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You can see it in your mind, can’t you? This gleaming 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic sitting in your driveway at home. It’d look good in your garage, or out the front on the grass, or backed into your carport.
I can see it, and not just because it did exactly that for a few nights over the past week. This is just one of those cars that you can see as a part of your life, a small SUV that may fall short of practicality compared with some of the more pragmatic choices in the luxury compact crossover segment, but one that has badge cred and street presence in equal measures.
Well, that’s my school of thought, at least – but opinions are divided about the SUV-ness, or indeed the need for such a car to be a part of the Mercedes-Benz range, given its practicality shortcomings. It’s tight inside, undoubtedly, but we’ll get to that soon.
First, let’s take a look at what we’ve got. The updated GLA250 4Matic has seen a few cosmetic changes such as a revised grille, reshaped front and rear bumpers, and new LED headlights with daytime running lights and auto high-beam functionality, and they're great for those who do a lot of night driving.
So it looks a bit different to the model it replaces, but not vastly – that could be to appease owners of the pre-facelift version, or just because the original was a bit of a looker. Probably a bit of both.
The updated model also saw some increases to the standard equipment list, albeit with a small increase to the list price of the GLA250 version, which is $60,700 plus on-road costs (up $800). That's more expensive than, say, a high-spec Audi Q2 or Q3, or a Mini Countryman with all the fruit, and it's bang on the money for a BMW X1 xDrive25i.
As part of the update the GLA250 gains keyless access on the doors and a motion-activated electric tailgate (with the key on your person, you swoosh your foot below the rear bumper to open or close the boot lid), not to mention revised interior trim choices, a new instrument cluster, and DAB+ digital radio.
The media system features the latest smartphone mirroring with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as Garmin maps for the satellite navigation. Our car had the Comand Package ($2490) fitted, which includes a better mapping system with map updates and a 12-speaker harman/kardon stereo system which, if we’re honest, is a bit average in terms of bass meatiness. The only other option on our car was the Mountain Grey metallic paint ($1190).
The interface of the media system includes a rotary dial controller between the seats, and the screen itself isn’t touch-capacitive, which makes the phone mirroring seem a bit counterintuitive. There are twin USB jacks between the seats, but it is a touch short on loose-item storage, with a small glovebox and small cupholders. You get electric adjustment for the front seats, seat heating and climate control, though.
There are decent bottle-holsters in the doors, and the boot is good for this category of car, at 481 litres (there is no spare wheel, though, as the 19-inch wheels use Continental ContiSportContact 5 SSR run-flat tyres in 235/45 sizing).
What isn’t good is the back seat space, to such an extent that if you’re looking for a family SUV, you may need to look elsewhere. There’s hardly any knee-, toe- or headroom on offer for a six-foot adult, with the large transmission tunnel and dual-pane glass roof making it uncomfortable to be back there. Rear ingress and egress is poor, too, due to large sills (although not as bad as its sister model, the Infiniti QX30) and small lower apertures on the back doors.
Still, there are some nice amenities if you have small occupants, including rear-seat air vents, a 12-volt outlet and twin mesh map pockets, not to mention a fold-down armrest with pop-out cupholders. And the GLA has nine airbags fitted (dual front, front side, rear side, curtain and driver's knee) as well as a rear-view camera and front and rear parking sensors, so it's kid-friendly – provided they're not big kids.
In fact, it also has plenty of safety tech, like standard autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot warning and driver drowsiness detection. You can option a surround-view camera system with semi-automated parking assistance, and, somewhat disappointingly, adaptive cruise control is also optional.
Under the bonnet remains the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine with the same outputs as before – 155kW of power and 350Nm of torque – and the same claimed fuel consumption, too, at 7.0 litres per 100 kilometres. On test we saw 8.9L/100km.
It has a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and all-wheel-drive, but the shifter stalk on the steering column can be a pain when you’re attempting to make a three-point turn. A number of CA staff found it would often end up in N, rather than the desired R or D.
The drivetrain had a few other qualms that weren’t to all tastes, including some low-speed hesitation and jerking from the transmission, as well as some turbo lag.
But once you’re moving along, it’s a great drivetrain. There’s certainly enough power and torque for this application, and if you choose the sport driving mode it is truly energetic.
The dual-clutch doesn’t offer the same ultra-crisp shifts we’ve come to expect of this type of auto ’box, but it does a great job of offering smooth changes at a clip, and with a nice throttle blip too. The other modes you can choose include comfort, individual (allowing you to tailor the drivetrain, steering, and suspension damping settings, among other things, to your tastes), eco and off-road.
For this tester, the customisable mode was best, with sporty response from the drivetrain, comfort steering because it isn’t as lifeless in corners, and the softest setting for the suspension, too.
That’s not to say the suspension is too firm, but in any mode you can still feel sharp edges in the cabin because of the stiff-sidewalls of the run-flat tyres.
The steering has a nice feel to it, and good response, too, allowing you to push in corners without much understeer and with the assuredness of the all-wheel-drive system to help haul you out of the bends. It boogies, and the brakes are great, too.
So it’s fun to drive, and it shouldn’t – theoretically – cost you an arm and a leg to own, either. Mercedes-Benz offers a range of service plans and different levels of cover, with maintenance due every 12 months or 25,000km – the basic level, over three years/75,000km, is $1980 – so, maybe part of a leg and half an arm. There’s a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, and three years of roadside assistance, too.
Like I said at the start, I could feasibly have one of these in my driveway, because I don't have kids (my furry mutt doesn't need much space).
And in the end, you’ll either want a 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLA to be a part of your life, or you won’t. If you fall into the latter category you’ll have to look past the barrage of other luxury SUVs that compete in this segment – but the drive to get that lauded three-pointed star in your driveway may be great enough to do exactly that.
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