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Steering, suspension and ride comfort

The GLA is the best-riding and most comfortable compact car that Mercedes has produced of late.

We’re aware that’s somewhat faint praise – and deliberately so. Because dynamically, as well as in other ways, the Mercedes GLA isn’t quite the distinguished crossover hatch that it ought to be.

Brake feel isn't brilliant, but the brakes and hydraulics resist overheating

In fact, it’s quite a way off the standards set by the true benchmark crossovers and compact 4x4s of this size and price. Whether you’re looking for real poise and response (Ford Kuga, Mazda CX-5), refinement and comfort (Audi Q3, Honda CR-V) or just an expertly balanced compromise of both (Nissan Qashqai), chances are that you’ll be a bit unimpressed by the generally soft but still slightly brittle, run-of-the-mill way that the GLA conducts itself on most roads.

In isolation, it seems more than acceptable. There’s a consistent, well weighted steering system here, a reasonable balance of grip for cornering and a suspension tune with the compliance to deal comfortably enough with a bad surface. Roll control is also decent enough.

The GLA’s decent balance of grip makes it quite wieldy right up to the edge of adhesion, where a lot of equally high-sided cars default to understeer. Mercedes’ ESP system is more intrusive than many, though.

Turn off the stability control and the handing is quite mobile at the rear wheels when you lift off the accelerator in wet conditions, but it is still controllable. Strong traction and good steering authority allow you to drive the car quickly, even after it starts to slide.  

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That the chassis lacks the damping finesse of better sorted options like the Qashqai, to prevent it from bouncing around unchecked by rebound control, has a lot to do with the ‘comfort’ suspension settings, we suspect.

We’d rather that than have it skitter and thump over rough roads like the sports-suspended Mercedes A-Class that we tested last year. But better still would be a truly rounded baseline suspension tune that split the difference and kept the GLA tied down without becoming tiresome – like a good low-rise family hatchback.

Instead, the car has something closer to the long, slow body movements of a traditional SUV. Which may very well make it more palatable for customers in certain global markets, but it isn’t likely to endear the car to British or other European customers.

GLAs with Mercedes’ 4Matic four-wheel drive system, also come with Downhill Speed Regulation to stop the car running away on a steep descent, and a special off-road calibration for the seven-speed automatic transmission.

The driveline is quick to shuffle drive to where it’s most needed, and ground clearance is sufficient to tackle all but the most rutted track.

Mercedes will offer an off-road suspension later this year, adding 30mm to the ground clearance.