Mercedes-Benz GLA 220d First Drive Review: Merc’s baby SUV grows up!

The new generation Mercedes-Benz GLA is here, and it is a more mature, grown up SUV than the one it replaces!
The Mercedes-Benz GLA now looks like a proper SUV
The Mercedes-Benz GLA now looks like a proper SUVShot by Abhishek Benny for evo India

The Mercedes-Benz GLA is an important car for Mercedes-Benz. So important, that it might just be the car that moves the E-Class from the top of the list of best-selling Mercs in India. It panders to exactly what people want these days — an SUV! And it’s an important one, bookending the Mercedes SUV range at the budget end of the luxury segment, while the G 63 does the same at the extravagant end. Could the two pronged attack of its body style and price work magic on our chequebooks? Quite possibly, because the new GLA has grown up!

By growing up, I don’t just mean that it has become bigger in size. Which it has. I mean it has matured in the way that it drives. But before we get to that, it is worth touching upon the various variants that the GLA is available in India, because there are a fair few. The entry point in to the range is the GLA 200, with a 1.3-litre petrol engine at Rs 42.1 lakh. The most affordable diesel is the GLA 220d, which is the car pictured here and it costs Rs 43.7 lakh. It gets the 2-litre diesel, and is kitted out in the Progressive Line trim and comes with front-wheel-drive. There’s a more expensive GLA 220d 4Matic, which as the name implies, gets the same engine but with AWD. It also gets the more aggressive looking AMG Line body kit, and it costs a handsome Rs 46.7. There’s also the full blown GLA 35 AMG, which is assembled in India but at Rs 57.3 lakh it sits in another league altogether. We have driven both diesel variants and that is what we will be focusing on today.

Growing up

A lot of the perception of the GLA ‘growing up’ comes from its styling, because it now draws more inspiration from the GLC than the A-Class. Length has reduced marginally, but it is wider (by 30mm) and crucially, taller (by 117mm) to give it more visual bulk. The wheelbase is longer (by 30mm) too. Compared to the GLA it replaces, it looks much taller and that lends it a more SUV-like stance where the older GLA resembled a hatchback with some cladding on it. The styling elements like the headlamps and taillamps resemble other SUVs in the Mercedes-Benz family, as does the grille.

The base 220d and 220d 4Matic do look slightly different due to the AMG Line kit on the latter. The kit consists of a fancy grille, aggressive looking bumpers, a mock diffuser and 19-inch wheels (the base variant runs on 18s) with the AMG logo on them. The big wheels are a part of the off-road package that also delivers 4Matic all-wheel-drive. The 4Matic certainly has a little more presence, but its not night and day between the two. The base 220d is still a handsome car and it doesn’t seem like anything it lacking on the styling front when looked at in isolation.

Upping the game

The GLA has really upped the game on the interior front. A big part of that is down to the crisp twin 10.25-inch displays that sit in front of the driver. That digital real estate, along with brushed metal used on the air vents and switches make the cabin feel expensive. The base 220d variant gets dual tone beige and black interiors with wood trim, while the AMG Line variant gets all-black Alcantara-like upholstery with contrasting red stitching with aluminium trim and a flat bottom steering wheel.

As expected from Mercedes-Benz, is flawless. The cabin is smartly designed with a surprising amount of storage, it gets its fair bit of fancy tech like memory seats, 64 colour ambient lighting, a panoramic sunroof, Alexa integration and a voice assistant on the MBUX that recognises Indian accents. Safety, of course, is up there with the best. It gets 7 airbags and a Euro NCAP 5 star rating.

Which interior works better? Well, the 4Matic certainly feels sportier with the little touches like the upholstery and the steering wheel. However, the base 220d with its lighter coloured interior feels a little bit more airy and that does work in its favour since the GLA isn’t a very large SUV. Something I did notice that was mildly annoying is that the aluminium trim on the dash on the 4Matic can reflect sunlight directly in to the front passenger’s eyes making the glare rather uncomfortable. I’d probably have my GLA with the base 220d’s interiors, especially since it doesn’t miss out on any of the features that the more expensive 4Matic gets.

The backseat isn’t a particularly spacious place. It does set the benchmark for kneeroom in the class but it is still a tight affair and this isn’t an SUV you want to be chauffeured around in. At this price point, there are plenty of larger SUVs (admittedly not from the luxury segment) that will do that better.

Diesels going strong!

With petrol prices on the rise, diesels are making a comeback! The GLA 220d gets a 2-litre diesel engine that makes 187bhp and 400Nm, and comes mated to an 8-speed DCT — common to both the FWD and AWD variants. Performance off the line to enthusiastic and the GLA feels sporty. On the AWD variant, acceleration off the line is smarter delivering 0-100kmph in a claimed 7.3 seconds. While this is only one-tenth of a second quicker than the FWD, the big difference is the lack of torque steer. The FWD variant has to put down all 400Nm through the front wheels and that means the steering wriggles in your hands when you floor it, and TC is called upon fairly often. The AWD variant has no such trouble, deploying torque on demand. The gearbox delivers snappy shifts that get pleasingly aggressive in Dynamic mode, and are mated to paddle shifters. The difference in drivetrains also make a difference to fuel economy. The FWD variant has an ARAI tested fuel economy of 20.85kmpl, while the AWD variant returns 18.91kmpl.

The 2-litre diesel delivers ample thrills
The 2-litre diesel delivers ample thrillsShot by Abhishek Benny for evo India

Balancing Act

All that growing up the GLA has done shows in the ride and handling department too. There’s a maturity to the way it rides and lot of that can be put down to the upgraded platform. The wheelbase is longer, the track is wider and the torsion beam rear suspension has been junked for a sophisticated independent layout. Low speed ride is very good, ironing out really small bumps without you feeling it. It doesn’t crash through potholes but soaks up impacts to the suspension without letting much of it in to the cabin. Ride is marginally better on the base variant but it comes with the smaller 18-inch wheels. However, the the AMG Line is a slightly more confident handler. The bigger wheels make a small difference, but the fact that you can put the power down earlier and get better drive out of corners is a big plus. Both cars have a good steering — direct, and though slightly lacking in feel, it makes the car easy to place and drive enthusiastically.

Worth your money?

The GLA is an expensive proposition when compared to its rivals. The FWD 220d is Rs 1 lakh more expensive than the BMW X1, while the AWD variant takes that difference up to Rs 4 lakh. It is worth mentioning that Mercedes has announced that these are introductory prices, and they will rise by approximately Rs 1.5 lakh in a month’s time. That said, Mercedes-Benz is offering an 8 year warranty on the engine and transmission which shows immense confidence in their car.

Despite the higher asking price, the GLA significantly raises the bar in the segment. The diesel engine is punchy, the ride and handling balance is great, the car looks great and the interiors are far better than anything else in the segment. The AWD variant does provide a more polished driving experience and if you’re looking to indulge yourself, it should be the one to go for. However, if you’re looking for a solid package at a good price that should be cheaper to run, the FWD GLA does the job immensely well. It would be our pick of the lot!

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