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Mercedes GLA review: Closer to the Star
THERE are two ways to look at the latest Mercedes-Benz to hit town, the GLA. It's the latest member of Mercedes' small car family, a bunch that includes seven different models in all shapes, but all sharing engines, dashboard bits and who knows what else under the skin.
You could also choose to see the GLA as the smallest Mercedes sport utility vehicle (SUV). You wouldn't even have to squint hard, because the new one looks remarkably like a slightly scaled down version of the GLC, Mercedes' best-selling SUV. Its face has the same chiseled jawline, while the body has the same sensual voluptuousness. They even have doppelganger backsides.
All that is literally by design, but it's also the result of a general rethink about what a small Mercedes SUV should be. That being so, the GLA has morphed from being a slightly elevated hatchback into something built to look the BMW X1 square in the eye.
That means it's taller and broader than before, and bigger inside, with a larger and more useful boot (although it's somehow slightly shorter than the previous GLA, bumper to bumper).
All that makes it a more practical machine than its predecessor by far. Full grown humans can now lounge in the back (to say nothing of partially-grown ones), and because the rear seats now slide and recline, it's possible to trade room in the boot for passenger space, and vice versa.
It feels spacious up front, too, and you sit way higher up than in the old GLA. Even if you never tackle anything more challenging than a carpark ramp, it gives you that lofty feeling of driving a 4x4.
Yet, you buy a GLA more because you want to feel like you're driving a Mercedes rather than a 4x4. In that sense, it's at least as successful as its siblings. The twin widescreen displays that dominate the dashboard are straight out of the A-Class, and they offer the same razor-sharp graphics and slick interface. The turbine-like air-con vents that change colour when you fiddle with the air-con temp are another bit of shared DNA, as are the main controls and physical switches.
Some of the cabin plastics seem a bit nicer in the GLA than in the other A-Class models, but you can also see where Mercedes saved money. Dual-zone climate control is optional instead of standard, for instance, and so is satellite navigation. Both are common in cars that cost much less than this, although maybe the latter feature isn't necessary since both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come with the car. A greater omission is the lack of air-con vents in the back, which you can find in cars for half the money because it's almost essential in our climate.
There's nothing especially Mercedes-like about the driving experience, but what the engine lacks in smoothness it more than makes up for in heart. In the GLA 200, it's only 1.3 litres in size, but even then it hauls the car along with a willingness that makes you want to, if not quite salute, then at least extend your thumb upwards.
For something so tall, the GLA is surprisingly tidy around corners, and it's even more surprising that it achieves this surefootedness without overly firm springs that make your vertebrae collide repeatedly.
The suspension is just one of the many areas that's been improved, and in addition to being more roomy, comfortable and stylish, the GLA simply feels like more of a Mercedes than before.
That said, there are SUVs to consider for less money that offer more refinement and more features, such as the Mazda CX-5 or Skoda's Kodiaq. Neither of those has a three-pointed star emblem, of course, and one major reason the brand created a small car family in the first place was to give more people a leg up into the world of Mercedes.
However you choose to look at the GLA, buying one is just as likely to be about how you want people to look at you.
Mercedes-Benz GLA 200 Progressive
Engine 1,332cc, in-line 4, turbocharged
Power 163hp at 5500rpm
Torque 250Nm at 1620-4000rpm
Gearbox 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
0-100km/h 8.7 seconds
Top Speed 210km/h
Fuel Efficiency 6.1L/100km
Agent Cycle & Carriage Industries
Price S$176,888 with COE