In the luxury SUV space, Mercedes has a huge void below the Rs. 55 lakh ML 250 CDI in which rivals like Audi, BMW, Land Rover and even Volvo have swooped in with smaller and cheaper SUVs.
The big worry for the carmaker is that it is losing out on a new breed of affluent, first-time luxury SUV buyers who would typically move up the ladder with the same brand when it's time to upgrade.
What is it?
In sharp contrast to the imposing GL, the boxy G-class and the solid looking M-class, the GLA stands at the opposite end of the company's SUV spectrum and when you walk up to it, it's quite obvious that the company has deliberately avoided creating something that looks tough and rugged. The silhouette is more swoopy than upright and the rising beltline that kicks up at the rear to converge into the raked C-pillar and sloping roofline gives it a sleekness you don’t associate with an SUV.
There can be no doubt that the new SUV is more of a crossover than a pukka SUV. In terms of dimensions too, it is the size of a luxury hatchback but the crossover treatment of plastic cladding for the doorsills and wheelarches, aluminium roof rails and chrome scuff guards makes it look much larger than it is. What gives it its quasi-SUV credentials are the large 18-inch wheels and 183mm ground clearance.
What’s the cabin like?
The interiors are identical to the A-class and that’s no bad thing. You get the same high grade materials and fit and finish that bowled us over when we first tested Merc’s baby hatch. The plastics feel like they’ve come from more expensive Mercs and bits like the metallic-finish plastic strip that runs across the dashboard is an example of the top-class materials used all over.
The driving position is good and the extra height over other compact Mercs makes a perceptible difference with visibility. You sit taller and the view of the road is better too.
The rear seats feel disappointingly cramped. The seats, though well-cushioned, are short on under thigh support and the back rest angle is a touch too upright which also compromises comfort.
In comparison to the small cabin, the boot is quite generous and can swallow upto 421 litres of luggage.
It will initially come with one trim level each for the petrol and diesel variant and both will be generously equipped with standard features like a panoramic roof, a Harman Kardon sound system, tyre pressure monitoring control and a raft of safety features, which include seven airbags and electronic nannies like Anti-Skid Regulation (ASR) anti-lock brakes(ABS) and Brake Assist System (BAS) are all standard. For a carmaker obsessed with safety for over a century, this is one area where Merc hasn’t stinted.
How does it drive?
Prod the throttle pedal and it takes off with a sense of urgency and performance from the get go is strong thanks to the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo-petrol unit which develops a healthy 181bhp.
Acceleration is pretty strong with the 0-100kph dash clipped in a smidgen over 8 seconds. There’s no let up in shove and 160kph is despatched in a brisk 21.41 seconds.
The strong mid-range of this motor makes everyday driving quite effortless and perfectly suits the role of a crossover urban SUV. Performance is pretty impressive on the highway too where the SUV cruises quite adeptly, with strong overtaking capability just a flex of the right foot away.
But don’t ask too much of this engine. It doesn’t like being revved and starts protesting quite audibly when you near its modest 6,100rpm redline.
Also, the seven-speed DCT transmission is not the smoothest and though the company has improved the way its shifts by tweaking its electronics, it still feels a bit clunky.
With just the front wheels putting down all the power and torque, there’s a fair bit of torque steer under hard acceleration and on uneven roads, the tram lines quite a bit too. For the Indian market, it comes with only front-wheel-drive and there’s no 4Matic option for now. That’s a bit of a shame because with all-wheel-drive, you could certainly make better use of the power on wet and uneven roads. However, the thinking is that since it will be used mainly in cities there’s no real need for the extra hardware (and cost).
The large wheels, increased wheel travel and softer suspension give it a comfortable ride but the big surprise is how adept it is off-road.
Despite riding on strictly tarmac tyres and driven by just the front two wheels, it clambered up a muddy track with remarkable ease.
Back on tarmac, it continued to impress with the confidence it gave on an undulating and gently winding road. The steering isn’t crisp or full of feel but it weights up with a nice consistency and is fairly accurate.
The overall impression after a long drive in is that there’s a maturity in the way it handles and it feels nicely tied down.
With the monsoons leaving roads in complete disrepair, there’s no better time to examine the ride comfort of any car. And there’s no better place than the highways of Maharashtra where smooth tarmac suddenly gives way to a patch that looks like it's been nuked. Mild bumps and broken roads are dispatched quite effortlessly but the ride is not quite flawless. Deeper potholes crash through and the SUV skitters over sharper ridges too. The overall ride quality maybe quite acceptable to most owners but the fact is that these compact Mercs just don’t deliver the premium and majestic comfort of their bigger sedans.
Should I buy one?
It’s most obvious rivals are the BMW X1 and the Audi Q3. While the X1 is still a more entertaining car to drive and the Q3 is more practical and a truer SUV with its famed Quattro system, neither of them quite has its style and upmarket looks.
If you want the image of a premium SUV without the worry of driving something too expensive and cumbersome, the GLA, with a ex-showroom (Delhi) price starting at Rs 32.75 lakh for the diesel variant, it may be the next sweet spot for Merc.
Price Range (in lakhs)*
Ex-showroom price Rs. 30-32 lakh (Estimated ex-showroom, Delhi)
Power 181bhp at 5500rpm
Torque 30.59kgm at 1200-4000rpm
Type Front-wheel drive
Gearbox 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Wheel base 2699mm
Boot volume 421 litres
Chassis & Body
Tyres 235/50 R 18