When a man driving a BMW X1, another steering a Hyundai Santa Fe, and a woman driving an Audi A4, all gleefully stare at your car, it has to be a stunner. This is what we experienced when we drove the soon-to-be-launched Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class from Chandigarh to Shimla last week. The GLA-Class is Stuttgart-based carmaker?s first attempt to make its presence felt in the compact luxury SUV/crossover space?a space that was created by the X1 and is now unofficially ruled by the Audi Q3. We find how ?excellent? Mercedes-Benz?s latest attempt is?remember, the company calls 2014 as its ?Year of Excellence?.
Modelled on Mercedes-Benz?s Modular Front Architecture (MFA) platform?the other cars made on this platform are the A-Class, the B-Class and the CLA-Class?the GLA-Class is aimed at affluent, first-time luxury SUV/crossover buyers. In fact, the GLA, with its coup?-like design, is a clear breakaway from the ?old man?s car? image that had developed for some of the company?s cars. The front gets a large two-slat grille finished in chrome?the three-pointed star is prominently placed on the grille?and the A-Class inspired headlamps with daytime running lights and projector headlamps look snazzy. The GLA is not a tall car and this is apparent once you look at it from the sides, but the large wheels and a 183-mm ground clearance give it decent road presence and make it look mature. The rear section, again, looks smart?LED tail-lamps, wide fenders and twin-exhaust pipes look neat. Yes, the GLA doesn?t get the imposing, butch looks of the M-Class, but remember that the M-Class is a true SUV but the GLA is a crossover.
If you get such an arresting exterior, can the interior be far behind? Enter the cabin and, if you have already been inside the A-Class, you know what I have written in the next line. The centrally-mounted screen, three air-conditioning vents in the middle and two on the sides, three-spoke multi-function steering wheel, all lend class to the GLA?s cabin. Gear selector lever, like in most Mercedes cars, is on the steering column, on the right side. What adds to the beauty is a huge panoramic dual-sunroof that gives the cabin an airy feel?the roof closes automatically when it senses that it is raining. The GLA will come with three interior colour packages?an all-black version, an all-beige version, and a black-beige combination interior option. But because the GLA is not a large car, the cabin is not really voluminous. While the driving position is good, tall front passengers will find their head rubbing the roof?though that can be fixed to an extent by adjusting the electric front seats. Then the front legroom also comes at a premium. The rear passengers, though, get ample space all around, but long journeys can be tiring for rear passengers because under-thigh support is not as good as we expected.
The GLA is loaded with almost every feature you will want from a luxury crossover?the futuristic Comand infotainment system, reverse parking camera, GPS navigation, tyre-pressure monitoring sensors, attention assist ? you name it. And because it is a Mercedes, you just cannot find fault with the fit and finish of the cabin. The boot space, at 421 litres, is substantial and usable, and the luggage loading height is quite low and, thus, convenient. Again, because it is a Mercedes, the GLA doesn?t compromise on safety?you get seven airbags, anti-skid regulation (ASR), anti-lock brakes (ABS) and brake assist system (BAS), hill assist and more.
The GLA will come with two engines?the 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder, turbocharged petrol (0-100 kmph in 7.6 seconds) and the 2.1-litre, 4-cylinder, turbocharged diesel (0-100 kmph in 9.9-seconds). Both engines are mated to the seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission and both petrol and diesel versions get paddle shifters. Both engines get fuel-saving technologies such as automatic start-stop and Eco mode. Mercedes claims a fuel-efficiency of 13.8 kmpl for the petrol and 17.9 kmpl for the diesel.
Mercedes-Benz organised this drive on the winding roads of Himachal Pradesh where we were able to judge its riding manners, to an extent, while also having fun with the car. Large 18-inch wheels and 235/50 size tyres give the GLA a lot of stability. Yes, there is some amount of body roll especially when you go on a curve at high speeds, but the body roll is contained?we did some sharp cornering manoeuvres with the GLA and the car felt safe most times. When we took the car on a riverbed we found on our way to Shimla, the 183 mm ground clearance?best in class?ensured nothing scrapes the bottom. In fact, even though the GLA is powered only by the front wheels, it handled muddy tracks with a remarkable ease. The electro-mechanical power steering means there is ample steering-feel and a relatively tight turning radius ensures parking is not much of a bother. (Because the rear visibility from the driver?s seat is not very good, you must always use parking camera while reversing.)
The GLA may not yet be as entertaining to drive as the X1 and not as good off-the-road as the Q3, but what it gets is upmarket looks and a novelty factor. When the GLA is launched on Tuesday, September 30, all ears will be on how much it is priced. We expect Mercedes-Benz to keep the starting prices close to the psychological figure of R30 lakh (remember, it is only a front-wheel-drive model right now, and a more expensive all-wheel-drive version may enter the showrooms later this year). At that price, the GLA-Class can be Mercedes-Benz?s sweetest deal this year.