Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class VS Volvo XC40
- Better in every way than the A45
- Terrific front seats
- Relatively restrained looks
- Expensive servicing
- Some interior bits are cheap
- Getting old
- Great styling
- Good standard equipment
- Charming and smart interior
- Very pricey servicing
- Launch Editions limited to small numbers
Buuuuuuuur, parp, buuuuuuuuuuuur, parp. Anyone who knows anything about cars immediately recognises the sound of a 45-engined A-class derivative. It's the sound you hear in a tunnel as old mate blasts past with a giant carbon-fibre wing atop his hatchback. It's the sound you hear at 3:00am on a summer morning (if your suburb has no speed bumps, of course).
Sure, the GLA compact SUV is probably a slightly unexpected source of all that noise. But then, Merc's Ingolstadt rivals stuffed Audi's stupendous five-cylinder engine into a Q3 to make the hugely improbable RSQ3, so why not do the same with their skirts-lifted A-Class?
To be honest, my expectations for this car were low. So do I owe Mercedes a grovelling apology? Or can I still claim the moral high ground after a week of GLA 45 "ownership"?
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The small SUV segment harbours innovation, eye-catching style and bigger-than-you'd-think cabin space.
The Volvo XC40 delivers on all of those fronts, plus more - this has been widely regarded as a game-changer for the Scandinavian brand: but does it live up to the hype?
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
My wonderful wife, who is not really into this kind of car, admitted to me in a quiet voice that she really liked the GLA45 as long as it was in Sport + mode. And I have to agree. While I'm very fond of the ridiculous Audi RSQ3 (that turbo five-cylinder sounds amazing), I think I'd stump up the extra for the GLA.
Importantly, it can be comfortable, it can be quiet and it's a better fit for most humans than the A or CLA. It is getting on a bit and could do with a further clean-out of the poor ergonomics, but in what is likely its final year on sale, it's still a belter.
Has Peter finally lost it? Can the GLA45 be the best of the A-side 45 trio? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
So, there you go. My socks haven't literally been blown off, but there is no denying this is a very competent entry into the small SUV segment. The Momentum in particular offers a promising, but pleasantly packed, small SUV for the money - though most will likely opt for the sportier R-Design model.
Across the range it is arguably a bit too expensive, particularly the ownership aspect - but unlike some rivals it actually feels like you're getting your money's worth with the Volvo XC40.
Would you choose the Volvo XC40 over its small SUV competitors? Let us know in the comments section below.
The GLA45 isn't a looker, but then, none of the GLAs are. There's a certain blobbiness to it. A bit of Teletubby mixed with...um, another Teletubby. It's not ugly, it's just not particularly attractive. The 20-inch wheels do much to lift the appearance and negate the effect of the raised ride height compared to the A45/CLA45.
The body kit stops just short of lairy, which is heartening. So if you want to stand out, venture out into the aftermarket world.
Inside was a mild surprise. The last time I drove a CLA 45 I used the word "gaudy". While the GLA isn't amazingly better, the texture of the Alcantara replacing the brushed metal-look plastic, or the carbon of the option pack, was much more pleasant. The brightwork in the cabin is still a bit odd looking, and it's still overcooked with its red detailing, but it is an otherwise beautifully built and well-detailed interior.
I think it's perfect. The more I look at it, the more I struggle to see what I would want to change, because Volvo's designers have absolutely, positively nailed the styling of the XC40.
As the Volvo Cars senior vice president of design, Robin Page, said at the launch of the XC40 this week, the Swedish brand's smallest real SUV offering (we're not counting the V40 Cross Country, here) is like a stylish Prada sneaker, where the XC60 is like a suede shoe that would look okay with jeans or slacks, and the XC90 is the luxury black leather brogue.
It has detailed lines, a bluff and tough front end with the signature Hammer of Thor LED daytime running light inlays, and a bold grille treatment that flows to a square-jawed front bumper.
The scalloped sections in the front and rear doors help ground it, reflecting the ground and the sky to make it appear light on its feet. The two-tone roof finish on the cars at launch - white roof and mint-ish coloured paint for the Momentum; black roof and white paint for the R-Design - make it seem almost like a piece of high-end household furniture.
Mr Page described some elements of the design as "robot-like", and I can see more than a bit of WallE in this vehicle. The tail-lights maintain the same shape we've come to expect of the XC range, but with a scooped bootlid that works to hunker it down. Plus it's 40mm wider at the rear, which is said to help plant it visually.
The boxy exterior is broken up by cheeky touches like the Swedish flag on the front flank. It's playful, and definitely has that youthful appeal that Volvo undoubtedly wants for its entry-level SUV.
If I wasn't sold on the outside, the inside basically did its best impersonation of Bender from Futurama and yelled "shut up and take my money".
The front seats are utterly brilliant and feel as good as they look. On first acquaintance they may feel under-padded, but once you've adjusted them to your liking, you never want to leave. The AMG cars also feature one vast improvement over a normal GLA - the ergonomic disaster of a column-mounted shifter is removed, with a console-mounted shifter added where a small cubby once lived. It's so much better, although the Park button is oddly difficult to press.
When luxuriating in those snug front seats, you'll have access to two cupholders and door-mounted bottle holders, as well as a console bin (where the USB ports are) and a tray under the climate controls. Rear seat passengers will find legroom tight but headroom good, even with the huge sunroof.
The GLA's boot holds an entirely reasonable 421 litres, rising to 1235 when you drop both rear seats.
It may be the smallest 'proper' Volvo SUV to date, but the XC40 is pretty substantial - in fact, it is bigger than most of its rivals: it measures 4425mm long (with a 2702mm wheelbase), 1863mm wide and 1652mm tall.
That's bigger than many of its direct competitors, including the BMW X2, the Audi Q2 and Audi Q3, the Mercedes-Benz GLA and the Jaguar E-Pace. Only the BMW X1 is a touch longer, and we know that model is a beacon of interior pragmatism.
But the XC40 is not just big on the outside - the space inside is very good. In fact, it could be the best in its class... it's hard to tell without sitting in the competitors back to back, but with my 183cm (six-foot) frame sat behind my own driving position, I had ample space in the second row.
Kneeroom, toeroom and headroom were all exceptional, and the latter is even largely unaffected by the panoramic sunroof fitted to the Launch Edition cars we were driving.
Yep, this doesn't really feel like a small SUV, and it has all the usual must-have items like top tether points, ISOFIX child seat attachments rear air vents, bottle holders in the doors and a flip down armrest with cup holders. The map pockets are mesh numbers, backed by a hard plastic protector so the kids don't damage the fabric on the seat when they're attempting a shiatsu massage with their anxious little feet.
Now, those door pockets are great in the back, and astounding in the front (yes, it is possible to be astounded by door pockets). There are no speakers in the doors - so you get huge door pockets as a result - and the entirety of the pocket is lined with the same carpet that spans the floor of the vehicle, both up front and in the back.
That carpet isn't just any carpet... and no, I'm not referencing the orange colour, which is either ghastly or great, depending on who you ask. The carpet itself consists of 97 per cent recycled plastic, made from repurposed bottles. The other three per cent is dye.
Volvo has thought of some really good loose item storage, enough to make you think they've taken a leaf out of Skoda's book. There are good sized cupholders, there's a 'Qi' wireless phone charger in a cubby that's big enough for a few large smartphones, and there are two USB ports up front and a USB-C port in the back. The centre console bin has an actual bin at the front as well, and it's removable so you can take it out and wash it when you need to.
There are other nice touches such as a big portrait layout media screen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and sat nav, plus it doubles as a display for the reversing camera. You can get a 360-degree surround view camera set-up (standard on Launch Edition models), and every XC40 has a 12.3-inch digital driver info display that helps if feel pretty upmarket inside.
The boot is bigger than many of its competitors, too, with 460 litres of cargo room - and that expands to 1336L with the back seats folded down. And the smart arts continue in the back, with electric seat release buttons for the 60/40 split-fold back seats, and a really smart folding boot floor system that allows you to hook shopping bags on to stop them from flying around. Plus, you get a space-saver spare under the floor.
The top-spec models get a power tailgate, and you can option that on a more affordable version.
Price and features
The GLA 45 lightens your wallet by no less than $89,211 - more than double the GLA 180 front-wheel drive, and about $5000 more than the bonkers (and ancient) RS Q3.
Packed into the GLA's kit bag are 20-inch alloy wheels, a 12-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, comprehensive safety gear, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, electric and heated front seats, sat nav, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, leather trim (some real, some not), auto parking, powered and heated folding mirrors, a massive sunroof and dynamic dampers. There's no spare tyre, just a tyre-repair kit.
The multimedia system is Mercedes' COMAND unit and it is as user-unfriendly as ever. It does, however, power a very decent stereo, and also offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Thankfully our car was bereft of both the carbon-fibre package ($990) and the aerodynamics package ($1990).
The Volvo XC40 range comes in two different model grades - the entry-level Momentum and the top spec R-Design. You can get petrol or diesel in both trim lines and like most Euro manufacturers, the standard spec is better than it once was - but there are still plenty of options available.
The T5 petrol Momentum opens the range at $47,990 (all prices plus on-road costs), while the D4 diesel Momentum attracts a bit of a premium, listing at $50,990.
The Momentum grade has standard equipment including push-button start, dual-zone climate control, 18-inch alloy wheels, LED 'Thor's Hammer' headlights with automatic high-beam, auto-dimming mirrors (inside and out), a 12.3-inch digital driver information display, 9.0-inch touchscreen media system with sat nav, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, eight speakers, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and Qi wireless phone charging.
The Momentum models have part-cloth/part-faux leather seat upholstery, along with an electronically-adjustable driver's seat and four-way lumbar support.
The safety story is strong for all models - check out the safety section below for all the details.
The sportier R-Design in T5 petrol guise is listed at $54,990, while the D4 diesel R-Design model is the flagship offering for now, listing at $57,990.
Over the Momentum, the R-Design models add some extra kit for your extra cash.
The most obvious change is the more aggressive R-Design exterior styling including a blacked out gloss grille, black contrasting roof and dual black tailpipes, 20-inch 'diamond-cut' black alloy wheels, plus it rides on the 'sport chassis' with stiffer suspension, and adaptive headlights with cornering beams.
Inside it gets R-Design perforated leather trim on the seats, steering wheel (which also gets paddleshifters), and gear selector, plus it has a black headliner. In addition to electric driver's seat adjustment, R-Design models get electric passenger seat adjust, plus there's full keyless entry, an electric tailgate with gesture function, and ambient mood lighting.
Volvo is celebrating the arrival of the XC40 with a pair of value-packed Launch Edition models - and as nice as they are, they're sold out already.
The T5 Momentum Launch Edition model lists at $52,990, while the D4 version is $55,990. Volvo claims $10,120 of extra value for a $5000 additional cost to consumers.
The Launch Edition version of the Momentum adds LED headlights with active bending beam, 19-inch five-spoke alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, tinted windows, an alarm, leather trim, heated front seats, electric front passenger seat adjustment, seat cushion extension, power folding backrest and headrest, keyless entry with electric tailgate, adaptive cruise control with semi-automated 'Pilot Assist', semi-automated parking assist, a 360-degree camera, and a 13-speaker harman/kardon premium stereo.
The T5 R-Design Launch Edition model is listed at $56,740, while the D4 R-Design Launch Edition comes in at $59,740. The value-add according to Volvo is $6670, but it costs buyers just $1750.
The Launch Edition version adds (over the regular R-Design) a panoramic sunroof, tinted windows, an alarm, heated front seats, power folding backrest and headrest, adaptive cruise control with semi-automated Pilot Assist, semi-automated parking assist, a 360-degree camera, and a 13-speaker harman/kardon premium stereo.
Engine & trans
AMG's fabled 2.0-litre turbo four lurks under that higher bonnet, still kicking out an improbable 280kW and 475Nm. Drive reaches the road via Merc's own seven-speed twin-clutch transmission and all four of its wheels.
All that power and grip translates to a 4.4-second dash to 100km/h for the slightly tubby (over 1600kg) GLA, but just between you and me, anything under five seconds feels scorchingly quick.
There's no real 'entry-level' engine as yet, but a base model three-cylinder version with front-wheel drive is expected at the end of 2019. That's a long while to wait, but in in the meantime, there are petrol and diesel models to choose from.
The petrol is known as the T5, and it's a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder unit with a punchy 185kW of power at 5500rpm and 350Nm of torque from 1800-4800rpm. Those figures put it on par with a Ford Focus ST, and Volvo claims a sprightly 0-100 sprint time of just 6.5 seconds.
The diesel is called the D4, and it's a twin-turbo unit, again with high outputs: 140kW of power at 4000rpm, and 400Nm of torque from 1750-2500rpm. If you're interested, the 0-100km/h time for the diesel is claimed at 7.9sec.
Both engines are teamed with eight-speed automatic transmissions as standard, and both are all-wheel drive, giving these little tykes a point of difference against competitors like the Audi Q2, BMW X2 and Mercedes GLA, all of which have front-wheel drive entry level models.
Unlike some of those other models, though, the XC40 is a bit of a porker - the petrol model weighs in at 1710 kilograms, with the diesel around the 1743kg mark... so it needs the power to get it moving.
The towing capacity across all models is identical, at 2100kg for a braked trailer and 750kg un-braked.
The official combined-cycle figure suggests the GLA45 will consume 7.5L/100km. Obviously that figure is largely irrelevant, and not just for the usual reasons, but because you don't buy a GLA45 to potter about in. I got, uh, 12.5L/100km, so you can imagine how much I was enjoying it.
As you might expect, you'll need to feed it 98RON.
These engines don't prioritise frugality over usability, but they still offer respectable claimed fuel consumption for the class in which they compete.
The petrol is claimed to use 7.1 litres per 100 kilometres, which is fine, but you'll need to use 95RON premium unleaded when you fill up.
The diesel's claimed fuel consumption is rated at 5.1L/100km - again, not setting any benchmarks, but a respectable figure nonetheless.
On test, we saw around 10.0L/100km for the T5 over a mix of some urban driving, a big stint of country driving on twisty and straight roads, and some freeway work, too.
The fuel tank capacity is just 54 litres, so you might find yourself refuelling fairly often as the range isn't exceptionally good.
When the 45-badged cars first launched, they were something of a revelation. BMW's turbo six-cylinder fans sniffed at the 2.0-litre's staggering outputs and all-wheel-drive chassis, but this car really captured the imagination. The GLA45 might be slightly unexpected, but it's better in almost every way as a daily driver than the A or CLA.
For a start, its higher ride height seems to translate to a much better ride quality. Anything on 20-inch wheels should have an appalling ride, but the GLA45 manages to be firm yet comfortable. Put the other two in Race mode and you'll need to up your private health insurance extras to include osteo, physio and whatever "o"-ending specialist fixes your back.
The improved ride quality meant I was far happier to chuck this car around. While it doesn't have the same ultimate overall performance of the lower cars, it's far more comfortable whether you're on it or just driving around. The front seats are supportive and comfortable, and the steering is excellent.
As for the engine...well, it still farts like toddler during a moment of silence at a funeral, but you can't deny its technical brilliance and huge power outputs. I remember the CLA45's engine as being a bit highly strung. Perhaps I couldn't separate the overall high-strung nature of the car from the engine, but I felt the same engine in this car wasn't as jumpy.
The way it propels this car into triple figures is tremendous fun. It's not as charismatic as the Audi five-cylinder, perhaps, but that doesn't matter in the end - it's properly fast, attached to a better chassis and offers a cabin with a driving position fit for humans.
That's a good start. I mean, the Polestars were fast, but they weren't the last word in dynamism. The XC40 - like I said before - is designed to be a bit more fun, and that translates to the way it drives.
I only had a chance to get behind the wheel of the R-Design T5 model, and I couldn't help but associate this new model as some sort of high-riding hot hatch.
The engine's outputs suggest it could be, and the performance on offer pretty much backs up that notion. In Dynamic mode it offers willing performance, though the eight-speed automatic can be caught out in its quest to lower fuel consumption rather than offer outright edge-of-your-seat performance. But, fear not - there are paddle-shifters that allow you to take matters into your own hands, quite literally.
The steering is pretty quick, which helps separate it from the slowly, slowly approach of the more sedate larger SUVs in the brand's line-up. It is light and accurate, without much feel (it's an electric system, after all), and makes for easy parking, decent high speed direction changes, and good assuredness in the bends.
That comes down to the all-wheel drive system, which helps apportion torque where it's needed because it's an on-demand system. Grip from the Pirelli P-Zero tyres was excellent, too.
Because I was in the R-Design, I had the 'sports chassis' firm suspension - by way of stiffer springs, dampers and anti-roll bars as part of the MacPherson strut front and independent rear end (coil-sprung, unlike the inverted leaf se-tups of the bigger Volvo SUVs). And the result was a ride that wasn't necessarily plush, but nor was it too sharp or abrupt over bumps.
Admittedly, I could feel the lumps and bumps in the road surface as a driver and as a passenger, but I thought it kept in good stead with the persona of this little SUV - something a little bit more sporty than you might expect from Volvo. Especially a Volvo SUV.
That said, I'd give anything to drive the front-wheel drive XC40 three-cylinder on 18-inch wheels and the standard chassis set-up, because it has the potential to be an absolute peach.
The GLA comes with nine airbags (including driver's knee), blind-spot sensors, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, forward-collision warning and mitigation and driver-attention detection.
The Volvo XC40 is yet to be tested by EuroNCAP or ANCAP, so there's no crash test score to talk about.
But there is plenty of safety equipment fitted as standard - and we're referencing the regular models, not the sold-out Launch Edition versions.
Let's start with seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver's knee cover), a reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors. You can option a 360-degree camera if you like, and there's a 'Park Assist Pilot' semi-autonomous parking system available, too.
Auto emergency braking (AEB) is standard, and not only for the front - the XC40 has rear collision warning and braking, too. Plus there's blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, lane keeping assistance, and a system called "run-off road protection and mitigation" that can detect if you veer off the tarmac unintentionally.
All models have cruise control, but you can option an adaptive cruise control system with Pilot Assist semi-autonomous driving.
The Mercedes standard warranty is three years/unlimited kilometres with roadside assist to match. Service intervals are a very reasonable 12 months/20,000km.
The company also offers capped-price servicing - first service is $576 but the second and third are a whopping $1152 each. Three years will set you back $2880.
Volvo really needs to address its ownership costs... these numbers are either the most honest in the premium maintenance world, or the most expensive in the luxury car class.
There's a capped-price service plan available in two different levels - 'SmartCare' and 'SmartCare Plus' - the latter of which includes consumables like wiper blades, brakes (pads and discs) and pollen filters, plus the occasional wheel alignment.
As with the other Volvo models, buyers can choose to opt for a three-year/45,000km plan, a four-year/60,000km plan, or a five-year/75,000km plan. All of them are expensive. Very expensive.
The prices are as follows. SmartCare: three years - $2165; four years - $3320; five years - $4030.
Then there's the SmartCare Plus: three years - $2980; four years - $5160; five years - $6345.
This downside is compounded by the fact there's no special treatment in terms of warranty cover, either. The brand backs its cars with a three-year/unlimited kilometre plan, which is on par for its competitive set.
At least you can get up to six years of roadside assist included at no cost, provided you service your car with Volvo authorised workshops.