Sadly, Ireland's motorists never had the opportunity to buy Mercedes-Benz' last attempt at a compact luxury SUV, the 2008 GLK-Class, as the German firm decided not to make it available in right-hand drive (RHD).
GLK's replacement (GLC) is due late next year, and thankfully this time it will come in RHD. In the meantime, the brand new GLA-Class offers the entry point to Mercedes-Benz' chunkier machinery.
GLA-Class is a key player in Mercedes-Benz' desire to attract younger buyers to its prestigious brand, and seeing as crossovers are all the rage the compact machine should do very well. GLA-Class is targeting in the main BMW's X1, Range Rover's Evoque and Audi's Q3, and it certainly looks the part.
The five-door GLA-Class is built on the same platform as the A-Class. It is available with front-wheel drive or '4Matic' (permanent four-wheel drive). Petrol and diesel engines provide the power for now. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, but a seven-speed, DCT (dual-clutch transmission) automatic is also available.
GLA's exterior features a chunky take on MB's A-Class. Integrated roof-rails and some body bulges let you know that the car has modest off-road intentions. It does, however, look much more like a car than an SUV when compared to its rivals. GLA-Class rides just 50mm higher off the road than the A-Class but is still a lot lower on the road than an Audi Q3.
Inside, the cabin is smart and well put-together. The familiar switchgear is present, but annoyingly, there is an electronic handbrake that is poorly positioned (to the far right hand side of the steering wheel). Unlike most electronic systems, the brake does not release when you feed out the clutch; instead, you must pull slightly on the small lever.
Other than this niggle, the cabin is a nice place to be. The boot is about 40% bigger than the A-Class, holding 421 litres of cargo. Fold the rear seats down and there is up to 836 litres of load space available. The rear seats can tilt upright also to aid load carrying.
The starting point for now is the front-wheel drive GLA 200 petrol, but later this year we will see a cheaper GLA 180 in both petrol and diesel form. The 200 CDI is the expected big seller. It has the familiar 2.2-litre diesel and pushes out 136hp and 300nm of torque. The entry point for 4Matic motoring is the 170hp/350nm, GLA 220 CDI. Petrol is the fuel used in the GLA 200 (1.6-litre/156hp) and GLA 250 (2.0-litre/211hp).
The price walk to 4Matic is circa €3,000, but as the all-wheel drive version is only available in automatic form, you'll have to spend about €5,000 in total over the manual car just to get into it. Mercedes-Benz Ireland expects roughly 10% of sales to be 4Matic.
GLA-Class trim levels are called Style, Urban, AMG and Exclusive. One optional pack worth a closer look is the Night pack (€660) that darkens the exterior look with the use of black trim, wheels and tinted glass.
Of course, being a Mercedes-Benz, there is a 'hooligan' in the GLA-Class range. The GLA 45 AMG has 360hp on tap and 450nm of torque from its four-cylinder, turbocharged engine. With 4Matic as standard, traction is guaranteed. It is quick: 0-100km/h takes 4.8 seconds via the 'Speedshift' DCT automatic gearbox and MB's launch control! This level of performance comes with a hefty €70,000 (circa) asking price.
On the road, our GLA 200 CDI handled surprisingly well. Turn-in is precise and cornering is flat and controlled.
Thirty new Mercedes-Benz are coming our way in the coming few years, with 13 of those brand new models. Around 180 GLA-Class are expected to find homes this year (due to factory supply issues), with 300 sales predicted in a full year.
GLA-Class is an impressive machine that will bring younger buyers to the three-pointed star.