Mercedes-Benz GLA 2020 250 4matic

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLA review

Australian first drive

Bigger, more SUV-like and better according to Mercedes-Benz, the new GLA enters into a competitive segment as sales of prestige SUVs continue to grow.
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The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLA has big shoes to fill. Despite being an ageing player in a tough segment, the old model was the segment leader in 2018 and remained in the top three in 2019. It’s fair to say, then, that the Australian market liked the old model. According to Mercedes-Benz, the new GLA is bigger, bolder, more SUV-like, and (of course) better.

Let’s find out.

At launch, we’re spending our time with the model expected to be the volume seller, the GLA250, with pricing to start from $66,500 before on-road costs. Both GLA200 and GLA250 models will launch domestically together, with new AMG variants to join the strengthened range this time around also. Our tester has a few options including polar white paint ($385), sports package ($1915), Driving Assistance package ($1531), and the AMG Exclusive package ($2838).

You can read our pricing and specifications story for all the detail, and suffice to say, plenty has changed. The key metrics, though, relate to the GLA body itself. In line with the ‘more SUV-like’ line that Mercedes-Benz is pushing, the new GLA is a fair bit bigger in real terms.

At 1611mm tall (without the optional roof rails), it’s 104mm taller than the old model. The wheelbase is 30mm longer, at 2729mm, but overall body length is down 14mm to 4410mm. Less overhang for off-road approach and departure, of course. Track width front and rear is also up by 46mm at both ends. The GLA version of the A-Class platform is actually 9mm shorter than the A-Class. As such, it looks tall, and high-riding, which is very much the SUV signature.

Delving further into the cabin-specific numbers, there’s 22mm more head room up front, along with a 97mm higher seating position, reflective of smarter, more advanced packaging. Visibility from the driver’s seat is certainly impressive, making for comfortable city driving. There’s more shoulder and leg room in the second row, too, up by 43mm and 116mm respectively.

Mercedes-Benz tells us it’s ‘a more fully fledged SUV rather than mildly lifted like the original’. What you are seeing now with the second generation of vehicles like the GLA is a more focused brief from the outset. I’m not suggesting Mercedes-Benz did this with the original GLA, but there has definitely been a sense that some manufacturers have gone to the ‘oh, we'd better create an SUV out of this’ mindset, rather than planning for that from the platform’s inception.

Second time around, though, with full knowledge of the voracious appetite for SUVs, there’s more planning, more focus, and a smarter, more effective product on offer for the end user. Just about every manufacturer has read the room, so to speak.

It’s hard to believe that the GLA has been with us since 2014, when the first generation broke cover, but the segment has moved on (and up and out) since then. As such, Mercedes-Benz has some work ahead of it to ensure the GLA stays as relevant and popular as it was recently. The good news following our launch drive is that this new GLA is a significantly better vehicle than the model it replaces.

We didn’t test the GLA200 at launch, but we look forward to sampling the 1.3-litre turbo-petrol engine, which will generate 120kW and 250Nm. Our GLA250 runs the excellent 'Benz 4Matic AWD system, and the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine makes 163kW and 350Nm. It’s backed by an eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox.

From the driver’s seat, there’s absolutely no doubt you’re seated in the latest and greatest Mercedes-Benz has to offer. The quality of the controls and switchgear, the dashboard layout and design, and the mounting of the infotainment control screen are all familiar.

The dual 10.2-inch displays – despite being something we’ve tested many times now – still stand out as seriously impressive in this compact segment and reek of premium tech and quality. The controls themselves – whether steering wheel or console mounted – likewise do their bit to add to the premium vibe. Those screens are standard for our market. Some markets get smaller screens in some models, but in Oz we'll get the larger screens across all models.

As mentioned above, the higher seating position means visibility is excellent, and you feel in command behind the wheel. The added head room makes the cabin feel even bigger than it actually is, especially for taller occupants. Owners of the old GLA may have coveted the compact nature of it, but there’s no doubt the newer model is more fit for purpose for more buyers.

The second row is decidedly more comfortable – and therefore more useful – for adults, making the new GLA a genuine option as the second family vehicle for parents with two growing kids. Adults won’t be complaining back there, even on longer road trips, so that’s a big tick there.

Despite bumping the boot capacity up by 14L to 435L, the ’Benz is put in its place by both the Q3 and X2 – in the case of the Audi, by nearly 100L. Still, the boot is useful and will do the day-to-day jobs nicely. It could be a problem, though, if four adults want to go on a longer road trip.

While it’s highly unlikely – we think anyway – that new GLA owners will venture too far off-road, Mercedes-Benz knows that capability is as important as anything when you’re calling a vehicle an SUV. As such, the GLA is fitted with an off-road information package. There’s off-road lighting, downhill speed regulation and an off-road driving program that splits the drive 50:50. It’s aimed at owners who might go to the snow, hit a fire trail or tackle some light-duty off-roading. All 4Matic variants get the package, while Front-wheel drive GLA200 models do not.

On the road, there’s no discernible lag or hesitation off the mark, and the GLA250's 0–100km/h time of 6.7 seconds seems entirely realistic. The GLA is sharp and responsive without being razor sharp. Once you do move off the line, it keeps accelerating strongly through the mid-range, too, easily up to highway speed. At no time during our launch drive did the GLA feel anything other than effortless. Despite its compact size, there’s no doubt it will easily tackle a longer country run if you so desire.

I’m not a huge fan of drive modes in this segment, so much of my time is spent in Comfort. It rolls along easily around town, rarely upset by anything other than the very worst of city road surfaces, and the ride is quiet and insulated inside the cabin. Shift into Sport mode, though, and it’s actually quite a fun SUV. The exhaust note especially comes alive, encouraging you to play with the throttle a little more and have some fun. It’s enough ‘sport’ without being naff, if that makes sense.

In Sport mode, drive is split 70:30 front to rear, while Comfort and Eco run 80:20 front to rear. Off-road, as mentioned above, does the 50:50 split. It’s hard to gauge just how much the buyer will value sportiness specifically, but the GLA’s steering and balance are well beyond what an SUV would have been capable of not so long ago, and as such, deliver dynamic ability that should suit buyers. Back-to-back testing against the direct competition will be interesting.

While much of the ride quality comes from the intrinsic ability of the platform beneath the GLA, there’s no doubt the wider stance – and hence larger footprint – helps deliver such surety and balance at all times. Combine that chassis balance with a quality AWD system, and you get an SUV that will leave the driver feeling confident and safe.

Like any dual-clutch auto, the 'Benz unit is competent but not quite perfect. Accelerating, either under load or wafting along, is precise and sharp. There’s no hesitation or jerkiness at all. However, when you’re on and off the throttle in traffic, or rolling to a stop and need to pick the throttle back up again, there can be a slight hesitation from the gearbox – not uncommon at all for this style of unit.

Around town, we saw a figure of 8.0L/100km against the combined-cycle claim of 7.5L/100km – impressive in the real world with no real attempt to be frugal.

There’s no doubt that the new GLA is a significantly improved and smarter-engineered SUV than the model it replaces. It’s also dynamically capable, comfortable and well equipped. This segment gets tougher with every new or heavily revised model that comes to market. Mercedes-Benz can now compete with an all-new vehicle that is fit for purpose and ready to take on the competition.