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The Top Gear car review:Mercedes-Benz GLA
For:Well-made, doesn’t drive like an off-roader, GLA 45 AMG is ace
Against:Diesels are noisy, doesn't look like an off-roader (if that's what you wanted)
GLA 220 CDI 4Matic SE 5dr Auto
What we say:
Look! An A-Class with roof rails and enhanced ground clearance. Don't be cynical, it works rather well
What is it?
Good question. Mercedes calls it an SUV, but it’s actually more of a tallish hatchback with decent ground clearance and soft suspension. Most versions sold will be 4WD, although FWD will also be available. It’s very closely based on Mercedes’ A-Class hatchback, although the A-Class is a bit too short of rear room and boot space to make it as a family hatch. The taller and longer GLA wisely offers more of both.
It’s a lot softer-riding than the A-Class. The suppleness helps in the suburban grind, and it eases away the harshness of many motorway surfaces, too. Factor in the well-arranged driving position and it’s relaxing transport, marred only by noisy engines (both petrol and diesel) and a bit of wind noise. The handling is roly-poly but you’re always aware of what’s going on and the reactions and responses are accurate and prompt enough that it doesn’t loll about the place too badly. The 2.1-litre diesel comes in two outputs, the upper 170bhp version being exclusively 4WD (and quite capable off-road), and there’s also GLA 250 turbo petrol, but it isn’t a very charismatic engine.
For charisma you’ll be needing the range-topping GLA 45 AMG, a slightly bonkers 360bhp 4WD device that hits 62mph in 4.8secs – genuinely, a tarmac rally car in kid gloves. The fully AMG-developed engine is an absolute blast and the whole thing works much better than you’d ever expect.
On the inside
Interior quality more or less lives up to the Mercedes’ reputation, with solid furniture, hard-wearing upholstery (note ‘Artico’ is a fake leather, not the real thing) and well-oiled switchgear. The screen menus and graphics have a well-thought out maturity, too. The seats are firm but supportive. The AMG Sport trim gets tombstone front seats, but beware if you have young kids because this option inhibits your over-shoulder view of the little darlings as well as their view forward. The boot and rear seat are generous enough to make this a viable A-Class alternative.
Of course there’s a groaning buffet of options, but you know what, they aren’t really necessary, Mercedes has generously decked out even the base SE model with all you reasonably need, and satnav can be had as a relatively simple and cheap upgrade onto the existing colour screen.
Compared with a Golf-size hatch, the fuel and CO2 ratings aren’t too special, but compared with other crossovers the GLA looks impressively thrifty. As long as you don’t plunder the options list, depreciation should be very reasonable. Mercedes’ pay-upfront monthly servicing contract is more expensive than BMW’s one-off payment, mind you.