Test Car Specifications
Model tested: Mercedes-Benz GLA 220 d 4Matic
Pricing: GLA from £26,175; 220 d from £32,535
Engine: 2.1-litre twin-turbocharged four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: all-wheel drive, seven-speed 7G-Tronic automatic
Body style: five-door, five-seat SUV
CO2 emissions: 130g/km (£160 first 12 months, £140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 56.5mpg
Top speed: 135mph
0-62mph: 7.7 seconds
Power: 177hp at 3,600- to 3,800rpm
Torque: 350Nm at 1,400- to 3,400rpm
Mercedes' GLA, updated for 2017 and beyond. However, not much has changed. We've got new headlights - all LED now, instead of bi-Xenon previously - new bumpers, new alloy wheel designs and a new colour (Canyon Beige, although it's more bronzey-brown than the sort of shade you might once have seen clothing the, um, exquisite form of an Austin Ambassador), plus also a new power output for the range-topping Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 model: it produces the 381hp and 475Nm of the updated A 45/CLA 45 cars that have already benefitted from this upgrade, giving the GLA variant a deeply impressive 0-62mph time of 4.4 seconds.
But other than that, and some interior chrome trim, fresh seat upholstery and the option of having a 360-degree camera fitted to the GLA, it's very familiar fare. This 'SUV' is bigger than an A-Class, by 118mm in terms of length and 61mm for height, which means it has a more accommodating cabin and a more capacious cargo bay (starting at 481 litres) than the Mercedes hatchback, but despite that extra 6cm of loftiness in the suspension and bodywork, the GLA doesn't look hugely different to the A-Class if you only afford it a casual glance. If what you're after from your small SUV/crossover is chunky looks and a really imposing driving position, then the GLA is not going to be the car for you.
How does it drive?
If you think the car-like dimensions and stance lead to an SUV that drives in a sharper manner than anything else remotely comparable, think again. Vehicles like the BMW X1, MINI Countryman, Audi Q2 and even the SEAT Ateca all possess more sparkling handling manners than the GLA. Which is not to say that the Mercedes is dynamically poor; indeed, it has pretty good steering, plenty of grip, a reluctance to easily slide into understeer and decent body control for a car of this class. But, by the same token, it does indeed drive a lot like the A-Class it has so much in common with and the A-Class is by no stretch of the imagination a B-road champion. Safe and focusing on comfort, would be the best way of describing the GLA's demeanour.
Which would make it a fine cruiser, given the ride is generally excellent (it's a bit lumpen at lower speeds on bigger alloys, but it settles into a steady, unflappable gait at motorway pace), the tyres' chirruping doesn't permeate the cabin and wind noise is kept to acceptably low levels... yet Mercedes has, strangely, persisted with the 2.1-litre turbodiesel engine that was considered to be on its last legs several years ago. The company has pumped a shedload of cash into developing the quieter, smoother and generally superb 2.0-litre four-cylinder 'OM 654' engine as seen in the E-Class, which was supposed to steadily spread throughout Merc's fleet and kill off the 2.1; yet here's the 2017 GLA, still saddled with this noisy old motor.
Despite its healthy outputs of 177hp and 350Nm leading to strong performance in this GLA 220 d model (which comes exclusively with 4Matic all-wheel drive and, by extension, a 7G-Tronic automatic), in terms of refinement and serenity it is sorely lacking when held up to competitor motors. And there's no 1.5-litre Renault-Nissan-derived alternative in the GLA if you want a diesel, as the '180 d' of the A-Class/B-Class/CLA triumvirate is not offered for the compact SUV; it's the 136hp/300Nm 200 d if you don't like the 220 d, which of course is powered by a detuned version of the 2.1.
It might, then, be worth looking at the petrol-fuelled 1.6-litre turbocharged GLA 200. It delivers 156hp and 250Nm, and also has the benefit of being the cheapest model in the range. A brief spin in the 200 showed that the drivetrain was much more cultured than that of the 220 d, even if the performance was significantly blunted. There's also a GLA 250 with 211hp and of course the wild AMG model, but both of those are fairly pricey. Shame that the only really new thing in the GLA canon - the 220 petrol, powered by a 184hp derivative of the 2.0-litre engine found in the 250 - will not be coming to right-hand-drive markets.
One final footnote here: we had a go at off-roading in a GLA 250 4Matic. The course was fairly tame as these things go, but there were a few steep inclines and descents that would have proved impassable in an A-Class, as well as some axle articulation that saw the GLA three-wheeling through some bucolic Hungarian scenery. So while it might not be the sort of thing in which you'd happily venture off into the depths of the Kalahari, a 4Matic GLA should at least get you a bit further into the wilderness than your average C-segment family car.
This was an opportunity missed by Mercedes, we feel. When launched in 2014, the GLA felt like something different and it was well priced when compared to the hotchpotch first-generation BMW X1 and Audi's Q3. Yet, so fast-moving is the automotive industry that here we are in 2017 and the X1 has transformed into a quality piece of kit, Audi has enacted a second notable facelift on the Q3 and - not only that - has also launched an entirely new, youthful crossover in the form of the Q2, while vehicles like the SEAT Ateca, Peugeot 3008 and Hyundai Tucson have all come along to make you question why you'd need to step up to the premium German brands in the first place.
What Mercedes needed to do was give us some new GLA models, or some additional kit for the money, or significantly altered looks and cabin finishing, or - best of all - the OM 654 diesel. It has done none of these things and correspondingly we reckon the GLA is now lost amidst a sea of far more convincing compact SUVs, many of which are usefully cheaper than the Benz. If your heart is absolutely set on the GLA, of course, this conclusion won't matter one iota. But buyers with a more open mind will likely look elsewhere before signing for the smallest Mercedes SUV.