Car review: Mercedes-Benz GLA

Can’t I try to be positive about the GLA? Sure. Plainly it has been well put together

Friday 24 November 2017 15:15 GMT
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‘Here we have a Mercedes-Benz that makes a Nissan feel smooth and sophisticated and refined’
‘Here we have a Mercedes-Benz that makes a Nissan feel smooth and sophisticated and refined’

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

The best way to understand the Mercedes-Benz GLA is to think of it as a posh Nissan Qashqai. Not necessarily a better one, though.

To prove the point to myself, if no-one else, I parked my test GLA, resplendent in its bling bronze paintwork (“canyon beige metallic”, officially), next to an older Qashqai in the car park of my local Aldi. Like you do. The overall dimensions of the pair were similar, but the Nissan was the more nicely understated of the pair. The Mercedes looked to be what it was: an exercise in stylistic indulgence; swathes carved into its side for no great purpose and without any redeeming aesthetic benefit whatsoever.

The gigantic (19-inch) alloy wheels make it look like it’s sitting too high on its toes, its faux coupe lines overdone, with a waistline worn far too high, like an old-fashioned pair of “gorblimey” trousers. The front treatment is big and bold in the modern Mercedes idiom, the rear just about acceptable, the sum total a bit of an assault on the senses. On the whole, I’d rather be seen, and not so noticed, in a Qashqai than clocked in a GLA. I mean I’m as vulgar as the next man, but there are limits.

What about refinement, performance, comfort? Well, obviously the GLA has its fair share of toys, especially in a suitably specced-up, press-car version, but then you ask yourself how many you actually want, need or would use: an electric boot is all very well, but not when it almost clouts the bonnet of a Vauxhall Astra parking behind. The diesel engine in the 220d will certainly get a move on quite impressively, but also rather grumpily.

As with many of its Mercedes siblings, this model comes with the option of “economy”, “comfort” or “sport” settings. When you snick into the latter mode the revs rise noisily, and the deceleration and acceleration through the seven-speed automatic box become unacceptably aggressive and tiresome, like being on the same planet as Donald Trump. What’s more, as a “dual-clutch” kind of clever automatic gear box, as opposed to the traditional “torque converter” type, it has a habit of jumping when it sets off, which gives all concerned something of a fright in the car park of Aldi, I can tell you. The torquey diesel just doesn’t suit the sporty treatment.

The GLA is well put together and tasteful to be inside – but many other models will give you more for your money
The GLA is well put together and tasteful to be inside – but many other models will give you more for your money

So here we have a Mercedes-Benz that makes a Nissan feel smooth and sophisticated and refined. The Mercedes boasts an AMG-style body kit and some chrome touches, but little of the sportiness that that those looks might lead you to expect. A Range Rover Evoque is a far better, classier choice, a Dacia Duster a more honest and cheaper one, (with added inverted snobbery fitted as standard), and a Qashqai a better all-round compromise. I love Mercedes’ recent revival and their mission to invade and occupy every niche and sub-niche in the new-car market – generally a good thing for civilisation, but sometimes even as accomplished an outfit as this misses the target.

The spec

Mercedes-Benz GLA 220d AMG Line 

Price: £34,705 (£42,330 as tested) 

Engine capacity: 2-litre diesel; 7-sp dual-clutch/auto 

Power output (hp @ rpm): 177@3,600 

Top speed (mph): 135 

0-62 mph (seconds): 7.7 seconds 

Fuel economy (mpg): 58.9 

CO2 emissions (g/km): 130

Can’t I try to be positive about the GLA? Sure. Plainly it has been well put together, it is relatively tasteful to be inside, the gadgetry works fine, if not always intuitively, the heated seats are as ferocious as the looks are atrocious. And, yes, it’s a handy sort of a hold-all of a car, the kind that you can throw your stuff into and go: it’s got that sort of lifestyley vibe thing. I just happen to wonder whether the premium a Mercedes-Benz GLA commands over a Nissan Qashqai is always and everywhere justified. I suppose the ultimate irony is that the GLA is used as the base for Nissan’s own upmarket model the Infiniti Q30 (Infiniti being Nissan’s premium brand). Next time, maybe they should do things the other way round.

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