Lost in space Roomier, better equipped and more handsome, but hardly a driver’s car
Here’s the problem. Found it. Right there in the brochure for the H247 Mk2 GLA. The top-spec model is called – you ready for this? – the AMG Line Premium Plus with Driving Assistance. Between the start of that name – AMG, with its glorious performance tradition – and the end – Driving Assistance – something has gone a bit wrong. And that something is the relentless addition of more and more stuff, for which the customer is charged handsomely.
The upshot is a lot of comfort and sophistication, but not much in the way of character or driving pleasure. And a big bill – easily £35k, depending on version – for what is essentially a slightly elevated compact hatchback.
And don’t think that you can get better value by looking lower down the range, because the lowest two spec levels (Sport and Sport Executive) are only available with the more modest of the four current engines. So that’s a 1.3-litre petrol four, badged 200, or the lesser of the two 2.0-litre diesel fours, the 200d – both decent engines, but lacking sparkle in a 1500kg-plus car.
To go up to the 250 and 220d engines, you need to buy into at least AMG Line trim. By then you’re heading into pricing territory that’s not far short of the bigger and better GLC. Hmm. The Mk2 GLA is shorter than the Mk1 but also taller and with a longer wheelbase, giving a lot more rear legroom, which can be stretched even more thanks to the sliding rear seat.
Base-level cars are decently equipped, high-level versions even more so, and if you top up your AMG Line Premium Plus with £1495 worth of Driving Assistance package you have a dazzling set of distance-keeping, lane-holding, speed-limiting and blindspot-spotting tech. Most of which I immediately try to turn off. Suitably adjusted, I can start to enjoy the 250’s gutsy if not particularly refined 221bhp engine.
Then there’s the question of which driving mode, and which transmission setting? Try as I might, I can’t find the optimum combination. Gearbox in Drive and engine mapping in Comfort is pretty dull. Gearbox in Manual and engine in Sport makes the adrenalin circulate faster, but feels overly aggressive. You can personalise the set-up to an extent with Dynamic Select mode, but the chosen parameters feel unnatural.
At its best, the GLA rides more plushly than the previous version, helped by the cocooning effect of the quiet cabin and excellent seats. All too often, though, it feels like it’s aimed at tech geeks and status-conscious higher earners who rate a car’s ability to interact with the zeitgeist above absolute driving pleasure.
Looks apart, lacks a single game-changing standout quality. It’s a good car in most departments, but it fails to enthrall
THE FIRST HOUR
Still working out how to turn off all the assistance systems, which reset to ‘on’ for insurance reasons
Sport mode doesn’t suit the GLA at all. Brusque and busy, it’s so un-Merc-like
Love the seamless and manual paddle-shifting, the eager throttle response, the strong cornering grip
At the bottom of a long, fast descent, the brakes are mushy and heavy
Still looking for a reason why you wouldn’t do whatever it takes to get a GLC
Comfortable and refined; interface works well once you’re used to it
Expensive for a car with no truly outstanding qualities
Mk2 is taller, but high-spec models ride on lowered suspension
PRICE From £32,640, £35,680 (GLA 250), £41,675 (as tested)
POWERTRAIN 1991cc 16v turbocharged four-cylinder, eight-speed auto, front-wheel drive
MAX POWER 221bhp @ 5500rpm,
MAX TORQUE 258lb ft @ 1800rpm,
MAX SPEED 149mph
ON SALE Now, deliveries
Data this summer
At its best, the new GLA rides more plushly than the previous version, helped by the quiet cabin
New shape ups cabin space; trinkets get pricey