Driven #29: Mercedes-Benz GLA200 CDI

That Indians have a strong affinity towards crossovers and Sports Utility Vehicles is a well-known fact now. But, not all manufacturers could realize this and react on time. Mercedes-Benz, for various reasons, was one of them. While Audi and BMW were able to capitalize on this trend with their X1 and Q3 respectively, Mercedes-Benz didn’t have a crossover to snatch a share of this growing pie. Despite a lot of practical similarities, there's only so much the B-Class hatchback could do. That situation finally changed with the launch of GLA, a grounds-up crossover that could stand on an equal footing against its fellow German rivals.

We drove the GLA 200 CDI in its base 'Style' trim level on and off the road to find out what it has on offer for the crossover clientele.


Spun off the same Modular Front Architecture (MFA) that underpinned the A-Class, B-Class and CLA, the GLA looks instantly familiar and recognizable. Nowhere is this more apparent than when it is viewed head-on, where the same basic layout shared with the rest of the clan could trick you into mistaking the GLA for something else. But, look closely and you will find a lot of distinct elements that not just serves the purpose of differentiating the GLA but also brings in the much-needed aggression to go with its crossover image.

Up front, the biggest differentiator is the grille. Gone are the studded diamond pins, replaced by relatively-ordinary dual slats with chrome garnishing. As usual, a big three-pointed star logo takes pride of place in the middle. Flanking the grille on either sides are beautifully-shaped headlights that are rounded at the outer edges but steps down mid-way to transform into sharper units as they approach the grille. Projectors and LEDs are standard fare and look appealing. What really sets the ball rolling though is the muscular bumper replete with multiple creases and a brushed-aluminium skid plate. The hood with four prominent slashes gets added brownie points. The profile is all about those beefy shoulders and two distinct character lines. While the first line starts from the headlights and gains prominence as it cuts through the doors, the other one starts from just above the rocker panel and goes upward. The design gets a lot more subtle at the rear with the thick chrome strip connecting the taillights and the twin trapezoidal tailpipes being the highlights.

To justify its crossover tag, the GLA gets the ubiquitous plastic cladding all around. What's refreshing though is, unlike many other crossovers that are victims of "cladding overdose", the GLA gets it in just the right amount. Add to that brushed-aluminium bumper inserts and roof rails and the GLA is one attractive crossover from the outside. Parked next to its competitors - the BMW X1 and Audi Q3, the GLA is sure to attract more eyeballs any given day. 

Though its not too uncommon at this price range, we are impressed with the build quality and the level of attention to detail in the GLA. For instance, the character line running across the silhouette actually originate from inside the headlights in the form of DRL strips. The classy rear spoiler extensions that are finished in glossy black is another example. As always in a Mercedes-Benz, shut lines are consistent and paint quality is superb.  


Thanks to its tall stance, the GLA lets us 'walk' in comfortably. There is no bending and crouching business here. But once inside, a sense of déjà vu sets in and its not hard to understand why. The layout, the dash and most of the interior appointments are a carbon copy of the A-Class and the B-Class and the CLA. You get our point, right? We would prefer each of these models to come with unique cabins albeit with some similarities.

The dashboard is a familiar sight and features a brushed metallic insert that splits it into two. While the top half of the dashboard and the doors are finished in black, the rest of the interiors are an all beige affair. This is because of the dark brown shade that our test GLA was shod with. GLAs painted in white and silver get an all-black cabin, we are told. All that beige together with the panoramic sunroof that covers almost the entire length of the roof make the GLA's cabin feel incredibly bright and airy. The turbine-shaped air-conditioner vents that are now staple fare in Mercedes-Benz cars look fabulous and are great to touch, feel and operate. The center console has an overdose of buttons that are actually quite easy to get familiar with. The sporty three-spoke steering wheel comes with perfectly-shaped thumb recesses and boasts perforated leather finish in the touch points. The intuitive 'gear selector' stalk to the right of the steering wheel may take time to please first-time users but is a real joy to operate.

The instrument cluster has twin circular pods with a comprehensive MID (Multi Information Display) screen in between. In addition to the regulars like odometer, trip meter and fuel consumption details, it also has a nifty ECO display, service reminder and settings for ESP, Attention Assist, ambient lighting and automatic door locking. To our eyes, the 'COMMAND' infotainment screen that appears to pop out of the dashboard looks cool. But, it isn't touch-enabled, doesn't feature high-resolution fonts and images and feels dated. Forget what Audi and BMW offer, this isn't even the latest generation telematics system that the CLA comes with. To toggle through its various functions like radio, BlueTooth telephony, fuel consumption details and clock, the chunky COMMAND controller between the front seats is to be used. Despite multiple attempts, our test car just wouldn't let us pair the two Nexus 4 mobiles we had with us. Probably, its a niggle specific to the test car.

Settling into a comfortable driving position is child's play in the GLA, thanks to the rake and height-adjustable steering wheel and electrically-adjustable seats with a huge range. Both the front seats have memory functions too, to store three positions. The front seats are well-bolstered and offer adequate support at all the right places. The rear seats too are well-designed too and is a comfortable place to be in as long as it is used by two passengers. The fifth passenger has to make do with a high transmission tunnel, less bolstering and a relatively-stiffer backrest. All five seats offer adjustable head restraints though. Boot space without the spare tyre is adequate but with the space-saver strapped on, it appears pretty much useless for anything other than a pair of shopping bags.

This being the base 'Style' variant, there were a few goodies like automatic climate control and rear air-conditioning vents missing. That apart, the GLA is one brilliantly-loaded crossover. What's commendable is the safety kit on offer that include Antilock Braking System (ABS), Brake Assist System (BAS), adaptive brakes, Hill Start Assist, Electronic Stability Program (ESP) with Curve Dynamic Assist, Tyre Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), Attention Assist, Acceleration Skid Control and seven airbags.


The diesel GLA that we drove has the same 2.1-liter common-rail diesel engine that's used in the A, B, CLA, C, E and ML-Class in varying states of tune. In the GLA, it churns out 134 horsepower and 300 Nm of torque. For all practical purposes, those numbers would appear sufficient but for a luxury crossover, it isn't. Its more so, when competing models offer significantly more-powerful engines at similar pricing. Mated to this engine and driving the front wheels of the GLA is the familiar 7G-DCT dual clutch automatic transmission.

Turn the ignition on and it is apparent that you're sat in an oil-burner. Refinement levels inside are good for the most part. Like the other MFA-based cars, the GLA too offers three driving modes for us to choose from - Economy (E), Sport (S) and Manual (M). Choose E for relaxed driving inside the city and the GLA up-shifts early as the engine is tuned for fuel efficiency. In the S mode, the throttle response appears to be a lot more eager and the acceleration is brisk, with the car holding onto the lower gears that much longer. For those looking for a sporty drive, the M mode with paddle shifters is the one to opt for. The GLA is still no tarmac-scorcher, mind you! What changes is that the transmission doesn't up-shift until redline and, at those revs, the engine makes quite some groan from under the hood. The claimed top speed is 205 km/h and acceleration from 0-100 km/h is said to take 9.9 seconds. What's more interesting is the ARAI-rated fuel-efficiency of 17.9 km/l. This is one crossover that won't burn a hole in your pocket.

While the A-Class offered a harsh ride quality and the CLA a plush ride, the GLA slots in between them. The ride isn't as harsh as its hatchback sibling but still has a firmer edge to it. Though you are constantly kept aware of the road surface underneath, the GLA dispatches minor bumps and potholes with ease. Sharp ones does filter into the cabin though. Despite its raised body height, handling is well-tuned and the GLA doesn't feel nervous going through corners. Body roll is contained well as long as we don't try anything too adventurous. This is, after all, a crossover and the onus is on us to keep it within its comfortable limits. Stability at all speeds, be it inside the city or out on an open highway, is superb and the GLA stays glued to the road. The steering weighs up as speeds build up but it is not one of the best when it comes to offering a good feedback. Just like any other Mercedes-Benz, braking is brilliant and the GLA sheds speed without creating a fuss.

Thanks to its high ground clearance, we were able to get off the road comfortably without worrying about damaging the underbody. This is where the lack of All Wheel Drive, or '4MATIC' in Merc parlance, was felt. All it took was sand less than a feet deep to stop GLA's progress. If off-roading is what you are after in your next luxury crossover, Audi Q3 with the famed 'Quattro' AWD system would be a better bet.


| Engine Type: CDI (Common-rail Direct Injection Diesel) |
| No of Cylinders: 4 |
| Displacement: 2143 cc |
| Maximum Power: 134 bhp @ 3600 - 4400 rpm |
| Maximum Torque: 300 Nm @ 1600 - 3000 rpm |
| Transmission Type: 7-Speed Automatic |
| Tires: 235/50 R18 |
| Brakes: Ventilated Disc (Front), Disc (Rear) |


* Aggressive design and styling
* Excellent build quality
* Extensive feature list
* Neutral road handling


* Absence of All Wheel Drive option
* Less powerful compared to rivals
* Limited rear seat space


With the arrival of the GLA, a long-standing gap in Mercedes-Benz India's portfolio doesn't exist anymore. The GLA sports an aggressive design, is well-kitted, offers the usual Merc traits of superb build quality and top-notch safety and also comes with both petrol and diesel engine options. Though its front-wheel drive configuration doesn't aid hardcore off-roading and the diesel engine is less powerful than rival offerings, the GLA's other strong points cover that up well. The problem is, the GLA is a wee bit more expensive than expected. In this segment where value-for-money isn't a make or break criteria, we don't see that impacting GLA's prospects.

Photography: Arun Varadarajan & Aravind Ramesh

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