Crossovers seem to be getting less and less… cross.
Absolutely. The new Mercedes GLA looks pretty chunky in pictures, but when you walk up to it, and certainly when you drive it, you realise it's little higher than a tallish hatchback. In fact, within 10mm of a Focus.
How's it altered from an A-Class then?
Indeed they're closely related, though the external panels are all different. But whereas you'd expect the crossover version to look like a hatch on tiptoes (like the Audi Q3 does alongside the A3), here it's the crossover version that looks the better balanced. Somehow an A-class looks like a GLA that's been sat upon.
Can you do off-roadery stuff with it?
Surprisingly, yes. It comes with three engines, plus a GLA45 AMG which we'll deal with separately. The diesels are both 2.1 litres, and make 136bhp in the GLA 200CDI and 170bhp in the GLA 220CDI. The petrol GLA250 is a two-litre turbo of 211bhp. The low-power diesel is FWD only, but the other two come with 4WD as standard.
The suspension is softish and the tyres not too road-aggressive, and there are capable and well-calibrated electronic grip aids and a downhill stability system that keeps you well in check. So you get surprisingly decent traction. And the ground clearance is good, plus the front and rear aprons don't foul the ground. All in, I tacked tackled some reasonably rugged tracks and it did better than I'd expected.
Is it fun to drive fast?
Acceleration is a bit of an issue. The petrol engine sounds wheezy at high revs, and the diesel grumbly and loud. But the actual acceleration is satisfactory, at 8.3 seconds for the 0-62mph in the 220CDI and 7.1 in the 250.
Both versions feel pretty car-like. But the car in question is a big soft Mercedes saloon, not a sporty hatch. They float like boats on undulating roads, and lean heavily into corners. But they're not inept. The steering is progressive and well-weighted, and you can trim in the understeer by lifting the throttle. In fact you can get them squirming around a fair bit, even with the ESP on. It's roly-poly fun.
Fun, but irrelevant…
Quite. But the supple ride and the excellent motorway stability are very relevant indeed for what's likely to be a family and company car. The GLA is a comfy and reassuring cruiser, nicely built and usefully more roomy in the back seat and boot than the A-Class.
It's a Mercedes though. Expensive and sparse?
OK, it's not cheap. The 220CDI 4Matic is £30,030. But have you seen what everyone else wants for their crossovers with actual 4x4, not just front-wheel drive? The GLA no rip-off. And it's reasonably kitted: reversing camera, roof rails, air-con, colour centre screen with Bluetooth and media-in, DAB. The options are actually optional, not bare necessities.
Is it better than an A-Class, then?
At launch, I didn’t like the A-Class. A poor Golf impersonator in my view: cramped in the back, and rough-riding. But some of its faults have been cured – the clunky DCT auto now has smoother and more responsive shifts in the GLA, and that software will be cascaded back to the A-Class. But somehow the GLA's soft ride and mature practicality make it feel much more like a real Mercedes than the A-Class does…