Inigo S. Roces / Inigo S. Roces | December 23, 2016 15:31
The A-Class for the outdoors
Platform sharing may be an old term, yet the past couple of years have taken it leaps further than many could have anticipated. An appropriate example of how far platform sharing has come is the Mercedes-Benz New Global Compact Car (NGCC) platform.
This one platform underpins four very unique Mercedes-Benz models: the A-Class sport compact hatch, the CLA sport sedan, the B-Class mini MPV and this, the GLA, a compact crossover. Clearly, each of these models serve very different purposes and are designed to drive very differently. One could be forgiven for being skeptical about whether the GLA can even carve out its own identity.
The letters, GLA, stand for geländewagen (German for off-road vehicle) and leicht (light), with "A" serving as its class and platform designation.
Not surprisingly, there’s some A-Class influence in the form of its sport hatch shape. Its headlights more closely resemble the GLK-Class (now called the GLC). Large 19-inch wheels give it considerable ground clearance, while rocker panels line the lower body on all sides.
Inside, the GLA boasts a clever mix of both old and new touches. Not surprisingly, it looks and feels like its platform siblings, the A-Class and CLA. Most noticeable are the aircon vents, sporting the vintage cruciform style. Over in the driver’s side are hooded dials with smaller gauges for the fuel and temp inset. Controls on the left side of the wheel toggles readouts in the screen in between. True to Mercedes-Benz style, the lights are controlled by a dial on the left dashboard, while cruise control is on the lower left stalk. Towards the center dash is a large screen that shows everything from entertainment to climate controls; all of which can be controlled ergonomically by the command dial on the center divider.
Unfortunately, the second row also feels a lot like the A-Class. It can accommodate adults, though they may not enjoy the trip as much with the small windows. The rear window is also quite small, making backing up, a challenge. Thankfully, that's supplemented by the parking sensors with blinking lights on the dash and rear ceiling, and audio cues channelled through the surround system. Finally, there's usable room in the trunk for two weekend bags. The seats can also fold down to accommodate more.
Propelling this vehicle is a 2.2-liter inline-four common rail turbo diesel. And while its 170 hp may not impress, its 350 Nm of torque definitely will, seamlessly channelled through the seven-speed dual clutch automatic and to each of the four wheels via the 4MATIC system.
Being equipped with the AMG package also grants this crossover some unique traits and abilities. For one, there’s the Sports Direct-Steer system that makes it turn more sharply. The Dynamic Handling Package also ensures it’s as grippy on road as it is off of it. Finally, perforated front discs keep the brakes cooler than the standard package.
In spite of some off-road aspiration, the GLA nonetheless returned a surprisingly exciting and confidence-inspiring drive on-road. The early torque curve allowed it to easily accelerate uphill and make the best use of the short overtaking gaps along the Tagaytay-Sta. Rosa road. It's very quick for a diesel, managing the 0-100 km/h sprint in just 8.3 seconds and on to a top speed of 215 km/h.
There’s a definite hint of the A-Class in its handling, despite the higher ground clearance, as the vehicle easily managed the winding roads with very little body roll. In fact, the ride is on the taut side, but thankfully not as harsh as the A250, and more typical European sedan in feel.
Whether on clear roads or crawling traffic, many of the interior amenities, like the Artico and Dinamica upholstered seats returned excellent support and a welcome cushion to the derriere. Tunes flowed faithfully through the seven-piece Harman Kardon Logic surround sound system. With such a comfortable interior we almost looked forward to being trapped in the car for long periods.
Its extensive suite of active and passive driver and safety aids also made any drive in the car — be it at a cruise or in traffic — a treat. Hill-Start Assist and ECO Start/Stop were used the most in traffic. And while my spirited drive to Tagaytay and back thankfully didn’t trigger the ASR, ESP or ABS, it was certainly nice to know they were there.
And once at the destination, the now-standard Parking Assist helped steer the car into either parallel or perpendicular spots.
On the way back, I opted for the more scenic route, beginning in the People’s Park in the Sky and ending at the Southern roundabout of the Nuvali development. The road had intermittent paved and gravel sections, which proved to be an appropriate test of the 4MATIC system. More avid off-roaders will enjoy the off-road functions that can be selected on the central media display, showing which wheel is losing traction as well as their articulation.The GLA took on the route with little fuss, without a single incident of the undercarriage snagging. While we wouldn't recommend you take the GLA to more hardcore 4x4 trails, it certainly has enough built-in smarts to get through some muddy single tracks.
Upon our arrival in Manila, the onboard fuel consumption meter had registered a pleasing 14 km/L in the highway and 9 km/L in the city.
For a vehicle that dares to merge the off-road abilities of an SUV with the sporty soul of the A-Class, the GLA proved to be impressive in either aspect. The ground clearance and all-wheel drive system were more than capable of handling the occasional light off-road sojourn. Yet even better is the fact that, with the AMG package, its on-road handling didn’t feel compromised at all.
In the GLA, Mercedes-Benz has created an impressive, sporty compact crossover. It's truly a delight to drive, but its tight confines only make it practical for a young and active couple eager for a daytrip adventure and not much more. Nonetheless fans of the A-Class that want something similar but more practical ought to give this car a test drive.