From £26,2208
Mercedes breaks the compact SUV mould with a car that has lots of impressive qualities and a distinguishing twist

What is it?

The entry-level version of the new Mercedes GLA crossover – and an interesting car for all sorts of reasons, not least because its price positioning puts it in direct competition with the most expensive launch version of the new Nissan Qashqai – one of our highest-rated introductions of 2014.

The new GLA’s closest rivals are the Audi Q3 and BMW X1, but the Nissan Qashqai comparison will be much more helpful if you’re seeking to classify this car. This is a crossover hatchback, not a compact SUV. It has up to 185mm of ground clearance, but the silhouette and driving position of a fairly large family five-door rather than of a typical 4x4 or station wagon.

While other parts of the world get a turbocharged 1.6-litre GLA200 petrol as a feed-in model, Mercedes’ UK distributor has declined to offer that car, and will instead use the GLA200 CDI to kick off with. Available in ‘SE’ and ‘AMG Line’ trim, and with a choice of six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic gearboxes, all versions of the GLA200 CDI will emit 119g/km of CO2 until the 4Matic four-wheel drive versions go on sale later this year.

Power comes from a detuned version of the same 2143cc turbodiesel used in the GLA220 CDI, which makes 134bhp and 221lb ft of torque. That mirrors the powertrain line-up of the smaller Mercedes-Benz A-Class hatchback, but not of the larger Mercedes-Benz B-Class hatchback or the Mercedes-Benz CLA saloon, which use a harder-worked 1796cc turbodiesel to produce the same peak outputs for their ‘200 CDI’ derivatives.

When asked the question, a Mercedes spokesman couldn’t easily explain why two different engines occupy the same notional space in related model ranges, but suggested it was connected to specific demand-defining conditions in various global markets.

There will be no 109bhp 1.6-litre GLA180 CDI since, Mercedes claims, there’s no established demand for such an economy-minded car from a premium brand.

What's it like?

Refined, economical, comfortable and pleasant – albeit not as practical and convenient as some.

Mercedes’ 2.1-litre diesel is a good choice for the GLA, offering a broader spread of peak torque than the 1.8 starting at slightly lower revs, and showing off much better manners under the bonnet of this compact crossover than it does in other applications.

The engine is a little bit clattery at idle and shudders slightly on restart, but is quiet and smooth at normal operating revs, and even revs with a commendable lack of coarseness. It responds more cleanly than the 1.8 too and, hitting peak torque at just 1400rpm, is seldom short on pulling power or insistent on a lower gear to negotiate a short climb or a typical motorway overtake.

Shift quality on the manual gearbox is light and slick, while the car steers precisely, with little effort necessary through the rim, but little feedback flowing through it either. It makes for a relaxed, easy-going driving experience complimented well by ride quality that’s much more supple and absorbent than we’ve found in any of Mercedes’ other new-generation compact cars.

‘Comfort’ suspension comes as standard on ‘SE’-grade cars, and it deals with bumpy and broken surfaces very calmly indeed. Even the ‘Sport’ suspension, fitted as standard to AMG Line models, allows the Mercedes-Benz GLA a considerably better isolated cabin than any A-, B- or CLA-class model – as another test car proved.

Back to top

The GLA’s driving position is recumbent by SUV standards, and its ride height and visibility relatively ordinary. That low profile makes for quite clean, balanced and wieldy handling; on the flipside of the equation, you’ll find more cabin- and boot space, and a higher access point, available elsewhere in the compact SUV class.

But you won’t find much better fuel economy. From a mixed route taking in mountain roads and motorway, our GLA200 CDI test car returned just over 50mpg. A class-leading drag coefficient and carbon emissions under the 120g/km marker put the car at least two ‘Benefit in Kind’ bands lower than the most fleet-friendly BMW X1 and Audi Q3.

Should I buy one?

Depends if you find the idea of a premium-brand crossover more appealing that that of a more upright compact SUV. This tester suspects many will, once they realise that the Mercedes GLA provides as much space and capability as they really need, combined with impressive performance, efficiency, quality and brand allure.

There’s certainly little wrong with this particular execution of Mercedes’ premium crossover concept, and plenty to like about a car we’d confidently describe as the best yet to come from Daimler’s new compact generation.

Mercedes GLA200 CDI

Price £25,795; 0-62mph 10.0sec; Top speed 127mph; Economy 62.8mpg; CO2 119g/km; Kerb weight 1505kg; Engine type 4cyls, 2143cc, turbodiesel; Power 134bhp at 3400rpm; Torque 221lb ft at 1400-3000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
Jonathan Lingham 21 February 2014


I'm sorry, but the outside just looks awful...some hideous bastard child of a Toyota / BMW one-night stand. Whatever happened to elegance? Or is it just me?
artill 20 February 2014

Well, the GLA would appear to

Well, the GLA would appear to be the pick of the new Merc front drivers. I too think they have missed a trick bringing low powered petrol models into the UK. Perhaps it shows just how few private buyers Merc expect to buy one. This car isnt aimed at me, and i wouldnt have one, but if you want a front drive Merc as your next CoCar maybe this is the one.
A34 20 February 2014

So... is the Sunderland-built car better?

So the pick of the GLA range might be this cheapest variant, so why not compare it with a Quashqai 1.6DCi? Given Merc are using some Renault/Nissan engines in their small vehicle line-up (albeit not here) there are some family ties; I expect the comparison would be valid. But not to badge snobs of course... and maybe Merc PR would get a bit huffy?