Let's make one thing clear: this is not a Mercedes-Benz A-Class.
As much as it looks like a taller version of the five-door hatch, this is in fact its crossover brethren, the GLA. Suited for those that want something slightly bigger than a hatchback, the GLA serves as the brand's smallest crossover offering and is part of the brand's New Generation Compact Car (NGCC) Range.
The brand known the world over for making luxury sedans and go-anywhere SUVs have branched out to building cars that are hip, trendy and aimed directly at the younger generation. But has Mercedes-Benz struck the right balance in delivering luxury on what is essentially the first stepping stone in owning a high-riding three-pointed star? Would it please both the new car buyer as well as the existing customer base?
In the looks department, I'd say Mercedes-Benz has made a dashing little crossover. As I've mentioned earlier, the GLA borrows its looks from the sporty A-Class. While not as sharp as the hatchback, the rounded curves and sweeping lines on the GLA makes for a sleek and classy crossover. There are even subtle hints of muscle present on the GLA thanks to the flared wheel arches and shapely doors.
Notice anything different on the refreshed GLA? If you're hard pressed to find any exterior differences, so were we. With a keen eye however, we did manage to see what changes Mercedes-Benz applied to the 2018 update. Up front, it gets a bigger and sportier front grill along with new LED light signatures that give the car a meaner yet more mature look. There's also the new lower front bumper which adopts a sleeker and shinier appearance than before. Changes at the rear were minimal at best but it does now have a smoother-shaped rear bumper, tweaked LED taillights and a new tailgate-mounted spoiler.
A base model this 180 Urban may be, yet I was surprised to know that Mercedes-Benz fitted this GLA with plenty of exterior add-ons. Auto-leveling LED headlights, all-around parking sensors, skid plates for the front and rear, and massive 18-inch alloy wheels come as standard on the GLA.
Open the doors and the GLA greets you with heaps of black leather, soft-touch materials and metal trim pieces. Those familiar with the A-Class' cabin will feel right at home inside the GLA. But unlike the pre-updated version, the refreshed model gets a plethora of improvements like a thicker leather steering wheel, upgraded Comand infotainment system, restyled gauges and a bigger entertainment display. All of the seats were comfortable and offered plenty of lumbar and side support. I just wished that the front seats had more shoulder support. Legroom at the back was sufficient although passengers that are beyond 5'9 may find the accommodations a bit cramped.
Some may find the manual air-conditioning system a bit of a letdown in the GLA but the redeeming factor however is that it keeps the cabin cool at even the hottest of days. The driver's side gets power seats (with memory function) while the passenger side is only available with manual adjust. A strange omission it may be, but then again you are in an 'entry-level' Mercedes-Benz.
While all may be new inside the GLA, I liked how Mercedes-Benz was able to incorporate past design elements in their latest offerings. Serving as a throwback to the revered W123 are the cruciform aircon vents on the center dash. Seeing these on a new three-pointed star such as the GLA makes it even more special as it these have not been used since the passing of the iconic W123.
Thinking of going on a weekend getaway with the GLA? Don't fret as it comes with a decent-size luggage compartment. Fold down the 60:40 split rear seats and the GLA is capable of holding more than a weekend's worth of bags. Do note, however, that the second row seats don't fold flat so careful placing of luggage is a must.
Under the hood is a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged gasoline engine. It musters 122 PS at 5000 rpm and produces 200 Nm of torque between 1250 – 4000 rpm. Power is then fed through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission dubbed 7G-DCT. While most may think its output figures are rather modest, it's how the engine delivered its pep that really mattered.
Setting off in Comfort Mode, the GLA was smooth and civilized in delivering its power to the road. The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission went through the gears seamlessly while the engine remained hush in operation. In every day commute, the GLA is a docile runaround and rides well on paved roads.
But for those that need a little more oomph, a flick of the paddle shifters engages manual mode on the dual-clutch gearbox. All well and good but for those that still want a bit more get-up and go, the GLA can be set to Sport Mode which brings out the full potential of the 1.6-liter turbo engine. With that set, it sharpens both acceleration, as well as the electronic power steering. Meanwhile, the transmission shifts at higher revs to make use of all available power. It's no 45 AMG but the 180 Urban still delivered plenty of pep in a fairly small package.
Fuel economy from the 1.6-liter turbo was pretty good as it was able to return around 8.0 – 9.0 km/l in normal city driving. Take it out on the highway and the engine is capable of averaging between 14.0 – 15.0 km/l at around 90 – 100 km/h. If you happen to be stuck in gridlock traffic, expect the GLA 180 Urban to sip fuel at around 7.0 – 7.5 km/l.
As it sits on the same platform as the A-Class and CLA, driving the GLA along windy roads proved to be a cinch. Despite being taller than its stablemates, the GLA delivered hatchback-like handling thanks to its taut suspension. It does not wallow around corners and remains planted to the pavement at even the tightest of bends. The sharp steering also made going through turn after turn a breeze which made driving the GLA that more rewarding. One can even set the steering to either Comfort or Sport, depending on one's preference.
Ride quality, on the other hand, was okay, if not a bit firm. This can be felt when going over road imperfections and pock-marked roads. But that was to be expected since the GLA offers precision-like handling. Put it this way, at least the GLA comes with high-profile tires which helped made the ride slightly better.
Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) deadening could have been made better however. At highway speeds there was audible tire noise coming from the Dunlop SP Sport Maxx run-flats. There was also some wind noise coming from both the side mirrors and A-pillars.
Retailing at a cool Php 2,790,000, it could be said that Mercedes-Benz's smallest crossover has either a premium or affordable price, whichever way you look at it. It may not be the most luxurious or most practical three-pointed star out there, but with the ever changing demographic, Mercedes-Benz had to act accordingly.
While the GLA may not draw traditional customers, the GLA could help bring in younger buyers that want something that is luxurious, sporty and relatively practical to live with every day. Where the A-Class falls short in terms of space and ride height, the GLA bounces back thanks to its crossover styling, function and packaging.