Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class VS Nissan X-Trail
- 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
- No price penalty for new model
- Among the most versatile offerings in its segment
- Safety updates add plenty of appeal
- CVT auto a loud and intrusive annoyance
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Not as dynamic as segment leaders
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|
If you're a fan of the old Nissan X-Trail - and plenty of you are, it was the brand's best-selling model here last year - then we've got good news for you: this 2017 Series II update is absolutely unchanged under the skin.
Better still, it costs the same as the old one. Or less. So is more of pretty much the same 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.
It might not be an X-Trail blazer, but this nip-and-tuck has added some critical technology and safety extras to an already competent package. It's improved in the areas that matter and, CVT aside, is an easy-breezy drive from behind the wheel. For ours, the petrol-powered ST-L makes the most sense, no matter which configuration you opt for, scoring the best of the new stuff without breaking the bank.
Has this refresh put the Nissan X-Trail on your SUV shopping list? 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.
It was and still is rather handsome, the X-Trail. It's not pushing any design boundaries, sure, but neither is it controversial or polarising - plus, it's bound to age well, given it hasn't really changed much since 2014, and it still doesn't look old.
This time around, though, Nissan has redesigned the grille, with a new shield that forms part of a now-jutting jawline. There's a new design for the alloy wheels, too, along with new rear lights and a flat-bottomed steering wheel.
Inside, you get what you pay for, with the cheap plastics that lower the tone in the entry-level model replaced with soft-touch and premium-feeling materials (along with a bigger multimedia screen) in the more expensive models.
In the entry-level ST, for example, the 5.0-inch screen is surrounded by a sea of rock-hard plastics, while the top-spec TI offers up a leather-wrapped and raised centre console, and a stitched leather panel lines the dash.
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.
Nissan refers to its X-Trail as the "Swiss-army knife of our range - the one-size-fits-all, family proof car", and so expect a useable, versatile cabin irrespective of whether you opt for a five or seven seater.
All trim levels offer two up-front cupholders and room for bottles in the doors, along with a USB connection and a 12 volt charge point in the centre console, and a second power source in the centre bin. The dials in the driver's binnacle are analogue, but they're separated by a digital screen that displays all the usual trip data.
The backseat (or second row) is hugely spacious for human-sized riders, even if you opt to go three across. But the aircon vents have no temperature controls and there's no power or USB connections points on offer. There is, however, room in the doors for bottles, and two extra cupholders hidden in the pull down divider that separates the rear seats.
Things do feel a bit squished in third row for the seven seat models, though, with the back row definitely reserved for children. It's tight in head and legroom, and adults (with the possible exception of Tattoo from Fantasy Island) will find the going tough.
Five seat models offer 565 litres of storage with the second row of seats in place, swelling to 945 litres with the second row folded flat. Opt for a seven seater, and you'll get a paltry 135 litres with all seating rows in place, growing to 445 litres with the third row folded flat, and maxing out at 825 litres with everything flattened.
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.
Good news for X-Trail shoppers: Series II prices, right across the board, are either identical to, or down slightly on, the 2016 sticker prices.
The range still kicks off with the petrol-powered ST - $27,990-$30,490, depending on your engine choice, $31,990 for the seven seater and $32,490 as a five seat, four-wheel drive (4WD), before climbing to the ST-L ($36,590 for the five-seater, $38,090 for the seven-seater, and $38,590 for the five seat-only 4WD version) before topping out with the 4WD-only Ti ($44,290).
There are still two diesel-powered options on offer (both of which are pencilled in for a mid-year or later arrival), the $35,490 TS, and $47,290 TL.
The ST and TS trims arrive with 17-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights and taillights, along with powered mirrors, automatic headlights and some splashes of chrome, including the door handles. Inside, expect cloth seats, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, push-button start and climate control. A tiny-looking 5.0-inch touchscreen is mounted in the dash, which is paired with a six-speaker stereo, but there's no Apple CarPlay/Android Auto on offer anywhere in the range.
Stepping up to the ST-L trim and you'll add fog lights, roof rails and heated mirrors outside, while your seats are now leather-trimmed, and heated in the front. You'll also score dual-zone climate control and a powered driver's seat. Your entertainment options are now controlled through a bigger 7.0-inch touchscreen, which is sat nav equipped.
The top-spec Ti (or TL, if you've opted for a diesel), gains 19-inch alloys, adaptive headlights and a sunroof outside, along with a boot that opens automatically when you wave your foot under it. Inside, you'll find a heated steering wheel, along with heated seats in the second row. You get a better stereo, too, now an eight-speaker Bose unit.
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.
There are two petrol engines on offer in the X-Trail range, with a revamped (and, on paper at least, significantly better) diesel engine scheduled to arrive closer to the middle of the year.
The smallest petrol - a 2.0-litre unit good for 106kW at 6000rpm and 200Nm at 4400rpm - is available only in the base model ST, and can only be partnered with a six-speed manual sending its power to the front wheels. Which is bound to make it as popular as curdled milk.
The big seller, then, will be a solid 2.5-litre petrol unit that will produce 126kW at 6000rpm and 226Nm at 4400rpm. It's partnered exclusively with a CVT auto, and can be had in two- or 4WD.
Finally, the late-to-the-party diesel is a fine-sounding 2.0-litre that will produce 130kW at 3750rpm and 380Nm at 2000rpm (significant increases on the outgoing 1.6-litre engine). It's also CVT only, and will only be offered in the 4WD configuration.
Nissan's holding out some hope for the diesel, too. Somewhere around 95 per cent of diesel sales in the segment are 4WDs partnered with an automatic transmission - a configuration missing from the current range.
The 2.0-litre petrol engine sips 8.2L/100km on the claimed/combined cycle, while emitting 190 grams per kilometre of C02. The bigger, 2.5-litre petrol is actually more efficient, needing 7.9 litres (8.1 in seven-seat models) to go the same distance, emitting 183 grams (188 grams if you opt for the third row) per kilometre. Predictably, ticking the 4WD box hurts economy a little, increasing that number to 8.3 litres and 192 grams per kilometre.
The incoming diesel sips a mere 6.0 or 6.1L/100km, depending on the trim level, and emits 158g/km of C02.
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.
Nissan clearly reckons it's onto a good thing with its X-Trail, and so hasn't messed with the formula too much. Or at all, for that matter.
In fact, except for the new diesel engine that's yet to hit our shores, nothing's changed under the skin at all.
But that's maybe not such a bad thing. We spent the majority of our time in the top-spec Ti model, equipped with the bigger 2.5-litre petrol engine and 4WD, and it's a hugely likeable set-up, delivering its power in a constant stream, while its confident suspension irons out all but the worst bumps in the road, and manages to dispose of most corners without transforming the X-Trail into a rollicking high-seas tall ship.
It's confident off-road, too, tackling gravel tracks with ease, while the steering, though weirdly light, is nicely predictable. Nothing there that needed too much updating, then.
But the CVT auto, for us at least, is harrowingly close to a deal-breaker: a whining, whirring disruption that makes smooth progress difficult, instead making you feel like you're constantly ebbing and flowing, surging forward with every light prod of the accelerator.
Elsewhere, though, the X-Trail is spacious and comfortable, and always easy to manoeuvre. And, in the top-spec models at least, it feels polished and premium in the cabin, though some cheaper plastics have crept in below the passengers' line of sight.
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.
Every X-Trail arrives with a commendable standard safety package, including six airbags (dual front, front-side and curtain bags), along with a reversing camera and forward collision warning with AEB.
Spring for the ST-L trim, and you'll add blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and a surround-view camera that detects motion, while the Ti or TL top-spec models score lane departure warning and pedestrian detection, while for reasons known only to Nissan, only the Ti gets Intelligent Lane Intervention, which will counter-steer if it senses you drifting out of the lane, along with active cruise control.
The X-Trail range scored the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating when tested in 2014.
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 X-Trail is covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty, and will require a trip to the service centre every 12 months or 10,000km.
X-Trail falls under Nissan's menu-based servicing program, with owners able to verify what needs to be done and cost estimated ahead of each service.