Mercedes-Benz’s popular GLA range has just been through a substantial generation change.
Even though the mid-size crossover/sport utility vehicle retains its original concept, the shape is a little more rounded and curvy, and it gets bold frontal treatment characterised by an aggressive new grille. The newcomer also gets a specification upgrade and a cosmetic tidy-up inside.
Four models sit in the GLA range, there’s the entry-level 180 this evaluation focuses on at $60,900, a 220d at $67,900, a 250 4Matic at $80,000 and the car popular with the young generation and sport-minded drivers – the AMG45 at $109,700.
I’m due to drive the latter soon, but in the interim the GLA180 is still an impressive hatchback/estate which, in respect to its design, is a car that really forms its own part of the market.
At just under 4.5m it isn’t big, although its liftback rear exposes a healthy load space and the rear seat compartment offers comfortable room for three.
At the other end sits a 1.6-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder engine, it is rated at 90kW and 200Nm. Like most manufacturers these days, Mercedes-Benz utilise its turbocharging techniques not only as a method of boosting power outputs to healthy levels, but also as a way of moderating fuel usage.
Nevertheless, in GLA180 form it is still a feisty unit, and considering it’s only moving a comparatively lightweight at around 1500kg it’s not working overly hard to achieve solid performance and economy.
Mercedes-Benz claim a standstill to 100km/h time of 9.2sec, a 200km/h top speed and a combined cycle fuel usage average of 5.7-litres per 100km (50mpg). These are all acceptable figures, the latter correlates well with the 7.6l/100km (37mpg) average showing on the evaluation car’s trip computer.
Drive is channelled through a seven-speed dual clutch automatic gearbox. Just by the sheer number of ratios, power flow is smooth and the GLA has been engineered for a dynamic drive, consequently the ratios reach a broad spread, immediate acceleration is vivid, the engine is kept lively until the tall ratios take over and moderate engine speed kicks in for the long highway haul.
I like nimble sports cars, and I believe you could draw the GLA180 into that category. It feels lithe and energetic and I certainly see why it is popular.
On my usual test run between the two major river gorges, the evaluation car cruised quietly and effortlessly. It has solid mid-range power for overtaking and will lunge through a highway overtake (80km/h to 120km/h) in 5.8sec. The gearbox is a direct-shift type which means instant kick-down and fast changes.
Something Mercedes-Benz does very well is to offer the driver optional chassis and engine management protocols to suit different driving styles. Personally, I preferred the standard comfort mode, but there are several dynamic settings to enhance engine behaviour and steering feel.
The GLA180 rides on sport specification Dunlop tyres which measure 235/50 x 18in. I’m a big fan of German rubber, and while they aren’t low in profile they promote solid feel through the steering as well as direct, accurate corner turn-in.
The suspension is a fully independent type, and the spring and damper rates are just firmed slightly away from the soft zone. Not that there’s a ride quality compromise, far from it, the GLA180 pampers those on board yet it has the balance so that when quick corners are presented the car stays composed and controlled.
Unlike it’s 250 and AMG stablemates which get the Mercedes-Benz 4Matic system, drive in the 180 is through the front wheels only. However, you can push the latter hard into a corner and it will respond with decisive handling manners almost unrealistic for a vehicle which sits tall at 1.5m, yet it isn’t bothered by gravitational force.
As much as I enjoyed my high country run in the GLA180, it must be remembered it is a practical station wagon-type vehicle and it has all of the kit to cater for the role it is most likely to face day-to-day.
As you would expect from Mercedes-Benz, it has a high level of specification and, as I mentioned, nothing has been changed in terms of familiarity. The gearshift lever is still mounted right on the steering column, the electric seat adjustments are still found on the door and the central display is controlled by a dial mounted between the two front seats.
The test car only had a few extra inclusions even though the list of options is extensive. In terms of value the GLA180 is a fine piece of kit for a reasonable price.
All that aside, I eagerly returned the 180 because the AMG45 was waiting for me at changeover. Look for an evaluation on that wild child soon.
Price – Mercedes-Benz GLA180, $60,900
Dimensions – Length, 4424mm; width, 1804mm; height, 1494mm
Configuration – Four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive, 1595cc, 90kW, 200Nm, seven-speed automatic.
Fuel usage – 5.7l/100km