Entry in to any club is attached with exclusive rights. Few clubs will allow you only if you have a certain stature in life or if you pass their tests. Some will accept you on face value. The bottom line is there is a certain kind of struggle associated with each club. This is the case with luxury car buyers. Most of them have freshly acquired wealth and want to show it off by buying the latest entry-level offering from the luxury carmaker. It’s the badge which carries a superior value than for example, the vehicle itself. Now, why will you buy the Mercedes-Benz GLA. For the same amount, you can get a Fortuner with a full three row of seats, higher up seating position and cheaper running costs. But those buying the GLA go for the snob value that a Merc will command over the Toyota. This is the snob value I experienced for a few days with Mercedes-Benz GLA 220d 4MATIC.
To be honest, the GLA looks like a popped-up hatch. The shape of the bonnet, tail lamps or even the general silhouette suggests the same. The louvers in the grille give it a mature appearance. LED lights both in the front and rear, add to the glamour quotient while the skid plates lend a bit of brawn to the otherwise lean looking SUV.
The cabin is a typical Mercedes-Benz fare with a central COMAND infotainment system, the 3-spoke steering wheel with media and telephony controls, air vents which resemble that of a fighter plane, electrically adjustable seats with memory function for the front seats and eight different ambient light set up. The Mercedes-Benz cabin is done in a beige colour with black for the dashboard contrasting well. What I don’t like but old time Mercedes fan may love is the placement of buttons (too many of them) done in a aluminium base. Instead a single touchscreen system with all the controls on it would have made sense. The jog dial that helps star a particular menu or even sift through the various screens is also placed closer to the driver for comfort. However, it will still require you to take your eyes off the road to change a menu.
The front seat for a tall driver like me is a bit hard to adjust. You sit quite low and by low, I mean proper coupe low. Adjust for a better view and your head will hit against the roof. Mind you. This is a restriction only for those above 6ft and the average male/female should not have any issues. The infotainment system has a crisp display and is Apple CarPlay compatible. It though still requires you to use the USB cable and there is a particular slot in the arm rest that lets you connect to the infotainment system. The rear bench is again placed low and the ingress-egress isn’t the same as one looks for in an SUV. The bench is flat, can seat two in good comfort though. Paring back the panoramic sunroof helps bring some light into the cabin. There is no powered tail gate on offer and for a car that costs almost Rs 46 lakh, this is a big miss.
Engine and transmission
Mercedes-Benz have tuned the 2.1-litre turbo diesel engine to make more power than the GLA 200d. Precisely 170PS and 350Nm. The engine is paired to a 7-speed dual clutch transmission. Getting off the mark isn’t exactly fuss free. The added firepower comes to light only when you’re flitting between traffic lights. Above 1,500rpm, the GLA 220d feels very lively. There are four modes – Eco, Comfort, Sport, Individual and Off-road. The Sport mode, as usual, is the liveliest of the lot but in bumper to bumper traffic, it becomes a bit hard to modulate the over excited throttle response. Comfort is the best to use in traffic while even Eco isn’t that bad either. Individual, as the name suggests, lets one configure the way the engine, accelerator and brakes function. Off-road restricts the engine response and this combined with Downhill Speed Regulation or DSR restricts the speed to around 6-7kmph. This is very helpful if you are going downhill in a particular situation as each wheel adapts to the traction available on hand and the driver doesn’t have to touch the brakes at all.
In terms of efficiency, the GLA 220d returned 12kmpl in the city and 19kmpl on the highway. This was in Comfort mode at all the times. I am sure that Eco mode should return a tad more. The top speed I saw on the speedo was around 180kmph.
Ride and handling
Typical to the European standards, this baby Merc SUV is stiffly sprung. This shows in the way the SUV handles potholes. Go slowly and there is a bit of rocking motion (not disconcerting enough but nevertheless there). Up the speed and the feeling disappears to a large extent. The steering feels a tad heavy in city speeds but it is just lovely when the speeds increase as there is a lot of feedback from it. An enthusiast driver will like the handling as it is direct and belies the SUV intentions of the GLA. The 170mm ground clearance may sound absurdly low for an SUV but trust me, it isn’t. At least the way the GLA handles the rough. During the entire duration of the test, there wasn’t even one instance where I beached the SUV or it scraped its belly even with a full load. The NVH though could have been better. The example I was driving had less than 17k kms on the odo and still the diesel clatter was clearly audible in the cabin even at low speeds. Safety wise, the GLA has six airbags to take care of you and a host of electronic acronyms for your well being.
The GLA goes head-on with the upcoming Volvo XC40, Audi Q3 and the BMW X1. All of these cars are now old, except for the Volvo which is an all-new product. An all-new GLA is expected to be showcased sometime later this year and it should come to the Indian market thereafter. Till the time, the top-spec 4MATIC GLA diesel can be yours for Rs 46 lakh, on-road Mumbai. Entry into the coveted Merc luxury segment can’t get easier than this then!
Things we like about the Mercedes-Benz GLA 220d 4MATIC
Snob value, efficiency, handling and ground clearance
Things we don’t like about the Mercedes-Benz GLA 220d 4MATIC
Noisy engine, looks more like a hatchback, bit pricey for what you get
Trivia: Mercedes-Benz will unveil a better looking GLA later this year. It will come to our shores sometime next year and with a BS-VI heart nonetheless.
Images by Donald DSouza