This is the new Mercedes GLA crossover – an interesting car for all sorts of reasons, and a rival for the Audi Q3 and BMW X1. This is more of a crossover hatchback than a compact SUV – it has up to 185mm of ground clearance, but the silhouette and driving position of a fairly large hatchback rather than of a typical 4x4.
The car you see here is a GLA 200 CDI, which comes with front-wheel-drive and a choice of six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic gearboxes (Indian cars are likely to get only the auto). Power comes from an up-rated version of the same 2,143cc turbo-diesel used in the A 180 CDI and B 180 CDI, which in this car makes 134bhp and 30.55kgm of torque. India is also slated to get the GLA 220 CDI, which uses the same engine, but with outputs of 168bhp and 35.67kgm.
It’s refined, economical, comfortable and pleasant – albeit not as practical and convenient as some. Mercedes’ 2.1-litre diesel is a good choice for the GLA, showing off much better manners under the bonnet of this compact crossover than it does in other applications.
The engine is a little bit clattery at idle and shudders slightly on restart, but is quiet and smooth at normal operating revs, and even revs with a commendable lack of coarseness. It hits its peak torque at just 1,400rpm, and is seldom short on pulling power or insistent on a lower gear to negotiate a short climb or a typical highway overtake.
The car steers precisely, with little effort necessary through the rim, but little feedback flowing through it either. It makes for a relaxed, easy-going driving experience complemented well by ride quality that’s much more supple and absorbent than we’ve found in any of Mercedes’ other new-generation compact cars.
In the UK, ‘Comfort’ suspension comes as standard on ‘SE’-grade cars, and it deals with bumpy and broken surfaces very calmly indeed. Even the ‘Sport’ suspension, fitted as standard to AMG Line models, allows the GLA a considerably better isolated cabin than any A-, B- or CLA-class model – as another test car proved.
The GLA’s driving position is recumbent by SUV standards, and its ride height and visibility relatively ordinary. That low profile makes for quite clean, balanced and wieldy handling; on the flipside of the equation, you’ll find more cabin- and boot space, and a higher access point, elsewhere in the compact SUV class.
But you won’t find much better fuel economy. From a mixed route taking in mountain roads and expressway, our GLA 200 CDI test car returned just over 17.5kpl, thanks in part to a class-leading drag coefficient.
When it comes to a buying decision, it depends if you find the idea of a premium-brand crossover more appealing than that of a more upright compact SUV. This tester suspects many will, once they realise that the Mercedes GLA provides as much space and capability as they really need, combined with impressive performance, efficiency, quality and brand allure.
There’s certainly little wrong with this particular execution of Mercedes’ premium crossover concept, and plenty to like about a car we’d confidently describe as the best yet to come from Daimler’s new compact generation.