THE morning I get the keys to the Mercedes-Benz GLA 220 CDI, I’ve arranged to drop my parents off at Glasgow airport and the drive through from Edinburgh provides me with the perfect opportunity to determine whether I’d ever consider parting with £31,030 — the on the road price — for one.
It’s billed as an SUV, and first impressions suggest the emphasis is on sporty rather than utilitarian. It shares the same platform as the A-Class Mercedes, but is sleeker and has softer lines. It’s also slightly taller and comes with aluminium roof rails and snazzy headlights.
Entering the cabin, the driver’s position seems low down, but after a bit of adjustment to the seat and tweaking of the steering wheel, visibility out the front is fine. Using the rear view mirror alone, the visibility out the back is limited, which makes the reversing cameras pretty much essential when it comes to parking.
The standard artificial leather chairs are comfy enough, and there is plenty of legroom in the front and just about enough in the back for a couple of adults. All models come with air-conditioning, automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, and Bluetooth hands-free phone connection. On my test car, satnav, radio and some drive data are displayed on a 5.8-inch multimedia screen and are controlled by a pushable, movable wheel on the dashboard, while other functions such as adaptive cruise control are operated by buttons on the steering wheel.
Five overly large circular air vents rather dominate the dashboard, but the speedometer and rev counter are clear and legible. The boot’s capacity is 421 litres (836 litres with the rear seats folded down), plenty big enough for holiday suitcases. Pleasingly, the boot door also closes automatically at the touch of a button at the base – handy for the less athletic among us.
The GLA comes in a range of four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines, and the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic 2.1-litre turbodiesel model I’m testing generates 168bhp. Idling as we do a last double-check for passports, tickets and wallet before setting off, it’s not the quietest diesel I’ve ever heard, but when we set off, the ride is exquisitely smooth and the suspension copes admirably with the pot holes on Edinburgh’s much-rutted roads.
Steering is direct and responsive, with plenty of grip going into and coming out of corners, and the cunningly designed mainly front-wheel drive transmission will send up to 50 per cent of torque to the rear wheels should especially hairy conditions require it.
Other safety features include Attention Assist, which monitors the driver’s steering inputs and warns if signs of drowsiness are detected, and Collision Prevention Assist, which readies the braking system and sounds a warning if a collision appears imminent. Any car weighing 1,535kg will take some slowing down on the motorway, but the GLA’s impeccable braking system does just that, with precision.
Mercedes reports the GLA CDI will take 8.3 seconds to reach 62mph, and I have little reason to doubt this as we readily reach the maximum motorway speed with what feels like minimal effort, the Distronic Plus cruise control keeping us a constant distance from traffic ahead. All too quickly we hit the inevitable M8 congestion, I am thankful that the car is an automatic rather than a manual. Instead of having to depress the clutch and engage first gear to lurch forward for a couple of dozen yards only to then grind to a halt, before repeating the process again and again, we simply creep forward gently in Drive mode, lightly braking or accelerating as required. Why fewer than 20 per cent of cars on British roads are automatic I will never know – especially as new technology means there is next to no difference in overall fuel consumption.
Holiday makers safely dropped off at duty free, the roads have cleared somewhat for the return journey and I am able to experiment with the car in Sport mode. It proves underwhelming, with kicking down a gear a little more sluggish than I’d have liked.
Government tests indicate the Mercedes Benz GLA 220 CDI is capable of achieving 55.4mpg. Needless to say I can’t get anywhere close to that, managing a mere 38.6 mpg overall, but then I’ve never been the most economical driver.
The car in facts
Engine: 2.1-litre 4-cylinder turbodiesel producing 168bhp
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Performance: Top speed 134mph, 0-62mph in 8.3 seconds
Economy: 55.4mpg combined
Emissions: 130g/km of CO2