Mercedes has refined the GLA in all the right places. Compared to the original model, it’s more practical, offers advanced driver-assistance tech and is a comfortable place in which to travel. When you add in a strong range of petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid powertrains, plus powerful AMG versions, along with the improved quality of materials throughout the cabin, the GLA has noticeably come of age.
Despite these obvious plus points, the downside is that the GLA is pricey compared to the competition and, if you make the decision to purchase, the running costs are also a little steep. However, it remains a genuine contender for families seeking a small, premium SUV.
About the Mercedes GLA
The first Mercedes GLA SUV was launched in 2014 to a rather modest fanfare. Although it was a supposed premium product, designed to take on the likes of the BMW X1, Volvo XC40 and Audi Q3, it fell short in a number of key areas. The interior was a little cramped, the ride wasn’t particularly comfortable and the bland styling didn’t inspire a sense of desirability.
It was telling that the original GLA design was often referred to as just an ‘A-Class on stilts’, which points directly to the perception of it as more of a high-riding hatch than a well-rounded compact SUV. This time around, the car gets a more individual design to set it apart from the A-Class and it feels more like a fully fledged SUV, just like its rivals do.
Mercedes has clearly decided to challenge that perception with the second-generation GLA. It’s a full 11cm taller than the previous model and, with the wheelbase extended by 30mm, the manufacturer claims there’s now more interior space. There’s also a bigger boot which means the GLA can compete on a practical level with the rivals mentioned above, while providing more load space than the Mazda CX-30, Lexus UX and even the Range Rover Evoque.
Performance is well taken care of with a range of petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid engine options. The GLA 180 and 200 versions are powered by a 1.3-litre petrol unit, although with different outputs of 134bhp and 161bhp, respectively. The GLA 250 variant boasts a more potent 221bhp from its 2.0-litre petrol engine. All cars use an eight-speed automatic transmission, with the exception of the GLA 200 which has a seven-speed auto ‘box.
Those completing higher mileages might want to opt for the diesel GLA 200 d with 148bhp, or the GLA 250 d which produces 187bhp. The 200 d is available with Mercedes’ 4Matic four-wheel-drive system while the 250 d gets it as standard.
The most efficient GLA is the 250 e plug-in hybrid, which combines 1.3-litre petrol power with an electric motor to deliver a total output of 215bhp. High-mileage drivers may still be better off with a diesel as once the battery is flat the GLA 250 e has similar running costs to a normal petrol model. Meanwhile, the Mercedes EQA is heavily based on the GLA and is fully electric, yet costs roughly the same amount as the plug-in hybrid GLA 250 e.
Mercedes hasn’t forgotten those who desire plenty of pace to go with the SUV practicality, however. At the top of the GLA range sits the Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 with 302bhp and the extreme 415bhp GLA 45 S, both using a 2.0-litre petrol powerplant and turning in some serious performance figures.
In addition to the broad new engine range, the exterior design offers a sharper, more focused look, with Mercedes including nine individual trim levels for customers to choose from.
Starting with the entry-level Sport models the range moves through to the bolder-looking AMG Line Premium Plus cars, while the plug-in hybrid versions are only offered with Exclusive trim levels. The Mercedes-AMG variants boast further luxury kit and specific trim and tech enhancements.
Mercedes has ensured that the GLA delivers premium levels of comfort and refinement. The SUV’s extra ride height and additional suspension travel, compared to the A-class hatchback, means that it soaks up road imperfections easily and offers a comfortable drive.
The inevitable trade-off is that the GLA isn’t the most engaging steer, although if you fancy your compact SUV with a bit more shove, then there’s always the Mercedes-AMG models to consider.
The GLA employs the second generation of Mercedes’ Modular Front-wheel-drive Architecture (MFA2 platform), which is also able to incorporate the manufacturer’s 4Matic four-wheel-drive system. This can send 50% of the engine’s power to the rear wheels for extra grip, if needed.
When we tested the GLA 220 d 4Matic we found it pulled strongly, with maximum torque achieved from just 1,600rpm. The eight-speed auto transmission works well and doesn’t hold onto revs too long before changing gear. There’s little engine drone and it all contributes to a quieter, more relaxed experience when pushing on than in the old GLA.
Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed
The GLA’s engine range is pretty straightforward with three petrol units, two diesels and a single petrol plug-in hybrid to choose from.
Both the entry-level GLA 180 and more expensive 200 versions use a 1.3-litre petrol engine, with 134bhp and 161bhp, respectively. The base car is able to deliver a 0-62mph dash of 9.6s and a maximum speed of 124mph, which is probably more than enough performance for most tastes.
However, moving up the range does add extra spice, with the GLA 200 trimming almost a full second off the 180’s sprint time, before motoring on to a 130mph top speed. The GLA 250 2.0-litre petrol variant is the quickest car in the range below the AMG variants. With a potent 221bhp, it’s capable of 0-62mph in 6.9s and tops-out at 149mph.
Diesel power comes in the form of the 2.0-litre GLA 200 d and 220 d models, which offer good pace as well as improvements in CO2 emissions and fuel economy. The 148bhp 200 d is available with either front-wheel-drive, or 4Matic four-wheel-drive, with both completing 0-62mph in under nine seconds and offering a top speed approaching 130mph. The 187bhp GLA 220 d 4Matic is four-wheel-drive only, but is noticeably quicker, posting a sprint time of 7.3s.
If you’re after a mix of performance and superior economy, then Mercedes may have the answer in the shape of the GLA 250 e plug-in hybrid. It uses a 1.3-litre petrol unit, along with an electric motor to achieve 215bhp and a 7.1s 0-62mph time.
Mercedes has given customers a choice of refined petrol and diesel engines for its smallest SUV, but for those seeking the lowest running costs, the GLA 250 e plug-in hybrid model should be at the top of the list.
Priced from around £40,000, the 250 e offers a claimed all-electric range of 37 miles, with combined fuel consumption of up to 201.8mpg. However, to achieve this impressive figure, you’ll need to ensure you keep the battery topped up and plug-in to recharge whenever possible. CO2 emissions of just 32g/km also mean there’s no first-year road tax to pay, while company car drivers will benefit from a BiK tax rate of just 11%.
Since the GLA was launched, Mercedes has also introduced the EQA. It’s a similar size and has many of the same styling cues as the GLA, and costs about as much as the plug-in hybrid too. The EQA manages up to 263 miles between charges and accelerates up to 62mph from a standstill in a reasonably brisk 8.9 seconds. Tax is free for private buyers and BiK stands at just 1% in 2021/22.
The petrol GLA 180 and 200 models both offer a maximum 42.8mpg on the combined cycle, with CO2 emissions from 151g/km. Opting for the more powerful GLA 250 means more time spent at the fuel station, as it only returns 37.2mpg. It’s CO2 emissions are also higher at 172g/km.
The diesel versions obviously perform better than their petrol counterparts in terms of economy – the 200 d achieves 52.3mpg, while the four-wheel-drive variant delivers a best of 50.4mpg. The 220 d is still reasonably competitive with a maximum of 49.6mpg, and CO2 emissions range from 140g/km to 151g/km.
The entry-level GLA 180 Sport is in insurance group 27, so premiums are going to be on the high side. The 250 petrol variant is in group 36, while the Mercedes-AMG cars occupy groups 41 to 44.
Equally, there’ll be no insurance bargains if you opt for an oil-burner, with the base 200 d Sport in group 31. The top-spec 220 d AMG Line Premium Plus sits in group 37.
You’d expect sound residual values from a premium manufacturer such as Mercedes, and the GLA performs reasonably well. Over an average ownership period of three-years and 36,000 miles, the GLA holds onto around 50% of its original value. However, the Volvo XC40 fares slightly better, with 55% of its list price retained over the same period.
The first-generation GLA didn’t really hit the mark for being the best-looking small SUV, and was missing the crucial sense of style that customers desire – particularly from a premium brand.
The revised car offers much more kerb appeal, with the interior including quality materials and a focus on a new digital environment. Outside of the Mercedes-AMG performance models, customers have the choice of six core trim levels, with separate Exclusive equipment lines for the 250 e plug-in hybrid.
Entry-level Sport versions include 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, a reversing camera and a 7-inch touchscreen display. The Sport Executive trim ups the available tech by including a 10.25-inch touchscreen, smartphone integration, wireless charging and parking sensors. We would expect at least the smartphone integration and parking sensors to be fitted as standard, so it’s a little disappointing that Mercedes makes you pay £1,500 extra for the Executive package to get them. AMG Line cars add 19-inch wheels, an AMG-styling kit, rear privacy glass and sports seats with upgraded upholstery.
Moving further up the price list brings AMG Line Executive, Premium and Premium Plus trim levels which include extras such as a park assist system, interior ambient lighting and a panoramic glass sunroof.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The GLA’s infotainment system is great. The built-in sat-nav can feature augmented reality if you tick the right box, which means it will overlay directional arrows onto a live picture of the view ahead displayed on the 10.25-inch touchscreen, which is standard on ‘Executive’, ‘Premium’ and ‘Exclusive’ models. It’s clever tech, but you have to take your eyes off the road to benefit from it, so it has its strengths and its flaws.
Of course, if you’d prefer to use one of the smartphone integration packages, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are both standard on all except Sport and AMG Line versions. You’ll have to plug in your phone, but there is also wireless charging if you don’t use either of these functions.
Otherwise, the graphics on the Mercedes setup are super-sharp and the touchscreen responds quickly; you can use the touch-sensitive pad on the transmission tunnel, but it’s a bit tricky at times. The menu layout removes a lot of the complexity though, because it’s so simple to navigate.
As well as providing the GLA with a sharper look and new on-board tech, Mercedes has also focused on levels of comfort and practicality. The standard powered tailgate opens to reveal a larger boot space, while the seats are trimmed in Artico man-made leather – which is much easier to clean after travelling with the kids.
A reversing camera is offered on all cars to make parking manoeuvres that bit easier, while there’s also a keyless start function so you can get on the move with the minimum of fuss. Up front there are two cup-holders and a large central storage bin, along with USB ports to connect a smartphone.
At 4,410mm in length, the second-generation GLA is slightly shorter than its predecessor, although it is 30mm wider. Where the new model has changed significantly is in its overall height, which has increased by 110mm to 1,611mm and gives the GLA a proper SUV stance.
For reference, the Volvo XC40 rival is a bigger car all-round with an overall length of 4,425mm, width of 1,863mm and standing 1,658mm tall.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
Space up-front in the GLA is more than adequate, although rear-seat passengers may find things a bit tighter. Rear leg room is just about okay, but head room could be an issue due to the sloping roofline. The rear seat backs do recline though, which may offer some help in getting more comfortable.
The GLA petrol models have a 495-litre boot capacity, although the diesel versions offer ten litres less load space. We think it should just be enough to accommodate the luggage of a family of four. One downside if you opt for the 250 e plug-in hybrid is that its packaging means it only has a 445-litre boot.
There’s nothing to suggest that the GLA won’t be a reliable choice for customers looking for a premium compact SUV. Although it didn’t feature in our Driver Power satisfaction survey, the GLA’s smaller A-Class sibling finished in 36th position out of 75 cars, and Mercedes will be hoping the second-generation car will prove to be a more tempting proposition for potential buyers.
However, Mercedes could do with improving the overall ownership experience for customers. The car maker finished 28th out of 30 brands in our 2020 poll, and received particular criticism for high running costs.
Safety is an area where Mercedes customers can feel reassured. While the latest GLA hasn’t yet been safety tested by Euro NCAP, the A-Class hatchback scored five stars in 2018, with adult and child occupant protection receiving scores of 96% and 91%, respectively.
With lots of standard safety equipment, we would expect the new GLA to perform just as well. It includes kit such as a lane-keeping assist system, Active Brake Assist, cruise control, auto headlights and rain-sensing wipers. The Premium Plus versions also feature Traffic Sign Assist which is able to recognise speed limits and road sign information and display them to the driver.
Mercedes’ warranty is a three-year/unlimited-mileage package. This is identical to the package supplied with Land Rover and BMW models, but goes one better than the Audi warranty, which limits cover to three years and 60,000 miles.
Mercedes offers its ServiceCare plans to help with scheduled servicing costs. Prices start from £30 a month, and you can pay either in monthly payments, or as a one-off upfront fee. If you buy your ServiceCare plan online and pay upfront, the manufacturer will offer a 20% discount on the total cost.