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Engine options, top speed, acceleration and refinement

A range of four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines are offered in the Mercedes GLA. The entry-level GLA 200 gets a 154bhp 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol, while the GLA 200 and 220 CDI pack a 2.1-litre turbodiesel in 134bhp and 168bhp guises.

A more powerful petrol option, badged the GLA 250, features a 208bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine. All are available with Mercedes' 4Matic four-wheel-drive system, which grants buyers the further option of a dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel-drive models otherwise get a six-speed manual transmission.

The Mercedes' diesel engines need to be quieter

Those in the market for an even faster option could consider the Mercedes-AMG GLA 45, which is powered by a 355bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine.

We've yet to test the entry-level GLA 200, but have sampled the flagship GLA 250. It offers up a substantial amount of torque, granting the GLA stout performance. It's a clean and economical choice too, with Mercedes claiming an average 42.8mpg and CO2 emissions of 154g/km.

Most buyers are likely to default to the diesel options, however. Although it doesn’t seem the most modern turbodiesel on the market, Daimler’s 2.1-litre lump does lend the GLA a fairly authoritative level of performance befitting a premium product.

The 220 CDI we tested hit 60mph in 8.1sec in our hands, the car proving itself almost exactly as fast as Mercedes claims (8.3sec to 62mph) and quicker in outright terms than the headline diesel versions of the likes of the Mazda CX-5 and Nissan Qashqai – by a healthy margin.

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The engine isn’t what you’d call mechanically refined under load, but it’s acceptable on noise and vibration at a cruise – and better than some of Mercedes’ other smaller turbodiesel models based on this platform.

In any instance, the car’s standard seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox continues to be a strange and slightly disappointing thing to interact with. Leave it in Drive, be content with middling throttle and the transmission works well enough. But when you make greater demands and start to interact more closely with it, any initial impression of carefully hewn polish gradually disintegrates.

Downchanges come quite reluctantly in Sport mode, and they are hardly delivered quickly in manual mode, either. But the bigger problem is how oddly spaced the intermediate ratios seem to be and how unintuitive it feels juggling between them in the GLA at times.

In terms of mph per 1000rpm, its third gear is shorter than second in many a high-end supermini we could mention, and fourth is as short as you expect third to be. So, for a while at least, you end up in the wrong gear when you take the trouble to select it yourself – and that’s a singularly frustrating problem.

It isn’t exclusive to the GLA but common to all of Mercedes new-generation compact cars. And it needs addressing, because it isn’t a problem that you seem to encounter in an eight-speed BMW 1 Series or a seven-speed Audi A3. The manual gearbox, however, is a light and comparatively slick affair.