Mercedes has joined the compact crossover sector and, as ever, offers a superb drive with the Mercedes GLA 220 CDI, says Charlie Flindt, but it needs to try much harder when it comes to comfort
The Mercedes GLA 220 CDI is yet another new offering in the compact crossover market. With more buyers wanting the benefits of four wheel drive without having an enormous car in town year round, the compact crossover is becoming increasingly popular. Charlie Flindt finds that, although a superb drive, the Mercedes GLA 220 CDI needs to be made more comfortable.
For a different compact crossover, read Charlie Flindt’s analysis of the Mazda CX-3.
MERCEDES GLA 220 CDI
Another month, another niche market muscled into by Mercedes. This time it’s the compact crossover segment: cars not much bigger than a hatchback, but with a slightly higher driving position and four-wheel-drive for those occasions when off-road beckons.
Though the new Mercedes GLA 220 CDI ticks all the above boxes, its low roofline can make getting in a challenge for the old and stiff. The full-length sunroof gobbles up more headroom, so an outbreak of seat lowering is in order, which tends to eliminate the high driving position – often the compact crossover’s main selling point.
Then the pedals were too close, so the seat went back, along with the steering wheel, but that left the parking brake a ludicrously long reach away. Mercedes has always had a thing about parking brakes, stubbornly persisting for years with a “stamp-on/catch off” pedal arrangement, but now it’s joined the electronic brigade. Unfortunately, the switch is where you and I would put the bonnet release catch. And even after a long week, I never cracked first time which way was “on”, and which way was “off”.
A FANTASTIC MILE-EATER
Boot and rear seat room is tight, too. We just about managed to squeeze in a nervous student with all her fresher’s kit in the boot and alongside her. But once we were all in (and recovered from the unnerving experience of the self-tightening seat belts), the Mercedes GLA 220 CDI started to shine. Very quickly, it proved itself a fantastic mile-eater. When you can notch up two-hour driving shifts with effortless ease, and are happy to push on after only the briefest of comfort breaks, you know you’re in a good, if not grand, tourer. Leave it in “economy” mode, and the engine ticks over silently at low revs; switch to “sport” and you get a decent getaway from yet another 50mph apparently unmanned set of roadworks.
On the return trip from the university of choice, five hours of heavy rain showed up another Mercedes idiosyncrasy. The gear selector is on the right-hand steering wheel stalk, and everything else is crammed clumsily on to the left-hand one. Using indicators to change lane while operating front and rear wipers can prove a challenge, especially while munching Jammy Dodgers. The GLA’s four-wheel-drive system provided reassurance in the motorway puddles, if only psychological. And, as is usual with these “crossovers”, resisting the temptation to head out across some sodden farmland was not terribly difficult.
The on-board computer in the Mercedes GLA 220 CDI told us we had managed just under 50 to the gallon, and we travelled well over 700 miles in great comfort and some style – if you ignore the new, bulbous, corporate MB nose. I rather missed the old, elegant, three-point star above the radiator.
The compact crossover sector is well stocked but the Mercedes GLA 220 CDI should do well, thanks to Mercedes’ reputation. Loyal fans might prefer a few ergonomic tweaks. They (or should that be “we”) are getting old, you know.
MERCEDES GLA 220 CDI AMG LINE 4MATIC
Engine: 2,143cc diesel
Max speed: 134mph
Performance: 0 to 62: 8.3 seconds
Combined fuel economy: 58.9mpg
Insurance group: 24
Would suit: short long-distance driver