Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class VS Skoda Kodiaq
- 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
- Plentiful power
- Super-supportive front seats
- Plenty of practicality perks
- Not as sporty as RS badge implies
- Suspension can feel firm
- Expensive compared to rest of lineup
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|
You don't hear the words 'performance' and 'diesel-powered, seven-seat SUV' together often, do you? Like Marvel and DC, the two things just feel like they're from completely different universes, one of which is filled with prams and groceries and weekend sport, and the other with twisting roads, plentiful fuel and burbling exhausts.
But Skoda is now attempting to merge these two distant worlds together with the launch of the new Kodiaq RS, blending the impressive practicality of the Czech car maker's (occasional) seven-seat SUV with the sporting promise of its performance sub-brand.
It's a delicate tightrope to walk, though. Too hard and sporty, and the Kodiaq RS will fail at its primary task of moving people and stuff. Too family focused, and it becomes an RS in badge only.
The question now, then, is has Skoda got the balance right?
|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 the sportiest SUV on the market, but it balances its extra performance with its core family carrying duties with aplomb.
Seven seats, plenty of equipment, practicality for days and with enough grunt to keep you smiling, the Kodiaq RS ticks plenty of boxes.
The only question mark really remaining is does it justify the extra spend over 132TSI model?
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.
A lot like a Skoda Kodiaq, just with more sportiness. It never screams "look at me", but in our humble opinion, that's no bad thing.
You do get a bespoke front bumper arrangement, and the grill, under bonnet meshing, roof rails and and side skirting are blacked out. The wheel arches are filled by those jumbo 20-inch alloys, and, stepping around to the back, you'll find two squared-off exhaust outlets.
Inside, I'm a big fan of the super-supportive front seats, finished in leather and Alcantara, but for mine, the carbon-look trimming is less effective, and feels thin and hard to the touch.
That said, Koda deserves props for sending the best front-seat design elements into the second row, and if you forget the RS stuff completely for a moment, you'll find the cabin to be a clean, comfortable and tech-focussed space, with the the big central screen especially giving the cabin a modern feel, and the switch gear all emitting a commendable sense of quality.
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 Kodiaq RS pulls of an incredible party trick in managing to not look like a cruise ship from outside the car, while also serving up a big and spacious-feeling cabin.
To be clear, the Kodiaq isn't small, stretching 4699mm in length, 1882 in width and 1685mm in height, but its crisp design ensures it never looks slab-sided, looking more like a five-seat SUV than it does a full-time seven-seater, like the Mazda CX-9.
Those riding up front have plenty of space to stretch out, with the two seats separated by a wide centre console toped by an armrest that slides backwards to reveal a really usable storage space below. There are pockets in each door and two cupholders between the seats, too.
The front seats are electronically adjustable, and there's wireless charging, a USB connection and everything else you might need to make your life a little easier (including umbrellas hidden in the front doors).
Space in the backseat is genuinely impressive, even for taller passengers. I'm 175cm (so no giant) and there was so much room between my knees and the seats in front I could cross my legs comfortably, and more than enough headroom, too.
Yes, space will get considerably tighter should you attempt to squeeze three adults in the second row, but should you instead deploy the seat divider (itself home to 2.5 tiny cupholders), you'll find the back seat a pleasant place to spend time.
For a start, the nicer cabin materials from the front make their way to the second row, and you'll also find air vents with their own temp controls, a 12-volt charge point, bottle holders in the doors and two ISOFIX attachment points, one in each window seat.
The third row is tighter, of course, but these are intended more as occasional jump seats rather than a permanent solution, and because the second row is on rails, there can be a surprising amount of leg room, provided the seats in front are pushed as far forward as they go.
Step around to the auto-opening boot and you'll 270 litres of space with the third row in place, 630 litres with the Skoda in five-seat mode, and a huge 2005 litres (to the roof) with the second row folded flat, too.
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 go-fast Kodiaq will set you back a not-insignificant $65,990(+$770 for metallic paint) - or about $12k more than the second most-expensive model in the lineup, the 132TSI Sportline - but Skoda's first RS-badged SUV does at least arrive with enough kit to ensure you won't be troubling the limited options list.
For that spend, you get that punchy diesel engine driving all four wheels, of course (and we'll drill down on that in just a moment), but you also get a host of performance kit, like a Dynamic Sound Boost amplified exhaust, adaptive dampers calibrated for the RS, and several drive modes, including Sport.
Outside, you'll find jumbo 20-inch 'XTREME' alloys, red brake calipers, LED automatic headlights, LED DRLs, rain-sensing wipers and a boot that opens automatically.
Inside, expect super-supportive leather-and-Alcantara sports seats, triple-zone climate control, an awesome 9.2-inch multimedia screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Skoda's digital cockpit, wireless phone charging, heated seats in the first two rows and a solid Canton stereo.
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.
It's pared with a seven-speed DSG automatic, and power is sent to all four wheels.
It's here that the joy of diesel power makes itself clear. The Skoda Kodiaq RS, with its seven seats and half-tonne of torque, will drink a claimed 6.2 litres per 100km on the combined cycle. Emissions are pegged at 167g/C02 per kilometre.
It means you should theoretically get close to 1000kms out of the Kodiaq's 60-litre fuel tank.
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.
When it comes to performance vehicles, we're usually the first to begin waggling our fingers at a car that's not loud enough, angry enough, stirring enough, to wear the hallowed go-fast crown.
Usually the "hot" part of a car's description refers to a booming exhaust, super show-off looks and a suspension tune stiff enough to double as one of those weight-loss vibrating plates. And yet the Skoda Kodiaq RS really does none of those things. And to be honest, it's a better car for it.
The more subtle way the Kodiaq approaches its sportiness perfectly suits the nature of a car like this. This is, after all, a (sometimes) seven-seat SUV, and so it will likely be spending a lot of it's time with a family on board. And having kids in the back is even less fun if they're bouncing off the roof lining every time you hit a bump.
In the Kodiaq, they won't be. In its Normal drive setting (you can also choose between Eco, Comfort, Sport, Snow or Individual), the Kodiaq definitely lingers on the firm side of comfortable, but not so much so that it neuters its worth as a family hauler.
And even when you engage Sport, the Kodiaq remains comfy enough. The exhaust perhaps takes on a more noticeable, artificial timber (thanks to the Dynamic Sound Boost function) and the car tightens, but it's never feels overly aggressive or sharp.
Skoda's engineering team has done a terrific job of minimising body movement here, and you can legitimately throw the Kodiaq up and down a twisting road without ever feeling sea sick when you get to the other end. So much so, in fact, that you can forget you're driving a 1.8-tonne, seven-seat SUV, the predictable steering and composed ride helping convince you you're in something much smaller and more nimble.
It's not lightning-quick, with the bi-turbo diesel propelling you to 100km/h in 7.0 seconds (1.2secs quicker than a 132TSI version), but there's more than enough punch to get you up and moving in a hurry, and the engine has a fine relationship wth the seven-speed gearbox, with shifts largely occurring when you want them to (though it can feel a tough jumpy when you first start it up in the morning).
It's like a performance for responsible adults, then. It won't blow your socks off, but it offers just enough of everything to keep you engaged on the right road.
The only lingering question you need to ask yourself, though, is does that make it worth the extra bucks over a petrol-powered car?
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.
There is a heap of stuff on offer here, with the Kodiaq RS really wanting for little on the safety front.
The regular Kodiaq already wears five-star ANCAP safety rating, which carries over to the RS, and you can expect nine airbags, adaptive cruise control, city AEB, a rear-view camera, Lane Assist, blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert and a driver fatigue monitor.
And if you're a nervous parallel parker, the Kodiaq RS will take care of that for you, too.
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 Kodiaq RS is covered by Skoda's five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, with servicing required every 12 months or 15,000kms.
You can also pre-pay your servicing at the point of purchase, with five years costing $1700, and three years setting you back $900.
Skoda also offers a nifty guaranteed value program, which allows you to settle on a kilometre window when you purchase your vehicle, then return it to the dealership after three years with no more payments to make.