Mercedes GLA (2017-2020) review
The Mercedes GLA is a small family car that blends chunky SUV styling with a range of economical engines, but alternatives are both more practical and more comfortable.
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Buying a small SUV like the Mercedes GLA rather than its A-Class hatchback equivalent is a little like trading in your bungalow for a two-up two-down – you’ll happily pay the premium if it means extra space and greater comfort. Bear in mind, though, that in the GLA’s case an Audi Q3 is plusher inside and a BMW X1 is more practical than either.
The Mercedes GLA was launched in 2014 and received a few subtle updates in 2017. These include modified bumpers, more comfortable suspension and Apple and Android smartphone mirroring features.
Unfortunately, the GLA’s rather dated infotainment system remained mostly unchanged. Its graphics aren’t a patch on the X1’s iDrive display and the sea of buttons on the dashboard make it quite confusing to use.
So if technology isn’t the Mercedes’ strong point, what about comfort? Well, the standard man-made leather seats are supportive and come with plenty of adjustment and there’s easily enough room in the front for tall adults to stretch out.
The GLA’s off-road-inspired styling makes it the designer hiking boot of the automotive world – it certainly looks the part but you’d rather not get it too muddy
Things aren’t quite as roomy in the back, though. The GLA’s small windows can make the back seats feel pretty claustrophobic and if your passengers are over six-feet tall then they’ll struggle for headroom. Things get even more cramped if you try to carry three adults side-by-side, something an X1 does far better.
At least the Mercedes’ boot is a decent size. There’s enough space for a set of golf clubs with the rear seats in place and enough room to carry a bike with them folded away.
Pick a 1.6-litre Mercedes GLA 200 petrol model if you spend most time driving around town – it’s smoother, quieter and cheaper to buy than the diesels. Spend more time on the motorway? The more efficient but far noisier 2.1-litre GLA 200d diesel is a better bet. Sadly, Mercedes’ smooth-shifting automatic gearbox is a pricey optional extra on these models but it’s money well spent.
The GLA earned an impressive five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP back in 2013. The tests have been made much stricter since then, however, and automatic emergency city braking isn’t standard so you might want to consider one of the optional Driver Assistance packs if safety is your number one priority.
Pick your optional extras carefully, then, and the Mercedes GLA looks keenly priced next to alternatives and is just big enough for small families. It’s not the most practical SUV on the market but it’s still well worth considering if you put style before outright space.
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There’s enough space in the Mercedes GLA’s front seats to stretch out but its small back windows, low roof and dark grey roof lining mean it’s easy to feel claustrophobic in the back
The GLA’s back seats feel a bit like being locked inside a safe – while the bulky exterior makes you think it’ll feel spacious, the interior compartment is actually surprisingly tight
The Mercedes GLA’s front seats are supportive and come with plenty of adjustment to help you get comfy. Its taller body means you get very slightly more headroom than in the A-Class, too.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to pay extra if you want four-way adjustable lumbar support to help reduce backache on long journeys and heated seats are only available as part of the Executive Equipment Line package on SE and Sport models.
Things don’t really improve when it comes to the back seats, either. They’re pretty cramped and the small windows can make it feel pretty dark and dingy – especially in Sport models with their dark fabric roof lining. Headroom is quite tight for anyone over six-foot tall and there isn’t much space for your passengers’ feet under the front seats.
The Mercedes GLA isn’t as good as the X1 for carrying three adults in the back. Its central seat is quite narrow and hard and there’s very little shoulder room to go round. Thankfully, there’s no annoying lump in the rear floor so at least your middle passenger has somewhere to put their feet.
The Mercedes’ small rear door openings make leaning in to strap in a child slightly tricky but at least the Isofix anchor points are exposed so securing the seat base is a breeze.
The Mercedes GLA’s front door bins are huge. They’re easily big enough to carry a 1.5-litre bottle each with enough space left over for another half-litre bottle or drinks can. The glovebox is pretty generous, too – providing you can find somewhere else to store the bulky owner’s manual – and there’s even a storage tray hidden under the front passenger seat that’s big enough for a phone.
There’s space under the folding front armrest for another small bottle and you get two handy covered trays for keeping your keys and a phone tucked safely out of sight. There’s also a pair of large cupholders in the front and two more that neatly fold away inside the rear armrest.
The Mercedes GLA can carry a respectable 481 litres of luggage with its rear seats in place. That’s enough for a baby buggy and some bulky soft bags but not quite as much as the roomier 505-litre BMW X1. The Mercedes’ tall boot lip also means it’s more difficult to load heavy luggage than with the BMW but its square shape means it’s dead easy to pack full of large boxes.
You get some handy netted cubby holes on each side of the boot to stop small items rolling around and some hooks to hold your shopping securely in place. The standard-fit 12V socket makes it easy to hoover out the boot without dragging a cable all the way through the cabin but there isn’t quite enough space under the boot floor to store the parcel shelf.
The Mercedes GLA’s back seats flip down in a handy two-way (60:40) split so you can carry a passenger in the back and some long luggage in the boot at once. There’s even a set of clips to stop the seatbelts snagging on the seats when you fold them down and a small hatch behind the central rear armrest so you can carry very long items at two passengers at once.
Flip all the rear seats down and the GLA’s boot grows to 1,235 litres – that’s big enough to carry a bike with its wheels attached but someway behind the X1’s load bay. The GLA’s boot floor isn’t quite flat so it’s not particularly easy to push heavy boxes right up behind the front seats either.
The Mercedes GLA is taller than most conventional small family cars but it’s pretty dull to drive and its small windows mean it’s not particularly easy to see out of
The GLA might look like an A-Class wearing high heels but it’s actually slightly more comfortable to travel in than its low-slung cousin
You can get the Mercedes GLA with two diesel and three petrol engines including a 381hp turbo petrol in high-performance GLA 45 versions.
Pick the GLA 200 1.6-litre petrol model if you spend most time driving around town. It’s quieter and smoother than the diesels and doesn’t grumble when you accelerate. It’s also the cheapest engine to buy but only returns around 30mpg compared to Mercedes’ claimed 47.1mpg.
The GLA 200d 2.1-litre diesel will be a better bet if you do lots of motorway miles. It’s not quite as smooth and not as quiet as the petrol but it’ll have no trouble keeping up with fast-moving motorway traffic. Mercedes claims it’ll return 67.3mpg but you can expect to see around 55mpg in normal driving conditions.
More powerful 220d diesel and 250 petrol models come with four-wheel-drive as standard for a little extra grip in slippery conditions but they’re more expensive to buy and will cost noticeably more to run than two-wheel-drive models.
They do, however, come with an automatic gearbox as standard. This seven-speed dual-clutch ‘box is a pricey extra in 200 and 200d versions but well worth the extra cash – it’s smoother and easier to use than the annoying standard manual gearbox and helps take the stress out of long drives and stop-start traffic.
If you’re looking for sports-car thrills from your small SUV, there’s only one model that fits the bill – the AMG-tuned GLA 45. This high-performance crossover shares its 381hp turbocharged petrol engine with the A45 hot hatch and can sprint from 0-62mph in just 4.4 seconds – that’s almost as fast as a BMW M3. It will set you back around £48,000, however.
The Mercedes GLA is taller than most small family cars so you get a slightly better view out over the road ahead. Unfortunately, it’s not all good news: its sweeping roofline and the thick pillars between the front doors and windscreen create a sizeable blindspot at junctions.
On the plus side, its controls are very light and you get a reversing camera as standard so it’s not particularly difficult to park. You can even get a system called Park Pilot that’ll steer you into parallel and bay spaces as well as a 360-degree surround-view camera system.
The GLA’s raised suspension means it’s slightly more comfortable than the A-Class on which it’s based. It irons out potholes fairly well at slow speeds and doesn’t wallow or bounce over bumps on the motorway.
You’ll hear a little more tyre noise in the Mercedes than in either the Audi Q3 or BMW X1 but it’s still pretty relaxing to drive for long periods – especially with the optional Driving Assistance pack. This option is pricey, but well worth the extra cash, especially if you’re a high-mileage driver. It comes with blind spot warning, lane keeping assist and adaptive cruise control that’ll adjust the car’s speed to maintain a safe distance to other cars before returning to a preset speed when the road’s clear.
The GLA earned a five-star safety rating when it was tested by Euro NCAP back in 2014 but these assessments have been made much stricter since then. For a little extra peace of mind, the Driving Assistance pack also comes with automatic emergency braking that’ll attempt to stop the car automatically if it senses an obstacle ahead, although it’d be nice to see it included as standard in this day and age.
The Mercedes GLA interior comes with just enough soft-touch materials and shiny metal trims to justify its price tag but it’s starting to show its age against more modern, high-tech alternatives