What is it?
The Mercedes-Benz GLA isn’t new. This small SUV, based on the company’s A-class platform, came to our shores a couple of years ago and delivered a competent soft-roader experience in the manageable dimensions of a largish hatchback. But the versions of the GLA available so far, lacked the chops to handle anything more than the mild dirt roads owing to the unavailability of four-wheel drive, with both the petrol and diesel variants being available only as front-wheel drives. Sure, the GLA 45 AMG does offer 4WD but that doesn’t really count, does it? However, Mercedes-Benz has decided to remedy this with the GLA 220d that finally comes equipped the company’s proprietary 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. This system can transfer up to 50 percent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels when required, and speaking of torque, it’s got more of that as well.
As the new badge indicates, this version a packs more powerful diesel engine, compared to the GLA 200d, although both cars share the same 2,143cc turbocharged four-cylinder block. A different state of tune allows this motor to churn out an extra 34 horses and a whopping 50Nm more than before, taking the peak horsepower and torque figures to 170hp and 350Nm respectively. To really highlight this GLA’s improved abilities, it also features an ‘Activity Edition’ moniker, which can be seen on discreet badges placed on the car’s flanks and floor mats. Along with 4Matic, the car also gets the off-road package that offers increased ground clearance. One thing Mercedes-Benz told us is that despite what the badging might suggest, this isn’t a limited-edition car, and the ‘Activity Edition’ name is to really differentiate from its front-wheel-drive siblings.
On the exterior, what sets the GLA 220d apart from its less-capable siblings are a set of black door decals, some extra bits of chrome, rain-sensing wipers, new 18-inch alloy wheels as well as a brand new colour option called Mountain Grey. The cabin, however, gets a lot of changes, including a new 8.0-inch multimedia screen at the centre of the dashboard, Apple CarPlay integration, keyless start along with a plethora of extra stowage spaces and cargo nets peppered all around. The boot also gets its fair share of upgrades with a powered tailgate, a 12V charging socket and the ability to free up extra 60 litres of space by tilting the rear seat backrests forward by 15-degrees. With a spare wheel hogging most of the boot, that extra space certainly sounds like a boon.
Just like the 200d, the GLA 220d is fairly feature-loaded and comes with seven airbags, satellite navigation, tyre pressure sensors, cruise control and even a neat panoramic sunroof. However, it doesn’t get automatic climate control, which really feels like a missed opportunity in this class of car.
What’s it like to drive?
One major change in the way the GLA drives has been thanks to the revision of its driving modes. The button that toggled between Comfort, Sport and Economy has now been replaced by a new button that says ‘Dynamic Select’. Over and above the three existing modes, you also have an Individual mode that lets owners mix and match certain performance parameters, and an Off-road mode, designed to keep the engine in the optimal rev range to cross tricky surfaces. While these modes change engine and steering response, there’s no change to suspension or any other aspect that affects the car’s dynamics. Changing modes bring up their appropriate display on the central multimedia screen that shows some interesting bits of information such as the steering angle of the front wheels, pitch and yaw – a nice touch when engaging in some light off-roading. And speaking of light off-roading, there’s also a DSR (Downhill Speed Regulation) button – Merc’s equivalent of hill-descent control, which helps you traverse down steep declines without manually operating the brakes.
Put the GLA 220d in Sport mode and the extra poke of the motor really shines through. Acceleration is brisk, but not neck-snapping by any means, but keeping the throttle buried to the firewall is certain to put a smile on most faces. Of course, a thorough road test later will allow us to put some numbers on its fun factor. Unlike its less-powerful sibling though, the GLA is enjoyable when driving aggressively, and when you calm things down, put it in Comfort mode and start puttering around, the extra dose of torque from the motor makes the experience as pleasurable. The seven-speed dual clutch transmission is smooth and can be controlled through the steering-mounted paddles. However, while upshifting is just fine, it’s not particularly responsive when shifting down.
Our first drive didn’t really give us the chance to explore the ride quality of this GLA 220d; we expect it to remain unchanged since there are no significant mechanical changes in the suspension department. However, any alterations to suspension rates to compensate for the added weight of 4Matic all-wheel-drive system might make a slight difference in how well the car handles bumpy roads. When it comes to handling though, the all-wheel-drive system certainly seems to provide a bit of extra grip when tossing the car around bends. But that should be taken with a pinch of salt as the inside roads of the Mercedes-Benz plant weren’t really the optimal place to test the car’s corner- carving abilities.
Should I buy one?
The GLA 22d Activity Edition is priced at Rs 38.51 lakh (ex-showroom, Pune). If you’ve always liked the GLA and felt that it needed some more ability to tackle tough terrain, then this GLA 220d 4Matic Activity Edition is certainly for you. But for those who have no intentions of leaving the tarmac, the more affordable GLA 200d should suit them just fine. Mercedes-Benz is set to announce pricing in the next few days so we’ll have a better picture of just how much value this new version brings to the table. That being said, the GLA still remains a fairly attractive soft-roader that feels quite classy as well as comfy on the insides. And now with its added abilities, it deserves even more consideration than before.