Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class VS Volkswagen Tiguan
- 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
- High tech overhaul
- Subtle, refined looks
- Spacious and practical
- Getting pricey
- Minimal drivetrain enhancements
- Touch interfaces won't be for everyone
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|
First there was the Beetle, then there was the Golf. Now for the first time in history, Volkswagen is most associated with its mid-size SUV, the Tiguan.
It’s high stakes, but Volkswagen hopes rolling updates will keep it fresh for at least a few years to come, as it (globally) marches towards electrification.
There’s no electrification for Australia this time around, but has VW done enough to keep such an important model in the fight? We’ve taken a look at the whole Tiguan range to find out.
|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.
The Tiguan moves a smidge further upmarket with this facelift, now with an entry cost higher than ever, and while that might rule it out for some buyers, no matter which one you pick you’d still be getting the full experience when it comes to safety, cabin comfort, and convenience.
It's up to you to choose how you want it to look and drive, which are ultimately subjective areas anyway. On that basis I have no doubt this Tiguan will keep its buyers happy for years to come.
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 Tiguan was already an attractive car, with many subtle angular elements which added up to something suitably sophisticated for a European SUV.
For the update, VW has mainly made changes to the Tiguan’s face to keep it in line with the incoming Golf 8’s tweaked design language.
I think it has only served to make this car look better, with more integrated light fittings swooping out of its now more gentle grille treatment. There was a pugnacious toughness about the outgoing model’s flat face that I will miss, though.
The side profile is near identical, the new car only identifiable by subtle chrome touches and new wheel choices, while the rear is freshened up with a new lower bumper treatment, contemporary Tiguan lettering across the rear, and in the case of the Elegance and R-Line, impressive LED light clusters.
The inside, which has had a significant digital overhaul is what will get buyers salivating. Even the base car scores the amazing digital dash, but the larger multimedia screens and sleek touch panels will be sure to impress.
It’s important to note that while pretty much any car can have massive screens today, not all have the processing power to match, but I’m glad to say everything in the VW is as slick and fast as it should be.
The new wheel is a really nice touch with the embedded VW logo and cool looking surrounds. It feels a bit more substantial than the outgoing unit, too, and all the functions on it are nicely laid out and ergonomic to use.
I will say that the colour scheme, no matter which variant you pick, is pretty safe. The dash, while nicely finished, is just one big slate of grey, detracting from the flashy digital overhaul.
Even the inserts are plain and subtle, perhaps a missed opportunity for VW to make the interior of its pricey mid-sizer feel a bit more special.
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.
Refined and digitised it may have been, but is this update still practical? One of my big worries when hopping in was that the abundance of touch elements would make it distracting to operate while driving.
The touch panel climate unit from the previous car was starting to look and feel a little old, but there’s still a part of me that will miss how easy to use it was.
But the new touch climate panel not only looks good, it’s pretty easy to use too. It just takes a few days of getting used to it.
What I really missed was a volume dial and tactile shortcut buttons on the R-Line’s massive 9.2-inch touch-only screen. It’s a little usability gripe that will get on some people’s nerves.
The same goes for the touch elements on the R-Line’s wheel. They look and feel super cool with odd vibrating feedback, although at times I did fumble things that should be simple like cruise functions and volume. Sometimes the old ways are the best.
It sounds like I’m complaining about the Tiguan’s digital overhaul, but most of it is for the best. The instrument cluster (once an Audi exclusive feature) is one of the best on the market in terms of its look and usability, and the large multimedia screens make it really easy to jab at what function you’re looking for while remaining concentrated on the road.
The cabin is also excellent, with a tall but suitable driving position, big storage bins in the doors, big cupholders and cutaways in the tidy centre console, as well as a small centre console box and odd little pop-open tray atop the dash.
The new Tiguan is USB-C only in terms of connectivity, so bring a converter.
The back seat offers excellent amounts of room for my 182cm (6'0") frame, behind my own driving position. It’s super practical back there, too, with even the base car scoring a third adjustable climate zone with movable vents, USB-C outlet, and a 12V outlet.
There are pockets on the back of the front seats, big bottle holders in the door and drop-down armrest, and weird little pockets atop the seats, too. It’s one of the best rear seats in the mid-size SUV class in terms of amenities for passengers.
The boot is a large 615L VDA regardless of variant. This is also great for the mid-size SUV class, and it fit our entire CarsGuide luggage set with space to spare.
Every Tiguan variant also has a space saver spare under the boot floor, and little cutaways behind the rear wheel arches to maximise storage space.
The power tailgate is a boost, too, although it remains odd that the R-Line misses out on the gesture control.
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 updated Tiguan doesn’t look wildly different from the outside. We’ll get to design in a second, but don’t underestimate it based on looks alone, there are a lot of significant changes under this mid-sizer's skin which will be key to its ongoing appeal.
For a start, VW has dumped its corporate titles of old. Names like Trendline have been dumped in favour of more friendly titles, with the Tiguan range now consisting of just three variants, the base Life, mid-grade Elegance, and top-spec R-Line.
To make it more simple, the Life is the only grade available as a front-wheel drive, while the Elegance and R-Line are all-wheel drive only.
As with the pre-facelift model, the updated Tiguan range will become more expansive in 2022 with the stretched seven-seat Allspace variant returning, and for the first time the brand will also introduce a go-fast Tiguan R performance variant.
In terms of the three variants which arrive for now, though, the Tiguan has notably taken a price hike, now technically more expensive than ever before, even if it is only by $200 over the outgoing Comfortline.
The base Life can either be chosen as a 110TSI 2WD with an MSRP of $39,690, or as a 132TSI AWD with an MSRP of $43,690.
While the price has increased, VW notes that with the tech onboard the current car, it would represent at least a $1400 discount on the Comfortline with the required option pack to meet it like-for-like.
Standard equipment on the base Life includes an 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, a 10.25-inch fully digital instrument cluster, 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry with push-start ignition, full auto LED headlights, cloth interior trim, a new leather bound wheel with the brand’s updated aesthetic touches, dual-zone climate control (now with a fully touch interface), and a powered tailgate with gesture control.
It’s a tech heavy package, and feels nothing like a base model. A pricey $5000 'Luxury Pack' can upgrade the Life to include leather seats, a heated steering wheel, power seat adjust for the driver, and a panoramic sunroof.
It’s a significant price-jump from the Life, and adds adaptive chassis control, 19-inch alloy wheels, chrome exterior styling touches, interior ambient lighting, upgraded ‘Matrix’ LED headlights and LED tail-lights, standard ‘Vienna’ leather interior trim with power adjustable front seats, a 9.2-inch touch-only multimedia interface, heated steering wheel and front seats, and privacy tint on the rear windows.
Finally, the top-spec R-Line is available with the same 162 TSI ($53,790) and 147 TDI ($55,290) all-wheel drive powertrain options, and includes massive 20-inch alloy wheels, a more aggressive body kit with blacked-out R touches, bespoke R-Line leather seat trim, sports pedals, black interior headliner, variable ratio steering, as well as a sportier steering wheel design with haptic feedback touch control panels. Interestingly the R-Line loses the gesture control tailgate, making do only with a powered one.
The only options on the Elegance and R-Line aside from premium paints ($850) is the panoramic sunroof which will set you back an additional $2000, or the ‘Sound and Vision’ package, which adds a 360-degree parking camera, head up display, and harman/kardon nine-speaker audio system.
Every variant also comes with the full array of active safety features, which is a huge boost to value for buyers, so make sure to take a look at that later in this review.
Regardless, the entry-level Life now competes with mid-grades of rivals like the Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX-5, and Toyota RAV4, the latter of which has a key fuel-sipping hybrid variant, which many buyers are searching for.
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 Tiguan maintains a relatively complex engine line-up for the class.
The entry level Life can be chosen with its own set of engines. The cheapest of which is the 110 TSI. It’s a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine producing 110kW/250Nm driving the front wheels via a six-speed dual-clutch automatic. The 110 TSI is the only front-drive option left in the Tiguan range.
Next up is the 132 TSI. It’s a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol producing 132kW/320Nm driving all four wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
The Elegance and R-Line are available with the same two higher-powered engine choices. This includes the 162 TSI 2.0-litre turbo-petrol which produces 162kW/350Nm, or the 147 TDI 2.0-litre turbo-diesel which produces 147kW/400Nm. Either engine is mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic and drives all four wheels.
Missing from the picture for this update is the word seemingly on every buyer’s lips at the moment – hybrid.
There are hybrid variants available overseas, but due to ongoing issues with Australia’s relatively poor fuel quality, VW has been unable to launch them here. Things could change in the near future, however…
Whiz-bang dual-clutch automatics are meant to make for lower fuel numbers, and it certainly seems to be the case for the Tiguan, at least on its official figures.
The 110 TSI Life we tested for this range review has an official/combined consumption figure of 7.7L/100km, while our test car saw around 8.5L/100km.
Meanwhile the 162 TSI R-Line also sampled has an official figure of 8.5L/100km, and our car returned a dash-reported 8.9L/100km.
Keep in mind these tests took place over only a handful of days rather than our usual weekly test, so take our numbers with a grain of salt.
Either way, they are impressive for mid-size SUVs, particularly in the case of the all-wheel drive 162 TSI.
On the downside, all Tiguans require a minimum of 95RON as the engines are incompatible with our cheapest entry-level 91.
This is due to our particularly poor fuel quality standards, which look set to clean up if our fuel refineries get an upgrade in 2024.
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.
Given that so much is similar across the Tiguan range in terms of its spec and fitment, which variant you choose primarily influences the experience behind the wheel.
It’s a shame, for example, that the entry-level 110 TSI hasn’t been tweaked for this facelift, as our gripes with this variant still stand.
The 1.4-litre turbo is efficient and reasonably punchy for its size, but has an annoying power lull when it comes to a stop which can work with the dual-clutch to make for some laggy, glitchy moments.
Where the base car shines, though, is its ride. Like the Golf below it, the 110 TSI Life strikes a fine balance between ride quality and comfort, proving to insulate the cabin well from bumps and road impurities, while giving it enough driver engagement in the corners to feel a little like a giant hatch.
If you want to read more about the 110 Life, we have a variant review of the new one here.
We weren’t able to test the mid-grade Elegance, nor did we sample the 147 TDI diesel for this test, but we did have a chance to drive the top-spec 162 TSI R-Line.
Straight away it’s evident there's a strong case for paying the extra for more grunt. This engine is excellent in terms of the power on offer, and the way it's delivered.
The big boost in these raw figures helps it deal with the extra weight of an all-wheel drive system, and the extra low-down torque makes it an even better match for the snappy dual-clutch automatic.
This has the effect of removing most of the annoying jerky moments from stop-start traffic, while allowing the driver to make the most of the benefits of the instantaneous dual-clutch shifts when accelerating in a straight line.
The all-wheel drive system, more aggressive tyres, and a sharper steering tune in the R-Line make it an absolute pleasure to turn into corners at speed, offering a handling prowess that betrays its shape and relative heft.
Certainly then, there’s something to be said for splashing out on the larger engine, but the R-Line isn’t without its downsides.
The huge wheels conspire to make the ride a tad harsh when bouncing off suburban road imperfections, so if you’re primarily plodding around town and not seeking thrills on the weekend it may be worth considering the Elegance with its smaller 19-inch alloys.
Stay tuned for a future variant review with driving impressions for the 147 TDI, and of course the Allspace and full-fat R when they become available next year.
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.
Great news here. For this update, the entire VW safety suite (now branded 'IQ Drive') is available even on the base Life 110 TSI.
Included is freeway-speed auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, lane keep assist with lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control with stop and go function, driver attention alert, as well as front and rear parking sensors.
The Tiguan will carry across its maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating as awarded in 2016. The Tiguan has a total of seven airbags (the standard six plus a driver’s knee) and the expected stability, traction, and brake controls.
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.
Volkswagen continues with a competitive five year/unlimited kilometre warranty, the industry standard when it comes to its primarily Japanese rivals.
Servicing is covered by a capped price program, but the best way to keep the cost down is to purchase the pre-paid service packs which cover you for three years at $1200, or five years at $2400, regardless of variant.
Doing so brings the cost down to very competitive levels, although not to the absurd lows of Toyota.