Merc GLA ploughing through mud

Four-wheel drive cars are getting bigger every year, so how about something that bucks the trend? Oliver Mark finds out how the smaller-than-average Mercedes GLA shapes-up.

Most 4x4s now stand as high as an elephant’s eyebrows and can hardly hold their flab within the confines of a supermarket car park space, so the manageably sized GLA is a welcomed first foray into the world of small SUVs for Mercedes.

And it’s been a long time coming – the Germans have been mulling over the idea of filling the gaping gap in their line-up for what seems an eternity.

The result is a curious beast that falls somewhere between a dwarf 4×4 and a tallish hatchback. It’s a simple recipe that involves taking an A-Class, adding stilts, and voila – a GLA is born.

The range starts at £26,000, though you won’t get four-wheel drive for that. It sounds expensive, but believe it or not it’s actually quite competitive with the rest of the annoyingly overpriced pack.

See also: Getting the best from a second-hand Land Rover Defender

Diesel power

The line-up includes a pair of diesels and two petrols, one of which is the stomach-churningly rapid AMG version that comes with a lower ride, harder suspension and lairier combination of engine and transmission. It’s built for raw speed and develops 208hp from its 2-litre engine, so will only be of interest to fully certified petrolheads.

Should common sense prevail, you’ll probably lean towards the 2.1-litre turbodiesel, which is available in either 134hp or 168hp guise. The latter is still pretty lively, but it’s more vocal in its endeavours than we expected, which is a pity. Vibrations also shiver through to the driver, though the grumble does settle down once you hit the monotony of the motorway.


The pokier of the diesel twins gets seven cogs, which do a sterling job of keeping a lid on engine revs. It also plays its part in the Merc’s calorie-controlled diet of 47mpg – a snip compared with the heavier gas guzzlers it competes with.

Aside from the entry-level model, all the GLAs get Mercedes’ 4Matic four-wheel drive system. Up to 50% of the power can be sent to the rear wheels whenever the car detects a difference in speed between the two axles.

merc gla interior

It does a good job of keeping oversteer and understeer at bay when you hit a roundabout a tad too fast, and when things get desperate there’s also a traction control system to call on.

Unless you’re driving like a maniac you shouldn’t really need the traction control – the GLA’s hatchback underpinnings mean it handles far better than the average SUV. It grips tightly around bends and controls bodyroll pretty well considering the suspension is set a little squidgier than its hatchback relative.

As it stands the GLA’s deck is 50mm higher than the A-class, but if you’re planning to give it a really hard time on tougher terrain then you can add an off-road pack, which jacks it up another 30mm.

Looking good

From the outside the little GLA beats Audi’s boring Q3 even before it’s been dressed in its AMG glad rags.

The base SE model is still shod on 18in alloys, while plastic wheel arches are enough to convince most people that it’s capable of treading rougher routes. That said, it looks like a complete wuss when you park it alongside the short wheelbase G-wagen – Merc’s undisputed 4×4 king.

The interior is well-furnished and clutter free, but space is at a premium. Back seat travellers will be well acquainted by the end of the journey, while the thick pillars and low roof will only suit the vertically challenged. The framework also obstructs rear-quarter vision but a standard spec reversing camera helps in that department.

We thought…

The receipe of half hatchback, half 4×4 is a good one – it’s small and parkable, although it doesn’t exactly offer heaps of space.

If you can afford to it’s worth paying for the 170hp diesel – it comes with an auto box as standard and also has ample power for the job. The SE model should have all the goodies you need as well, so there’s no need to kill your budget on the options list.

Mercedes GLA 220 CDI SE 4Matic


2.1-litre, four-cyl




7-speed auto



Top speed 


Quoted consumption 


Kerb weight


Towing capacity


OTR price