There was a time not long ago when the name Mercedes-Benz would conjure up images of luxury, stateliness and pomp. It still does, what with icons like the G-Class and the S-Class being rides of choice for royalty and the political elite around the world.
However, the exponential growth in the number of automobile segments and their sub segments over the past decade has seen the Stuttgart carmaker joining its rivals in churning out models in varying sizes and shapes. And these include smaller cars that are less luxury-oriented than their larger siblings and somewhat removed from the original Mercedes DNA. One such is the GLA, launched in 2014 to stave off competition from the BMW X1 and the Audi Q3. Slotting below the GLC (previously GLK), the smallest compact crossover in Merc’s line-up is based on the A-Class hatch, hence also shares its underpinnings with the CLA four-door coupé. However, other than its slightly raised height compared to the A-Class, the GLA barely differentiated itself from the hatch, and was widely perceived as not offering much value addition. It’s this quibble that Mercedes has sought to address with the mid-life facelift that was announced earlier this year at the Detroit show.
Towards this end, the updated GLA gets styling tweaks, albeit mild, that take it closer in looks to the larger SUVs in Merc’s line-up. These include a redesigned grille, reshaped bumpers front and back, restyled headlights and taillights, and black plastic body cladding along the side sills. Although minor and subtle, these changes do add to the GLA’s appearance and help distinguish it from the hatch and suggest better off-road talents. So for those who were hesitant to sign the dotted line for the GLA because it didn’t look like a proper crossover, these changes would be enough to prompt a rethink. But those looking for real practicality in a crossover won’t get anything additional here over the previous model. For all intents and purposes, the 2018 GLA remains a slightly taller A-Class.
There’s abundant space in the front for two adults of above average size. But leg- and headroom are at a premium for rear passengers. The ride quality is marginally better than that of the hatch, however, if you expect the same level of comfort and refinement as larger, more expensive Mercs, you’ll be disappointed. But the GLA amply compensates with its hatchback-like dynamics. Steering response is immediate and sharp, and thanks to the 4-matic all-wheel drive, it is reassuringly steady and poised when driven enthusiastically. And the GLA’s compact proportions make it the ideal city car too – it’s a breeze to park it in tight spots that you won’t need to use the Parking Pilot system that comes standard as part of GCC specifications. The thick B-Pillar is still an issue though, obstructing lateral visibility especially when changing lanes.
There’s no change in the powertrain either, with the same 208bhp, 350Nm turbocharged 2.0-litre four-pot under the bonnet, mated to the same smooth-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Although its performance figures aren’t extraordinary, the set-up produces more than adequate oomph for the GLA’s size and heft.
It’s also packed with a raft of features as standard, including Blind Spot Assist, panoramic sliding sunroof, tyre pressure monitoring system, and smartphone integration package. Our tester also comes with optional equipment such as electrically adjustable driver’s seat with memory function, automatic climate control, adaptive high beam assist, and a Harman Kardon surround sound system.
The original GLA was already a good-looking crossover with elementary off-road capabilities. With this mid-cycle update, and with prices starting at a relatively reasonable Dh160,000, it will certainly entice even more luxury aspirants into the three-pointed star.