Meh-cedes: the new GLA is difficult to get excited about


PRICE £31,303 (220 CDI model tested)
ENGINE CAPACITY 2.1-litre 4 cylinder turbo-diesel
POWER OUTPUT (BHP @ RPM) 168 @ 3,600 – 4,000

It used to be that average families drove around in big estate cars. Then, about 15 years ago, large Fords went out of fashion and people carriers were all the rage. Today, it's all about the crossover.

This class of car is half hatchback and half off-roader, and its engorged ranks include the oddly named Nissan Qashqai, Skoda Yeti and Kia Sportage. They are ideal if you like an elevated driving position, great visibility and roomy interiors, but don't mind a dull driving experience.

They are also terribly dreary to look at, without any "kerb appeal". In fact, most aren't even proper off-roaders (they only get two-wheel drive), so really it would be more fair to describe them as hatchbacks dosed up on growth hormones for added height.

But despite their weaknesses, crossovers have been selling like hell for the past five years. And now high-end manufacturers such as Audi and Lexus are getting in on the action. Enter the new Mercedes GLA, which is based on the German carmaker's popular A-Class hatchback. Looks-wise, it's as though the engineers and designers in Stuttgart have taken an A-Class and put it on stilts, and then sat lightly on it, giving it a squashed look. Inside, it's traditional Mercedes, which means a pleasant place to sit, and on the move there's more than enough power for the motorway. Plus, it's not as polluting as many older-style SUVs.

It's just that I can't help comparing it with the A-Class, which is cheaper, faster, more economical and more enjoyable to drive. The A-Class isn't actually much shorter or smaller than its crossover cousin. Added height doesn't necessarily add more legroom, or more luggage space.

But the GLA has a peach of a diesel engine and all versions except the entry-level one get four-wheel drive in the form of the Mercedes 4MATIC system. This gives it impressive grip in the weather and, in theory, could help you get across a muddy field if you so required. And at around £30k, it's cheaper than its luxury rivals, too.

It's just that the GLA is hard to get excited about. So, if you have to move kids around and don't care what you look like doing it, get a Nissan. Or any of the dozen other dreary crossovers at your local car dealership.

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