Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class VS Subaru Forester
- 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
- Range-wide AEB and active cruise
- Lots of kit for your $$$
- Real-world practicality
- Derivative styling
- Engine missing turbo mid-range
- Engine line-up has gone from 4-1
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 haven't seen Clint Eastwood's son, Scott, you should Google him - he's a dead ringer for his Dad. But while he might be following in his father's Hollywood footprints, he's of a completely new generation.
A similar story applies with the new fifth-generation Forester. It looks a lot like the model before it, but everything you see is actually new.
That's hardly a new phenomenon, with most previous Foresters representing a blur of evolutionary design. Subaru does this across the board, actually, to protect existing owners from feeling like they're yesterday's news, and to take advantage of feelings of fond familiarity when those owners look to update their cars.
This precludes a lot of the excitement of new design, but Subarus have rarely been about visual appeal (the fourth-gen Liberty is one big exception), rather a quirkiness that stands aside from a lot of the same-same from other mainstream brands, which is paired with the relative USP of all wheel drive.
So there's method to the mimicry, and every conceivable element has been improved. Matt Campbell was impressed after his limited experience at the Forester's international launch in July, but this week's Australian launch gave us the full picture of this latest version of Subaru's mid-size SUV.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
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 remains to be seen whether Scott Eastwood is able to match the cinematic legend of his father, but it's clear that the new Forester is better in every way than the model it replaces. If you were a fan of the old one, you'll love this one, and it's pretty tough to argue against if you're in the market for a mid-size SUV.
If you can live without leather seats, the 2.5i-Premium is probably the sweet spot of the range, given it brings all the safety gear, the bigger multimedia screen and the power tailgate for a list price of under $40,000. Having said that, the top 2.5i-S is also a pretty good deal for just $3000 more.
Would the new Forester tempt you away from a CX-5? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
Also check out Matt Campbell's review video from the Forester's international launch:
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.
My first experience with the new Forester actually came the week before the launch, when I overtook one of the launch cars being run-in in country NSW.
It wasn't until I was within two car-lengths that I realised it was the new model, and this was approaching it from its most distinguished angle. The tail-lights are the biggest giveaway, with the slash of body colour eating into each light - as inspired by Subaru's recent Viziv concepts.
Many will probably need to see them parked side by side to pick the exterior from the old one, but the fundamental newness starts with its adoption of the latest Subaru Global Platform, as already seen with the Impreza and XV.
The body is now 53 per cent high-tensile steel, which makes for a stronger chassis that's lighter than it would be otherwise. Despite its growth and expanded list of features, the new Forester is just 26kg heavier as the base 2.5i, and 15kg as the top spec 2.5i-S.
In terms of size and dimensions, the key growth area has been an extra 30mm of wheelbase, which accounts for the lion's share of the extra 33mm between the front and rear seats that represents the biggest gain for interior dimensions.
As you'll see in the video and interior images, the inside is an evolution of the design used in the Impreza and the XV. The dashboard actually appears to be a direct lift from these, and is therefore dominated by vertical vents either side of the multimedia (6.5 inch on the lower two trim levels, 8.0 inch on the upper two) screen. There's a 6.3-inch multifunction display (MFD) atop the dash for monitoring vehicle functions, which is joined by a third screen in the instrument binnacle.
In the upper 2.5i-Premium and 2.5i-S variants (the ones we drove on test, at least), this means a good variety of materials and textures, although the soft golf ball-like surface on the centre console is hard on the door trims. It's also surprising to see leather trim limited to the top 2.5i-S.
Regardless, it all feels like a typical Subaru; good, resilient 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.
Real-world practicality has always been a Forester hallmark, and the new model pushes the envelope even further.
Starting up the front, driver visibility has been improved by increasing the gap between the A-pillar and the rear-view mirrors, meaning you can see more through the quarter windows when turning corners or when judging parking situations.
As you'd expect, there are a couple of cup holders in the centre console, plus a 12V charge point in the lidded bin, and another in the centre stack, while the lower two trim levels get one USB port, and the upper two get two. All trim levels get a sunglass holder in the overhead console.
The backseat scores the aforementioned extra 33mm between the front and rear seats, which extrapolates to an extra 65mm of net rear legroom. Shoulder room is up by 20mm and hip room by 15mm, which is well in excess of what's needed for my 172cm frame.
The flat beltline allows big windows to maximise child visibility. All versions get a backseat armrest with two cupholders and two ISOFIX points. Without a sliding rear seat, though, it'll be worth trial-fitting a rear-facing child seat, if that's part of your life, to ensure there's enough room left for front-seat occupants.
The back of the centre console now comes with directional air vents, which sit above two quick-charge USB points.
There are bottle holders in each door, and as a nod to the many Foresters you see wearing roof racks, the rear door sill has been broadened and grip has been added to improve its function as a step ladder when loading something onto the roof.
The upper two trim levels come with a power tailgate that now operates nearly twice as quickly as before (hallelujah!) and locks the rest of the car automatically once it's closed.
The rear opening is nicely squared off and measures 1300mm across, or sufficient dimensions to load a set of golf clubs, width-wise. The boot size is 76 litres bigger with the seats up, now measuring 498 litres, which expands to a luggage capacity or maximum storage space of 1481 litres with the 60/40 rear seatback folded. The top two variants also now score a one-touch electric folding function for the rear seat.
Unless you've suffered the inconvenience of a flat tyre with just a space saver or inflation kit as backup, you won't fully appreciate the fact that the new Forester still packs a full size spare wheel across the line-up. Most of its rivals do not.
The boot area is also adorned with tie-down points, cargo hooks and a third 12V charge point.
If you're looking to tow, all four versions of the new Forester carry a maximum braked towing capacity of 1500kg, with a maximum towball weight of 150kg - which is about average for its class. We're aiming to bring one to a towing review in the near future.
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.
If you're stretching the budget to reach for a Forester, you'll be disappointed to read that the cost of entry has risen by $3250 to $33,490 (MSRP) for the new entry-level 2.5i variant. This is because the previous price-leading 2.0-litre petrol engine has been dropped, in addition to the 2.0-litre turbodiesel and 2.0-litre turbo petrol performance option in favour of an all 2.5-litre petrol line-up.
The absence of the two turbo engines also means the Forester range now tops out $6,250 earlier (for now), and consolidates your options down to just four trim levels. The price list moves from the 2.5i up to the $35,490 2.5i-L, then the $38,490 2.5i-Premium, before the $41,490 2.5i-S at the top of the range.
All told, the range represents pretty stunning value with no shortage of gadgets, and as of this week you'll be able to buy a Forester directly from Subaru online at a drive-away price.
All versions are now equipped with AEB via the EyeSight system, but more on that under Safety.
Apple CarPlay (for iPhone users), Android Auto (for pretty much everyone else), and digital radio (DAB) are also available, and fitted standard across the range for the first time, and if you're not the smartphone-mirroring type, the built-in satellite navigation (GPS) fitted to the top two models is a new TomTom system.
The top three models also come with the new Driver Focus driver-monitoring system which detects drowsiness, but can also recognise the driver's face and adjusts to your preferences when you sit in the driver's seat. Each Forester so equipped enables more preferences to be remembered depending on how much you spend, but the system will remember up to five drivers. In practice, it's pretty amazing technology; the moment you sit down and look forward it gets to work and your settings are restored before you can think about it.
Key standard features for the base 2.5i include a 6.5-inch multimedia touch screen, Harman Kardon sound system with six speakers, dual-zone climate-control air conditioning, leather steering wheel and gearknob, active cruise control, tinted windows at the rear, rain sensing wipers, automatic active LED headlights, daytime running lights and LED tail-lights, front and rear foglights, heated folding door mirrors, keyless entry with push button start, hill start assist, the basic version of the off-road focused X-Mode drive mode, hill descent control, Bluetooth and 17-inch alloys.
The 2.5i-L brings Driver Focus in its most basic form, which includes distraction and drowsiness warnings and will remember your previous climate control settings, along with how you left the dash top and driver instrument screens.
The second-tier model also adds a third camera beyond the EyeSight system, mounted in the grille, which enables the Vision Assist suite of safety features. This is comprised of Front View Monitor (FVM) and Side View Monitor (SVM) collision warnings, Adaptive Driving Beam (ADB) auto high beams. More sensors in the back of the car enables Reverse Automatic Braking (RAB).
The 2.5i-Premium brings dashes of extra chrome to the outside, upgraded cloth seats and dash and door trim, alloy pedals, 8.0-inch multimedia screen with built-in navigation system, eight-way power front seats with memory settings, auto folding door mirrors with dipping passenger mirror, power folding rear seats, power tailgate, and 18-inch rims.
The Driver Focus system also adds driver's seat and door mirror setting recollection.
The top-spec 2.5i-S brings even more exterior and interior garnishes, including leather seats, a panoramic sunroof, eight-speaker Harman Kardon audio plus a subwoofer, and the X-Mode off-road drive program scores two modes to choose from, tailored for either snow/dirt or deep snow/mud.
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.
Rather than the four engine choices and manual transmission option of the Forester it replaces, the new model is available with just one of each. That means no turbo diesel and no turbocharged petrol. The 2.5-litre auto was by far the most popular option before, so it's not all fire and brimstone.
This is the first application of the 2.5 motor with direct injection, which is 90 per cent new according to Subaru. The most measurable specifications gain is an extra 10kW and 4Nm, which now totals a decent 136kW/239Nm for this engine size without a turbo.
Max horsepower is developed at the same 5800rpm as before, while max torque now arrives 300rpm later at 4400rpm. Impressively, these numbers are still possible with Regular 91 RON unleaded.
Unlike the Subarus of old, the 2.5 uses a timing chain instead of a timing belt, which is designed to last the life of the engine. The CVT automatic transmission has also been revised, now with a greater spread of ratios, and the manual mode now has seven stages.
Like all Subarus aside from the BRZ, the new Forester drives all four wheels (front wheel drive is not an option) through the tried and tested Symmetrical all-wheel drive system. Therefore, it's the only mainstream mid-size SUV without price-leading front-wheel-drive variants.
With one engine and transmission across the board, there's just one fuel economy figure to note. The new Forester's official combined petrol consumption figure of 7.4L/100km is 0.7 better than the previous 2.5 auto, and is line-ball with the CX-5 2.5's mileage. It's also within cooee of the diesel fuel consumption figure of 6.4 in the outgoing model.
As mentioned above, it is worth noting that the Forester manages this on Regular 91 RON unleaded fuel, where a lot of its rivals demand more expensive Premium 95 RON to generate decent figures.
The fuel tank size is a generous 63 litres, which suggests a theoretical range of 851km is possible between fills.
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.
Matt's number-one question mark over the new Forester from its international launch was how it would handle rough Australian roads, given he only drove it on a billiard table-smooth, road-cycling track in Japan. Matt's concern is underpinned by the fact that the Liberty and Outback's latest suspension revisions lack the poise of the versions they replaced.
Thankfully, there was no shortage of dirt roads for the Australian launch, which was held around the Grampian Mountains in Victoria. I can report that the new Forester is still a dirt-road expert, its off road capability helped by decent suspension travel, body control and the same ground clearance mm (220mm) as before, along with unpainted plastic around its perimeter to mitigate stone damage.
The stability control is well calibrated for dirt, too, although its intervention is rarely required given the all-wheel-drive system's ability to maintain composure and put power to the ground via the front and rear. We didn't get the chance to test its off-road capability properly on launch, but keep an eye out for our Adventure review in the near future.
It offers similar performance on the road, still feeling compact and nimble (10.8m turning circle) for its class, despite the new model's growth, and the steering feel is good for a car of its type.
The 2.5-litre engine will indeed suit most buyers, but it doesn't have the easy low-rev urge or outright refinement of a smaller turbo unit used by the likes of the CR-V, Tiguan or Escape. The Mazda CX-5 is about the same as the Forester in these areas, which doesn't appear to hurt its popularity.
The previous model's automatic transmission was already one of, if not the best, CVT in the business, and it continues to work well, with the characteristic drone only overcoming road noise in the cabin under sustained full-throttle acceleration. Speaking of which, the new model carries a decent 9.5 second 0-100 acceleration claim.
So all told, the new Forester continues its tradition as a nice all-round drive.
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.
Subaru is known to be one of the leaders when it comes to safety, and the new Forester's credentials don't disappoint.
The standard fitment of EyeSight across the range is a key step, as it brings AEB that will automatically detect potential collisions and bring the car to a full emergency stop at speeds up to 40km/h. The system continues to apply lesser drgrees of braking intervention right up to 145km/h.
EyeSight also brings rear cross-traffic alerts, blind spot monitor, lane departure warning and lane change assist across the board, but the active safety list continues on the 2.5i-L with the Vision Assist system.
Using a third camera mounted in the grille, Vision Assist brings a Front View Monitor (FVM) and Side View Monitor (SVM) collision warnings, Adaptive Driving Beam (ADB) auto high beams. Clever parking sensors in the rear bring Reverse Automatic Braking (RAB), which we'd describe as rear AEB.
These active safety features are backed up by dual front and side airbags, curtain airbags covering the front and rear, a driver's knee bag, and stability control (or ESP).
Another noteworthy new feature is the washer that sprays the reverse camera whenever the rear windscreen wiper is activated.
As mentioned above, the rear seat is equipped with ISOFIX child seat anchor points in the outboard positions, while the centre position makes do with just a top tether baby car seat mount.
The new Forester is expected to match the existing model's maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating - and based on more stringent 2018 standards - but this result is yet to be confirmed. Our safety score is based on the assumption it will score five stars, so please double check.
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 Forester is covered by Subaru's regular three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, which now lags behind the five-year terms offered by most mainstream brands. Subaru has occasionally offered a five-year extended warranty as a limited offer, but is investigating a permanent extension. Watch this space.
The Forester's service intervals have now been brought into line with the Impreza and XV, doubling the scheduled time between services to 12 months, but retaining the same 12,500km distance.
Capped-price servicing is available for the first three intervals, which amount to $346,39, $584.45 and $346.39 respectively, resulting in a total service cost of $1,277.23 over the first three years. Several other brands offer capped pricing beyond the warranty period, and Subaru's scheme is still on the pricey side, but the doubling of the time interval has resulted in a net maintenance cost value improvement over the previous model.
Being an all-new model, the new Forester starts with a clean reliability slate, but any common problems, durability or reliability issues, complaints, faults will likely be revealed in time on our Subaru Forester problems page.