Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class VS Volvo XC90
- 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
- Outstanding fuel efficiency
- Spacious and practical
- Effortless to drive
- Hybrid battery could be bigger
- Media screen is overly busy
- Charging cable storage bag seem an afterthought
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|
The last time I reviewed a plug-in hybrid Volvo I pretty much got death threats. OK, not quite, but my review and video of the XC60 R Design T8 made some readers and viewers very angry and they even called me names, all because I never charged the battery. Well, there’ll be no need for me to flee to a safe house this time, because not only did I charge the XC90 R-Design T8 Recharge I’m reviewing here, but I plugged it in nearly all the time I wasn’t driving it. Happy now?
I say nearly all the time, because during the three-week test of this plug-in hybrid XC 90 we took it away on a family holiday and didn’t have access to power and you’ll most likely face that situation too as an owner.
So how was the fuel economy of this big seven-seat SUV PHEV over hundreds of kilometres and being used as a family workhorse? The result blew me away and I can see why people were so furious with me in the first place.
|Fuel Type||Premium 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.
The XC90 Recharge makes a lot of sense for a family with a couple of kids, who live and spend most of their time in the city and surrounding suburbs.
You’ll need access to a power point for charging and you’ll have to do it regularly to get the best out of this SUV, but in return you’ll get effortless and efficient driving, along with the practicality and prestige which comes with any XC90.
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.
Cars are like dogs in that a year for them ages them more than one for us. So, this current-generation XC90 which came out in 2015 is getting on in age. Still, the XC90 is a design lesson in how to defy the aging process because the styling even now it appears modern and beautiful. It’s also big, tough, and prestigious looking which is how the flagship SUV in a premium brand should be.
The Thunder Grey paint my test car wore (see the images) is an optional hue, and it suited the battleship size and personality of the XC90. The enormous 22-inch five -spoke Black Diamond Cut alloy wheels were standard and filled up those giant arches nicely.
Maybe it’s the minimalist styling which has kept the XC90 looking cutting edge, because even the interior looks like the inside of a very expensive psychiatrist’s office with those leather seats and the brushed aluminium trim.
The vertical display is still impressive even in 2021, and while fully digital instrument clusters are in everything these days the XC90’s has a prestigious look and matches the rest of the cabin in its colours and fonts.
As for the XC90’s dimensions, it’s 4953mm long, 2008mm wide with the mirrors folded and 1776mm tall to the top of its shark fin antenna.
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.
Clever interior packaging means the XC90 Recharge is more practical than many large SUVs. There are flashes of utilitarian brilliance everywhere from the children’s booster seat which pops out of the centre of the second row (see the images) to the way the XC90 can crouch down like an elephant to make it easier to load stuff into the boot.
The XC90 Recharge is a seven-seater, and like all SUVs with third rows those seats in the very back only offer enough room for kids. The second row is spacious even for me at 191cm tall with plenty of leg- and headroom. Up front as you’d expect has good head-, elbow- and shoulder room.
Cabin storage is good with two cup holders in each row (the third also has containers under the armrests) and there are large door pockets, a decent sized centre console box and a net pocket in the front passenger footwell.
The cargo capacity with all seats being used is 291 litres and with the third row folded flat you’ll have 651 litres of boot space.
Storage for the charging cable could be better. The cable comes in a stylish canvas bag that sits in the boot, but other plug-in hybrids I’ve driven do a better job of providing a storage box for the cable that’s out of the way of your regular cargo.
The gesture control tailgate works with a foot swish under the rear of the car and the proximity key means you can lock and unlock the vehicle by touching the door handle.
The cargo area is filled with hooks for bags and a lift-up divider to hold items in place.
Four-zone climate control, four USB ports (two in the front and two in the second row) dark tinted rear windows and sun blinds top off what is a very practical, family SUV.
My family is small – there’s just three of us – and so the XC90 was more than what we needed. That said, we found a way to fill it with holiday gear, shopping, even a mini trampoline.
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 XC90 Recharge lists for $114,990 making it the most expensive grade in the XC90 range.
Still, the value is excellent considering the number of features which come standard.
The 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster standard, so is the nine-inch vertical centre display for media and climate control, there’s also sat nav, a Bowers and Wilkins 19-speaker stereo, wireless phone-charging, four-zone climate control, power-adjustable front seats, proximity key with auto tailgate and LED headlights.
My test car was fitted with options such as the Nappa Leather perforated and ventilated seats in Charcoal ($2950), the Climate pack which adds heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel ($600), power folding headrests in the rear ($275) and Thunder Grey metallic paint ($1900).
Even at a grand total (before on-road costs) of $120,715 I think this is still good value.
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 XC90 Recharge (Volvo calls it this, so for simplicity let's do it, too) is an all-wheel drive SUV with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder supercharged and turbo-charged engine, producing 246kW and 440Nm, plus an electric motor which adds 65kW and 240Nm.
Shifting gears is an eight-speed automatic and acceleration is rapid at 5.5 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint.
All XC90s have a 2400kg braked towing capacity.
The 11.6kWh lithium ion battery is located under the floor in a tunnel which runs down the centre of the car covered by the centre console and hump in the footwell of the second row.
If you didn’t realise, this is the type of hybrid you need to plug into a power source to charge the batteries. A power point is fine but a wall unit is faster. If you don’t plug in, the battery will only get tiny whiff of charge from the regenerative braking and that won’t be enough to put a tiny dent in your fuel consumption.
Volvo says that after a combination of urban and open roads the XC 90 Recharge should use 2.1L/100km. That’s incredible - we’re talking about a five-metre long, 2.2-tonne, seven-seat SUV here.
In my testing the fuel economy varied greatly depending on how and where I drove the XC90.
There was a week where I only drove up to 15km a day doing the day care drop-offs, the shopping, popping into work in the CBD, but all within 10km of my home. With 35km of electric range I found that I only had to charge the XC90 every second day to keep it topped up to full and, according to the trip computer, after 55km of travel I was using 1.9L/100km.
I recharged using the outdoor power point in my driveway and using this method would take just less than five hours to fully charge the battery from empty. A wall unit or fast charger will top the battery up much quicker.
The charging cable is long at more than 3m, and the flap on the XC90 is located on the front left wheel guard.
If you don’t have a way of charging the XC90 regularly then fuel consumption will go up, obviously.
This happened when our family took a break down the coast and the holiday house we stayed at didn’t have a power point within reach. So, while we had been charging the car regularly in the week beforehand with a few long trips thrown in on motorways, for the four days we were away I didn’t plug it in at all.
After 598.4km I filled it back to full at the petrol pump with 46.13 litres of premium unleaded. That comes to 7.7L/100km, which is still great fuel economy given that the last 200km would have been without charging.
The lesson is the XC90 Recharge is most fuel efficient on short suburban and city trips with daily or every second-day charging.
A larger capacity battery would add more range and make this plug-in hybrid SUV better suited to people who live further out of the city and do more motorway miles.
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.
We put more than 700km on the clock of the XC90 Recharge during the three weeks it stayed with my family, covering a lot of motorway miles, country roads and a stack of urban usage, too.
Now without sounding like one of the haters who hated on me the last time I test-drove a Volvo hybrid, you will need to charge the XC90 Recharge all the time if you want to get not only the best fuel economy, but also the best performance from the SUV, too.
There’s the extra oomph from the motor, when you have enough charge in the ‘tank’ but also the serene and smooth pleasure of driving in electric mode on city and urban trips.
That tranquil electric driving experience feels kind of at odds with a large SUV at first, but having now tested a few big family plug-in hybrids and EVs I can tell you it’s a more enjoyable one.
Movement is not only smooth, but the electric grunt provides a feeling of control with an instant response which I found reassuring in traffic and at intersections.
The transition from electric motor to petrol engine is almost seamless. Volvo and Toyota are only a couple of the few brands which seemed to have achieved this.
The XC90 is large and that presented a challenge when trying to pilot it into my narrow driveaway and in car parks, but light, accurate steering and excellent visibility with large windows and cameras galore helped there.
The auto parking feature works well even on the higgledy-piggledy streets in my neighbourhood.
Topping off an effortless driving experience is air suspension which provides a cushioned and composed ride, with great body control all while wearing those 22-inch wheels and low-profile rubber.
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 has for decades been a pioneer of safety systems to such an extreme that people used to make fun of the brand for being overly cautious. Well, take it from this helicopter parent: there’s no such thing as being overly cautious! Besides, these days all car brands are striving to offer advanced safety systems which the XC90 has had for years. Yep, safety is cool now. Which makes Volvo the Kanye of car brands.
Coming standard on the XC90 Recharge is AEB which works at city speeds to brake for pedestrians, cyclists, vehicles and even large animals.
There’s also lane keeping assistance, blind spot warning, cross traffic alert with braking (front and rear).
Steering support provides assistance during at evasive manoeuvre at speeds between 50 and 100km/h.
Curtain airbags cover all three rows and for child seats there are two ISOFIX mounts and three top tether anchor points in the second row. Note, there are no mounts or points for child seats in the third row.
A space-saver spare is under the boot floor.
The XC90 was given the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it tested in 2015.
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.