Tushar BurmanJuly 13, 2021 11:33:50 IST
The 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA220d confused me. This is the first Mercedes I’ve driven since a good A-class limousine and the first GLA I’ve sampled since boarding the nutty GLA 45 AMG in 2014. At that time, the family was similar to A class. The hatchback was clear and shared the platform. The 2021 GLA is like a completely different beast. Its size confused me. Is this what Mercedes calls a “small” SUV?
what is that?
Mercedes has an SUV analog on each sedan it makes. The A class has GLA, the C class has GLC, then GLE (E class) and GLS (S class), and various AMG and Maybach versions. GLA is an entry into the Mercedes-Benz SUV range, but safety and emissions regulations are becoming more stringent, producing significantly larger “small” SUVs compared to first-generation GLA. Our test car was a 2.0 liter diesel with a Mercedes 4MATIC all-wheel drive system. It’s a four-seater (five if you really don’t like the passenger in the middle), a competent package with good trunk space and a well-equipped interior. That’s it-there’s a warning-I really don’t know who it is for.
Interior: Dark, luxurious and surprisingly small
The interior looks surprisingly tight for all the external volumes that the GLA occupies. There is no problem with the front seats that are electric and have a memory function. Luxurious “DINAMICA” microfiber like Alcantara, fully and evenly decorated. However, there is no vent. The color scheme is dark and the closet feeling is increasing.
The dash is what you would expect from a current Mercedes car. It’s actually a vast all-glass screen with two screens in one seamless enclosure. What is in front of the driver replaces the traditional driver’s binnacle and is very readable. In fact, it’s easier than any other “virtual cockpit” implementation I’ve seen. The infotainment screen on the left is about the same size, high resolution, and bright enough, and the Mercedes MBUX interface is smooth and large, which is important for touch screens that need to be operated on the go.
The center console is minimal, leaving only important features such as HVAC control as physical buttons. The space where the gear shifter is located is occupied by a capacitive touchpad for navigating the MBUX system. Unfortunately, the steering is not minimal and there are many backlit buttons. Each spoke on the wheel has two capacitive pads that will be used again to navigate the display options of MBUX and digital devices. The rest of the dash features a turbine-type AC vent, which is rarely found elsewhere. Ambient lighting is provided on the turbine vents to reflect in a cool way.
Things turn strange when you step into the rear passenger seat area. For such a large SUV, the space offered is surprisingly small. Technically three can fit in there, but the fifth passenger is basically crouching because of the large transmission tunnel running in the center of the car. The feet themselves look amazingly deep. It’s as if you’re in a car over the door threshold. Knee room and shoulder room are premium.
Boots are an acceptable 435 liter problem with a powered hatch. Many are occupied by large space savers and, ironically, do not save practical space in the boots. Still, GLA carried quite a few grocery bags.
A word about technology: I can’t wait for the next version
Since I first sampled MBUX at GLC a few years ago, I’ve had a lot of emotions about the system. On the one hand, it’s one of the most beautiful interfaces to look at, especially with its seamless all-glass display. That said, it’s not the most intuitive in many places, and it’s lagging in some places. For example, there is no wireless Apple CarPlay. The proud “Mercedes me” voice assistant is a frustrating mess not only when it was first introduced, but even today. This is a shame. I’ve tried a lot of commands, and all the car does is ask me to repeat the question. If you ask for help, it’s basically an online manual. It also doesn’t do as much as MG’s “Internet Inside” system, but it’s not good in itself. MBUX is not worth the time for everyone. I tried it a few times and immediately plugged in my iPhone and used the familiar CarPlay interface. This works fine.
Speaking of which: Mercedes, like all other models, uses USB-C for all GLA, so you’ll need to have a compatible cable or adapter. Most people use a regular USB-A cable. There’s a wireless charger in the central storage area, but it’s pretty small, so I think big devices will be tightly squeezed. It’s also awkward to get in there.
I’m also not a fan of the entire navigation UI using MBUX. The touch screen is the most convenient way to navigate, but I prefer tactile and steering controls so I can focus on driving. Unfortunately, the steering and center console capacitive pads behave like trackpads. You need to go to the interface element / button that operates the highlight reticle and press it down. I don’t know how many people are enjoying laptop trackpads while driving, but I certainly don’t think so. Even changing tracks using Apple CarPlay is a frustrating and inaccurate experience. Swipe right to highlight the Skip Track button and press it down. And if you happened to slip slightly, the reticle moved to another location, pressing another button to distract and frustrate. That is not ideal.
But there is a flicker of hope. The interface is fluid and responsive, indicating that the hardware is properly selected. We understand that the next version of MBUX included in the new S class will be improved. I will report as soon as the car arrives.
On the go: fast, torqued and stiff
Driving my mother into physiotherapy at the Mercedes GLA should have been a calm event, especially with a 2.0-liter diesel motor with torque that produces 190 horsepower and 400 Nm. I imagined that the 8-speed dual clutch automatic would ride on a plump torque and take it easy in a little drama. But this diesel likes drama. Just outside the gate, the engine is vigilant and I find it fun to spin. The transmission keeps moving and produces a reasonably sporty sound even when you haven’t tried it. And this is diesel!
With this kind of character, the engine quickly raises the GLA to three orders of magnitude, but I’m completely unsure when driving at high speeds. Our testers came with an AMG line package that included 19-inch wheels and relatively discreet tires. This means that the roads in Mumbai feel almost crap, except for the weird and perfect tar patch. Suspensions can easily deal with major imperfections, but sharp joints on the road are jarring. I wondered if the AMG floor mat was doing more than keeping the soles dry by combining a quick transmission and an engine.
As a result, I had a sportier driving experience than I expected. The GLA is equipped with four drive modes, but even the default “COMFORT” setting tended to respond positively to throttle input. The only way to calm the elderly on the ferry was to put them in eco mode. In fact, I’m complaining that the 8-speed DCT is too fast. This makes me incredibly sad about my progressing age. You may have to buy unreliable Italian food. Oh wait …
Who should buy this?
Perhaps what GLA doesn’t meet is my particular expectation, but I didn’t know who this vehicle was for. It’s all-wheel drive, but with 19-inch low-pro tires, it’s hard to imagine an off-road owner. It’s an SUV, but it has a cramped rear quarter. The size is impressive and the interior does not have the same sense of space. It has a luxurious interior and a panoramic sunroof, but lacks ventilated seats, and the tech stack is no match for the more basic competition. At Rs 47.69 lakh (former showroom), it’s the cheapest way to get into a Mercedes SUV-but only if you have to. From the above segments, there are other more practical luxury sedans available at the same price.