They say you should never compare apples and oranges when it comes to cars. While not necessarily untrue, how do you give context without comparison? In the real world, many choices are between apples and oranges. And as if things weren’t hard enough, they throw a banana into the mix.
Enter the crossover, or small SUV, or whatever other TLA the marketing boffins conjure up from their cauldrons of market research. The Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 is the three-pointed star’s latest offering with a view to capturing previously unavailable buyers. Major luxury car makers may be loathe to admit it, but by introducing smaller, more affordable models in greater numbers than larger, more expensive ones, the whole industry is making a shift down-market. And why not? The car business is a numbers game and volume is the key to survival.
The segment du jour clearly ripe for the plucking is the crossover SUV sector, and the GLA – a car based on the same architecture as the A- Class and CLA- is the weapon of choice for Mercedes. Love it or hate it, platform sharing is here to stay. From Wolfsburg to Yokohama, this is the way the cookie crumbles.
Mercedes-Benz calls the GLA250 a compact SUV, which is when the dilemma of the fruit becomes even more apparent. It looks like a hatch, but is a little taller. It’s got sedan-like space but is a little smaller. It has the trappings of an SUV but doesn’t look like it wants to get muddy…you get the picture. Think of it as an A-Class on heels, that’s spent a bit of time in the gym.
Looks like an apple, smells like an orange
The GLA is one of those cars that doesn’t make itself apparent immediately. First glances tell you one thing – it’s not boring. It has a more upright stance to distinguish it from its MFA siblings and clearly mark its spot as an SUV. However Mercedes has done a clever job with the sheet metal. Sculptured body sides, tall 19 inch wheels, and exaggerated trim give it the much needed attitude that Mercedes expects to attract younger, affluent first-time luxury buyers.
The wheel arches are large, and the GLA leads off with a large Mercedes star on a rakish nose and upright front end. Fog lamps are integrated into the headlamps, and piped lighting in the swept-back headlights adds more detail to the front end. From any side angle, the creases and ripples, especially on the hood, seem sculpted perfectly to catch the light. At the back, the large and protruding oblong tail lamps are split far apart to exaggerate the width of the vehicle, with a chrome handle that sweeps across. The bottom rear adopts an SUV look, accented with a prominent skid plate and sill guard.
What intrigued me about the GLA is that over a couple of days, I kept seeing new things in the car, and while it wasn’t any one thing that I could put my finger on, it came across as different, and not in a bad way.
The cabin of the GLA is a return to form for Mercedes. It’s solid, stylish and leaves no doubt in your mind that you are in a premium vehicle. The aluminum across the dash and retro vents are striking and give the cabin a sense of occasion without seeming superfluous. The instrument cluster has a nice mix of modern and old-world charm while the flat-bottomed meaty steering wheel gives it race-car undertones. It must be noted that in Malaysia, Mercedes offers the GLA 250 in AMG Line trim which accounts for why it has such sporty pretensions. And while the kit certainly works from a styling perspective, it negates a core purpose of the GLA by halving the ground clearance, lowering it a whole 15mm.
The sporty seats were comfortable if not cosseting, coming in a mix of cloth and leather. Overall cabin space though, left me a little wanting. While it is larger than the A-Class, I could never shake the feeling of being a little too snug. The rear seat can fit two adults, but it’s going to get intimate on long journeys.
Sure ain’t a lemon
The GLA 250 comes with the M270 4-cylinder 2.0 liter turbo engine that Mercedes has made great strides with. At 211ps and a stonking 350Nm of torque, it’s not slow. The power delivery is what one might call adequately willing, thanks in no small part to the seven-speed dual clutch transmission, which is a far cry from Mercedes’ previous trannies that always made you feel like you were going through a bog with concrete flip-flops.
Right from the start, the GLA was fun to drive, without being overly aggressive. The steering response made it predictable through corners and there’s an overwhelming sense of stability and grip. The competent 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system means only the most ham-fisted driver is going to unsettle the GLA. The ride while not brittle, is rather firm, and the 19in alloys don’t help to calm things either.
So while the GLA 250 won’t have you waking up Sunday mornings with an itch in your right foot, it is nonetheless a fun proposition for the occasional blast along your favourite roads.
So who wants a banana split?
Clearly, this is a hatchback/crossover for a younger generation that has money. The styling, the less than conservative demeanor and the RM 267,000 price tag make that very apparent. But why, you might ask?
You see, while Mercedes has stood for luxury from before there were Yuppies, it has also carried certain connotations that do not appeal to a younger post-modern generation. The GLA and its ilk represent an aperture for people who want the luxury but don’t want to be seen driving their father’s car.
So will this upset the apple cart? You bet, because moving forward we will see more of these new “definitions” as car manufacturers fight for a piece of your GST-ridden Ringgit. In the meantime, I go back to the words of that Great 80s Poet, Weird Al Yankovic – Have a Banana, have a whole bunch!
Mercedes-Benz GLA 250
Price RM266,888 (w/o insurance)
Engine 2.0L petrol, 4-cylinder, turbocharged
Output 211ps, 350Nm
Transmission 7-sp dual-clutch auto w/ steering paddles
Performance 0-100km/h in 7.1sec, top speed 230km/h
Wheels/tyres 19in alloys, 235/45R19, Run-Flat Tyres