The Mercedes-Benz GLA is a case in point of the growing tendency for buyers to look towards compact SUVs and crossovers to meet their mobility needs. Closely related to the A-Class hatchback, the GLA is taller, longer and sportier … and considerably more expensive. To be fair though, the new GLA does offer more rear room and boot space and, of course, the off-road comfort suspension as standard.

The GLA was presented for the first time in 2013. As the first compact SUV from Mercedes-Benz it brought a breath of fresh air to its market segment as much as it did to the Mercedes stable.  The new face-lifted GLA boasts numerous upgrades, both inside and outside, as well as two diesel and three petrol engines to choose from, including the ballistic AMG GLA 45 4Matic that punches well above its weight.


While the GLA 200 entry model is reasonably priced (for a Mercedes-Benz product) at R485,400, you will have to fork out nearly R200,000 more to get decent performance, all-wheel drive and automatic transmission as offered in the GLA 250. If fact, except for the GLA 250, all the GLA derivatives are bereft of most of the nice to haves that come standard on many other more affordable makes and models. These include LED headlights, adaptive headlights, high-beam assist, rain-sensing wipers, electric folding side mirrors, and electric seat adjustment (driver only), to name just a few.


Safety and security are virtually synonymous with Mercedes-Benz, and the GLA is no exception. Although the new GLA has not undergone the Euro NCAP crash test yet, there is little doubt that it would receive the same five-star rating as its A-Class and CLA siblings. Still, even when it comes to safety and security, Mercedes-Benz don’t shy away from making the most of optional extras, or as they now phrase it: “available on request”. So, available on request, to use the new euphemism for “milk you for all you have”, you can enhance the safety and security of your GLA with blind spot/lane change warning assistance, lane departure warning, keyless access with start/hands-free key, rear side airbags, Active/Adaptive Cruise Control, Park Distance Control, Rear Camera for Parking Assistance, Autonomous Parking Assistance, and Navigation. Again, you will find most if not all of these features as standard on many a more affordable make and model.


In the age of everything being touchscreen, Mercedes-Benz persists with an out-dated infotainment screen that looks more like an afterthought than a fully integrated system. Using the antiquated dial to scroll through menus on a small colour screen accesses most of the GLA’s functions. While this system is similar to that of Audi and BMW, it’s not as intuitive because of too many sub-menus, and to make matters worse, the shortcut buttons located away from the scrolling dial.


On a more positive note, both the GLA 250 and GLA 220 d impresses with its performance and handling. Steering is neutral, and pedals are light, which makes for a comfortable drive on all road surfaces and conditions. Both models also impressed under spirited driving. Cornering is exceptional, and acceleration out of corners or when overtaking is an absolute pleasure. Of course, the pocket rocket AMG GLA 45 makes all the other GLA derivatives pale in comparison as it accelerates, brakes and turns like a supercar.  


Compared to its closest rivals, the Audi Q3 and BMW X1, the GLA stands out with its sleek styling and aggressive stance. However, the Mercedes GLA does not offer the versatility and drive comfort of an Audi Q3 and, except for the AMG GLA 45, it is not nearly as fun to drive as a BMW X1. More than that, unless you are willing to settle for a rather stock and underpowered entry-level GLA 200, this is a rather expensive compact SUV, and more so if you wish to add any optional extras. Still, this is a thoroughbred Mercedes-Benz with dashing good looks and an assured presence that will not disappoint the followers of the three-pointed star.




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