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Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class


Volvo XC40

Summary

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class

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.

Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency7.5L/100km
Seating5 seats

Volvo XC40

The Volvo XC40 - the Chinese-owned Swedish car company's debut in the compact SUV segment - was a hit from the get-go. Stylish, refined, ever-so-cool, and yet not pricey enough to have to go up against the other Euro competition, it kept Volvo's contemporary image intact.

A couple of years later, the XC40 T5 PHEV arrived, before the name was changed to the rather more friendly XC40 Recharge. That's all part of the company's commitment to electrification, which means that by the end of the year, no Volvo will be without some form of electrification, whether it's the subtle mild-hybrid approach or a full-on EV.

The Recharge, then, occupies the middle ground, being a plug-in hybrid, where an electric motor is combined with a petrol engine to deliver a modest but useful electric-only range, but also a (theoretical) total range of almost 1000km between a fill and charge.

Safety rating
Engine Type1.5L turbo
Fuel TypeHybrid with Premium Unleaded
Fuel Efficiency2.2L/100km
Seating5 seats

Verdict

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class8/10

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.

 


Volvo XC407.6/10

The Volvo XC40 Recharge packages up the kinds of things I reckon Volvo buyers want - style, safety and advanced technology. The XC40's thrifty fuel use coupled with a useful if not astonishing EV range means you can run this car almost literally on the smell of an oily rag if you're a suburban or urban dweller.

It also offers the flexibility to deliver a drive between our capitals without any of the nail-biting range anxiety so many Australians claim to have, and that is preventing them from buying an EV.

While it's isn't cheap, neither is progress. But at least you're getting a well-equipped, awesome-looking and fun-to-drive SUV with buckets of space and an attractive badge.

Design

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class9/10

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.

 


Volvo XC40

The XC40 backed up the XC90's design direction, and, like its big brother, it's a belter. The segment has plenty of outstanding designs (that's what happens when everyone gets in on the same game), but the XC40 is a proper looker. From the Hammer of Thor headlights through to the cool concave grille, the upright stance, blacked-out roof and C-pillar, and those signature stacked taillights it's...well, the whole thing is much cooler than it probably should be.

That's not a backhander about Volvo styling - the company has been doing cool for almost 20 years - but the vaguely Minecraft aesthetic shouldn't work, but it does.

The cabin is very nice, too, but in a more conventional way. It's not as bang-up-to-date as a newer German cabin, but then you're not paying another twenty grand for the privilege. The vertical screen works in its environment, the digital dashboard has a high-tech feel and the materials are very pleasant to look at and touch.

 

Practicality

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class8/10

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.

 


Volvo XC40

Rear seat passengers enjoy uncommonly comfortable seats with a pretty serious set of headrests, part of the safety package. The optional "electric folding" mechanism means that if you're on your own in the car, you can press a button and they fall forward out of your vision. It's really quite handy, and for a couple of hundred bucks, and it saves a bit of hassle.

There is tons of head and legroom, too, and rear seat passengers score their own air vents.

The boot starts at a handy-if-not-spectacular 460 litres, rising to 1336 litres with the seats folded down. Some of the boot space is nibbled away by the bag holding the charger you use in a standard 240V domestic point, but not hugely so. 

There are two pairs of cupholders, one in the front next to the dainty little shifter and two in the rear armrest, which is unusually sturdy. Each door will hold a bottle, too, for a maximum of four.

 

Price and features

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class7/10

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.


Volvo XC40

While you can a have an XC40 for just under $47,000 (before on-roads), the Recharge asks $64,990 before options and on-roads.

You get 20-inch alloy wheels, a 14-speaker Harmon Kardon stereo, sat nav, leather seats, power front seats, R-Design bits and pieces (like the steering wheel), dual-zone climate control with air cleaning system, panoramic sunroof, auto LED headlights, auto high beam, wireless phone charging, headlight washers, auto wipers, keyless entry and start and a space-saver spare.

The 9.0-inch, portrait-oriented touchscreen runs a beefy Harmon Kardon 14-speaker stereo and has DAB, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It's a slightly confusing system - if you want to change something about the car, it can be a bit laborious getting from the main system back to CarPlay. I'm sure you'd get used to it, but apart from that, the hardware is quick, the menus comprehensible (for the most part) and the side-swiping action quite familiar.

Our test car had metallic paint ($1150), a Versatility Pack (load protection net, power folding headrests - $230), Climate Pack (heated front seats, windscreen washers and steering wheel - $700), around-view camera ($990 - that stings), tinted rear windows ($700), heated rear seats ($350) and auto parking ($650), taking the total to $69,760. Apart from the one that stung, most of these prices are relatively reasonable.

Engine & trans

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class8/10

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.


Volvo XC40

As this is a plug-in hybrid, things are a mite more complex than a standard XC40. The internal combustion engine, which both drives the wheels and can charge the batteries, is a 1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbo unit with 132kW and 265Nm, both pretty good figures on their own. 

Plugged into that is a 60kW/160Nm electric motor which can drive the car all on its lonesome or in combination with the engine.

Making sure the power gets to the front wheels is a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic and the XC40 Recharge will go from rest to 100km/h in a handy 7.4 seconds - about a second slower than the quickest petrol-only model.

The XC40's charge cable plugs into a charging point on the front left of the car between the wheel and the front door. Using the supplied charger, you'll be waiting around six hours for a from-dead charge. If you can find a fast-charger, it will step down to the XC40's throughput and be done in two and a half hours.

Fuel consumption

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class8/10

The GLA will require 95 RON fuel and claims to drink 7.5 litres per 100km, while producing 170g/km of CO2. 

Our slightly rushed launch drive didn't allow us to check that figure, sadly, but we will on our next, longer test.


Volvo XC40

Volvo's government-approved ADR testing yielded a slightly silly 2.2L/100km (the Euro-focussed WLTP comes in at 2.0L/100km). This sort of figure is common with PHEVs as the testing cycle is short and not really designed for advanced drivetrains.

Having said that, and throwing out my usual 30 per cent rule (I reckon adding 30 per cent to a fuel figure is probably what you'll get in the real world on a "normal" car), the 5.4L/100km I got during a week's driving is pretty reasonable given the point I was intending to use to charge it didn't work. 

The week I spent with it included two separate 30km EV-only runs across the city where the petrol motor kept to itself the whole time, and I still had about six-kilometres of range left. The 10.7kWh battery has a claimed range of 46km so given a good chunk of that running was in 80km/ zones, that's pretty good going.

Driving

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class8/10

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.


Volvo XC40

The XC40 Recharge is a delight around town. I'm a big fan of PHEVs (try saying that ten times quickly) because they're a good halfway house between a full BEV, both on price and for dealing with range anxiety (quick reminder, there will likely be a full EV version of the XC40 here by year's end). 

It's a well-beaten statistic, but most Australians, all being equal, travel an average of 30-40km per day. Which means that despite me saying 2.2L/100km isn't really accurate, if you're the kind of person who buys this car for the school run or short commute, you'll probably never have to use the petrol engine until you decide to get a bit frisky on the accelerator or, like I did, you take it on a highway run down to the NSW South Coast.

The XC40 Recharge will always use its electric motor, with the software keeping a little bit of charge in hand for stepping off at the lights, which is the biggest contributor to fuel usage. Getting 1700kg-plus of car moving requires a lot of energy.

If you need it, the XC40 can get moving very quickly, and in the urban cut and thrust, the combination of instant electric torque and a very effective turbo three-cylinder means breaking into traffic is a doddle. While the 0-100km/h is quick enough, it's quite lively from 0-60km/h, meaning far fewer of those clench-and-punch-it moments when breaking into moving traffic than some other mid-sized SUVs.

And if you keep it charged - easy enough if you have access to a power point and take the view that each night you charge it the same way you charge your phone - you'll spend the vast amount of your time driving in EV-only mode, which is every relaxing and near silent. Or would be if the 20-inch wheels weren't wrapped in Pirelli P-Zero tyres, but even then they're not too noisy.

It's also very easy to live with, easy to park (especially with the rather expensive 360-degree camera) and the vision out is mostly good, apart from over your left shoulder where the rear quarter window is slashed in twain by a stylish application of the set square. The various safety systems ensure it isn't an issue, however.

Safety

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class8/10

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.


Volvo XC40

Being a Volvo, it's laden with safety gear - and you even get a list on the dashboard screen every time you start up, which I think is quite cute.

Along with the usual seven airbags, ABS, and stability and traction controls, the XC40 also has forward AEB (with pedestrian, vehicle, large animal and cyclist detection, and which operates at high and low speed), lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring and reverse cross-traffic alert.

You also get two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchors. ANCAP last tested the XC40 in July 2018 and awarded it five stars.

Ownership

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class8/10

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.


Volvo XC40

Volvo throws in a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is unusual in the Euro segment. You can also pre-pay your servicing with a plan, covering three-years/45,000km for $1595. Volvo expects to see you once every 12 months or 15,000km.