REVIEW | The 2021 Mercedes GLA 200d only pretends to be rugged
The people at Mercedes-Benz could argue that their brand has the most comprehensive line-up in the premium compact class.
For starters, you can have an A-Class in hatchback or conventional sedan format. If the latter is a bit too bland for your tastes, how about a coupé expression in the form of the CLA-Class? In Europe they even have a shooting brake version of that car.
Fancy a multipurpose vehicle? Take a gander at the well-established B-Class.
Then on the sport-utility vehicle front, you have the GLB-Class: a boxy, small family hauler with overlanding aspirations.
And we cannot forget the existence of a seventh member of the contemporary baby Benz family, the GLA-Class, which first arrived in SA in 2014.
It competes against the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Jaguar E-Pace, Lexus UX and Volvo XC40 and has earned the brand a new buyer demographic.
Generation two joined the market at the end of 2020 and we recently spent time with the model, in GLA 200d flavour. It costs upwards of R710,000, compared to R674,000 for the other derivative in the range, the petrol GLA 200 with its 1,332cc engine.
The one area in which you might say it has taken a step back, is in the presence department. Its predecessor had a stocky, angular stance, but the replacement has softer and rounder cues. Notably more blob-like, as if it gained lockdown kilograms.
But the upside to its more rotund exterior is an improvement in interior packaging. For example, rear occupants will feel a bit less claustrophobic in this one. Same goes for those up front.
The layout is textbook modern Mercedes-Benz. Buttons are kept to a minimum, with an elongated screen taking centre stage.
Basic specification is not as poor as you might think. The only item that might raise an eyebrow is the fitment of halogen headlamps — seems ridiculous at this price point, in 2021.
Artico artificial upholstery, the MBUX infotainment system (Hey Mercedes!); cruise control, automatic climate control, a multifunction steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers and tyre pressure monitor are some of the features as standard.
Obviously, there is an options list with which one can go wild. From a R52,100 AMG Line package, to a Driving Assistance package (R34,600) with semi-autonomous kit, to an Energising package (R51,400) with special seats, lighting and uprated sound system, you can quickly charge towards the R1m mark. Well into the entry-level GLC-Class territory ...
But the GLA-Class definitely seems like a product that makes more sense than the GLB-Class, which kicks off at R831,000. How often are you going to use its third row of short-people seats anyway? Those seats are not standard either — a R20,200 option.
The GLA 200d serves up a healthy 110kW and 320Nm from its 1,950, turbocharged-diesel, four-cylinder engine. Even if you drive with a foot made of lead, the worst you might see on the display is 6.5l/100km.
But for the most part, it is a vehicle that encourages gentle, steady momentum. We really enjoyed the ease with which the GLA tackled lengthy highway stints, in addition to its nimbleness around town, where the sharp-witted, eight-speed, dual-clutch automatic kept the engine firmly on the boil, ready to exploit gap opportunities.
It is definitely happier on tarmac than traversing gravel roads, given the relatively low ground clearance and lack of the 4MATIC all-wheel drive system. This is an outdoorsy pretender in the truest sense.
Which makes me ponder the same thought that crossed the mind after sampling the GLB-Class. Cool that such a diverse spread of body formats exists within the range — but if you are the type of buyer willing to forego the swagger and character of these compact sport-utility vehicle offerings, then the significantly cheaper and equally versatile B-Class would serve pretty well.