Mercedes GLA Mk2 was our Small Premium SUV of the Year in 2020, 2021 and 2022. So for three years, none of the other prestige compact SUVs has been able to match the all-round abilities of the Mercedes. It is top dog for a variety of reasons, not least the wide range of models that has something for everyone, including numerous efficient engines and several well equipped trim levels. Whether your focus is on economy or performance, there’s a GLA out there for you. Admittedly, there are no bargains to be had just yet, but we reckon it’s still a great buy.
Mercedes jumped on the SUV bandwagon pretty early on in the nineties with the ML-Class, which arrived in the UK 25 years ago. And since then the company has launched one SUV after another, including at least one in every segment.
The smallest of them all is the GLA, which proved an immediate success when it appeared in 2014, thanks to its relative affordability and stylish design. Mercedes then built on this car’s success with an even more capable second-generation GLA, the first examples of which are just coming out of warranty.
The Mk2 Mercedes GLA arrived in UK showrooms in summer 2020, and buyers were able to choose from four different four-cylinder engines: GLA 200 (161bhp 1.3-litre), GLA 250 (221bhp 2.0-litre), 200 d (148bhp 2.0-litre) and 220 d (187bhp 2.0-litre).
By late summer, two high-performance models had been introduced: the 302bhp GLA 35 4Matic and the 415bhp GLA 45 S 4Matic+, each with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. There was also a new entry-level model, the 135bhp GLA 180 with a 1.3-litre unit. The GLA 250 e plug-in hybrid joined the range in May 2020, and that was how it stayed for the next three years.
However, a refreshed version of the GLA is just about to land in UK showrooms, with updated styling, extra driver-assistance systems and new infotainment set-ups, as well as high-performance LED headlights and mild-hybrid tech fitted as standard across the entire range.
Which one should I buy?
The GLA 180 is a bit dull, but the GLA 200 is all you need; buy higher up the range and you just get stronger performance that you generally won’t use.
It’s the same with the trim levels because even the entry-level Sport has climate control, 18-inch alloys, LED headlights, a reversing camera, heated front seats, a seven-inch multimedia screen, satellite navigation and a powered tailgate.
Sport Executive brings a 10.25-inch infotainment display, park assist, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. AMG Line adds 19-inch wheels, privacy glass, a bodykit and sports seats, while AMG Line Executive gets the same extras as Sport Executive.
AMG Line Premium includes keyless go, digital instrumentation, an upgraded audio system, plus ambient lighting and illuminated door sills. AMG Line Premium Plus comes with matrix-LED headlights, a panoramic glass roof, electrically adjustable front seats and traffic-sign assist.
Alternatives to the Mercedes GLA
There are quite a few compact premium SUVs to choose from, and the most obvious rivals are the Audi Q3 and BMW X1, which are similarly hi-tech; these also come with some excellent engines.
The Volvo XC40 is definitely worth a closer look for the comfort, safety and refinement it provides, while the Jaguar E-Pace is stylish, just like its cousin, the Range Rover Evoque.
The Lexus UX is available as a hybrid or an EV, while the MINI Countryman looks smart and is fun to drive. A Volkswagen Tiguan is an impressive all-rounder, and so too is the Hyundai Tucson, along with the Kia Sportage, which is closely related.
The Mazda CX-5 is as good to drive as it looks, while the DS 7 Crossback is a left-field choice if you want to be different.
What to look for
The GLA 250 e’s 1.3-litre petrol engine, 15.6kWh battery and electric motor give 215bhp and an electric range of up to 38 miles.
The GLA 250 e’s towing capacity is 1,800kg. The GLA 200, 200 d 4Matic and 220 d can all pull 2,000kg, while the GLA 250 is rated at 1,680kg.
All GLAs had a tyre-repair kit instead of a spare wheel. There was no space-saver option, and nowhere to put it anyway, except the boot.
If you have your GLA maintained by an official dealer, pan-European breakdown cover comes as part of the deal, up to the car’s 30th birthday.
While servicing is relatively costly, so far the signs are good that a GLA is equipped to provide years of reliable service.
The hi-tech digital dash is impressive, and as you’d expect, there are plenty of premium materials on show, while the layout is very user-friendly. The front seats offer support with lots of adjustment, while the sliding rear seats boost the car’s versatility, with plenty of legroom for those in the back, although headroom can be tight.
Boot capacity is merely average, though, at 495/1,430 litres for petrol-engined models, 485/1,420 for diesels, and 445/1,385 litres for the plug-in hybrid GLA 250 e.
Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, few GLAs were registered in September 2020, so 70-plate cars are quite unusual; you’re more likely to find a 21-plate car instead. Of the 400 or so GLAs that we found for sale, 40 per cent were diesels, 45 per cent were petrols and 15 per cent were plug-in hybrids.
All versions of the GLA should be serviced every 12 months or 10,000 miles, with services alternating between A and B. Unusually, the basic price of both services starts from a little over £400, but each one includes an engine oil and filter change, as well as requiring the replacement of different parts.
Ultimately the cost of every service is different because parts are replaced only when necessary, rather than according to a set schedule; but as an example, an air filter costs £50 and a set of spark plugs is £185. An oil and filter change for the automatic transmission costs around £400, and that’s due every other service, along with replacement brake fluid that will set you back about £110. All GLA engines are chain-driven, so there are no cambelts to replace.
The second-generation GLA has been recalled four times so far, with each campaign affecting numerous Mercedes-Benz models. The first recall came in October 2020, because some GLAs made up to June 2020 were fitted with faulty turbocharger oil pipes that could leak. Glitches with the e-Call system on more than 100,000 Mercedes produced up to January 2021 led to a recall in May 2021, while problematic door locks were behind recall number three, in January 2022; GLAs made from January 2020 to February 2021 were affected.
The most recent recall was issued in March 2022 and it affected some GLAs made between December 2019 and November 2021, which left the factory with poorly assembled brake calipers; some of the bolts that held them hadn’t been tightened.
Driver Power owner satisfaction
The GLA Mk2 made its Driver Power debut in our 2021 survey in 54th place out of 75, then dropped four places in 2022. It doesn’t score especially well in any one area, coming mid-table at best for some things, and lower down for many others. The highest scores are for the exterior finish and reliability (24th and 25th respectively), but 68th for running costs, 66th for infotainment and 56th for practicality are disappointing.