and how much does it cost to look this tough?
We tested the new Pathfinder N-Trek to find out.
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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.
The Pathfinder is a comfortable, practical seven-seat SUV and the N-Trek special edition adds a tough and stylish look. Research has shown that special editions generally don’t fetch more money when it comes time to sell, so keep this in mind and enjoy the unique look of the N-Trek rather than thinking you’ve bought a collector’s car.
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.
The N-Trek pack adds a menacing look to the Pathfinder, making it look more mafia family than just family. As mentioned above, the N-Trek edition adds the black grille, black roof rails, black door handles, black mirror caps, plus front and rear lower bumper trim in black. I’m a fan of the sinister look the accessories bring and it suits the Gun Metallic grey paint my test car wore (see the photos I took) perfectly. The Pathfinder N-Trek special edition comes in four colours, so along with the grey there’s Ivory Pearl, Diamond Black and Caspian Blue.
What do you think of those wheels? They’re unique to the Pathfinder N-Trek, too, but I’m not the biggest fan of the design.
The cabin doesn’t get anything in the way of N-Trek equipment – it’s the same cabin as you’ll find in the ST+ and ST-L, which is beginning to age in terms of its design and equipment, with the small screen being the most obvious example. Still, it’s a comfortable and premium-feeling cabin, especially in the ST-L with its leather seats.
Measuring 5042mm end to end, 1963mm wide and 1793mm tall, the Pathfinder isn't petite.
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 Pathfinder is a seven-seater SUV and practicality is its main strength.
Space up front is excellent, with good head, shoulder and elbow room, even for somebody with my two-metre wingspan and 191cm height. I can sit behind my driving position and behind that in the third row without my knees touching any of the seat backs.
Directional air vents in all three rows, plus large windows make life more comfortable for everybody. So does the raised second row, which offers a view over the top of the driver and co-pilot.
The floor does seem overly elevated in the Pathfinder, which places the knees of second and third-row passengers higher. For a model comparison see the Pathfinder ST+ vs Holden Acadia LT video.
Boot space with the third-row seats up is 453 litres, opening up to 1354 litres with them folded flat and the second row in place. You’ll find extra storage space under the boot floor.
Cabin storage is excellent with 10 cupholders (yes, 10) on board (two up front, four in the second row and another four in the back row); large door pockets, a tray in front of the shifter and a deep centre-console storage bin.
For charging and media there are three 12-volt and two USB outlets up front and two USB charging points and a media USB port in the second row.
Room for improvement? Well, the Pathfinder could do with wireless charging and it’s also lacking USB ports in the third row.
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.
Available on the ST + and ST-L grades, the N-Trek editions come with a $1500 price increase over the grades they’re based on.
The front-wheel-drive Pathfinder ST+ N-Trek lists for $46,840, while the front-wheel-drive ST-L N-Trek is $57,140. As for the four-wheel-drive versions: the ST+ N-Trek is $50,340 and the ST-L N-Trek is $60,640.
The N-Trek edition brings a body kit with black elements for a stealthy look. There’s the black grille, black roof rails, black door handles, black mirror caps, plus front and rear lower bumper trim in… you guessed it – black.
Standard features on the ST+ N-Trek include an eight-inch touchscreen, sat nav, a reversing camera with all-round-view monitor, a six-speaker stereo, DVD player, privacy glass, rear parking sensors and three-zone climate control.
Stepping up to the ST-L N-Trek adds a 13-speaker Bose stereo, LED headlights, sunroof, leather seats, front fog lights, heated side mirrors and power adjustable driver and front passenger seats.
Is the special edition worth the extra $1500 over the regular model? That depends how you look at the extra costs – some would see it as just different coloured paint but others would see it as paying for uniqueness, and there won’t be many Pathfinders that look like yours. Yes, you could have similar enhancements done yourself, but it’ll cost you more, if done properly. Nissan has done it for you with genuine accessories.
A better question to ask is: does the Pathfinder’s price in general represents good value? Well the current Pathfinder is getting old now and it’s not loaded with the latest equipment, such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, such as you’ll find in the Holden Acadia or Mazda CX-9. In those terms it’s not great value any more, but Nissan will fix this when the new-generation Pathfinder arrives next year.
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 N-Trek special edition comes with the same 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine found in the regular Pathfinder, with the same 202kW and 340Nm outputs. The continuously variable transmission (CVT) is smooth, although it produces lacklustre acceleration, accompanied by a droning sound that you might find annoying.
The Pathfinder N-Trek ST+ and ST-L both have a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine and Nissan says after a combination of open and urban roads the four-wheel-drive version should use 10.1L/100km, while the front-wheel-drive only uses a coffee mug less at 9.9L/100km. In my own testing of the four-wheel-drive Pathfinder I’ve measured the combined consumption to be 14.9L/100km.
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.
The Pathfinder N-Trek was tested on about 130km of winding country roads, which at times turned from bitumen into loose gravel. My test car was the ST+ grade with four-wheel drive, although there should be no difference in the way it drives over the ST-L version.
I’ve said it before in reviews of the Pathfinder – this is an easy and comfortable large SUV to drive, with light steering, good visibility and plenty of grunt.
That said, the Pathfinder felt a bit challenged when pushed on the twisty, tight roads, with plenty of body roll to remind me that it was a two-tonne, five-metre-long metal box. If anything, it’s a compliment to how insulated from the world you are in the cabin.
The loose gravel roads we took also seemed to unsettle the Pathfinder at times. I pulled over, selected four-wheel drive and watched the display screen show drive split 50-50 between the front and back axles. The problem was that our as speed was increased the system switched to Auto, which decides on the fly how to distribute the drive, but tends to choose a heavy bias towards the front.
The Pathfinder’s 180mm ground clearance rules out anything more challenging than dirt and gravel roads, but a 2700kg braked towing capacity makes this SUV a great choice for hauling trailers and caravans – although you should know it likes to drink petrol.
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 Pathfinder was given the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in 2013. Coming standard is advanced safety technology such as AEB, blind-spot warning, rear cross traffic alert and adaptive cruise control.
There are rear parking sensors, but not front ones, which is odd.
The rear-view camera is good, and these grades come with a 360-degree moving-object-detection system – which is great for when kids are running around the car.
For child seats you’ll find two ISOFIX mounts and three top-tether points in the second row, and a third top-tether point in the right-hand-side seat in the third row.
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 Pathfinder ST+ is covered by Nissan’s five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
Servicing is recommended every 10,000km or 12 months. As a guide you can expect to pay $290 for the first service, $309 for the next, $458 for the third, $367 for the fourth, $314 for the fifth and $502 for the sixth.