Seeing it for the first time, the Mercedes-Benz GLA 200 Urban Line suitably impresses from the outset. Its versatile size, pure, sculpted lines and sleek body (our ride for this journey was gleaming in an unassumingly stylish shade of dark blue) are all plus points that command both attention and attraction.
Curiosity is piqued as to how the good-looking vehicle will drive and perform on the road for a jaunt out of town. The few steps taken around it to get to the driver’s seat afford a closer inspection of the striking facelift model — expressive in design with a slight ruggedness yet highly refined, which likens it to a sport utility vehicle more than a compact car.
Enhancing the GLA 200’s sport appeal is its redesigned radiator grille with crossbars and eye-catching rectangular cut-outs as well as modified front and back bumpers. Apart from that, it also boasts exterior upgrades such as new LED headlamps, cluster-style tail lights and 19-inch light-alloy wheels to replace its previous 18-inch ones, bringing the smallest GL to the next level.
Taking centre stage in the compact SUV’s high-tech interior is the reverse camera and an eight-inch infotainment screen or media display, upsized from the previous seven-inch one. It is easy to take charge of all the technology with the central controller, whether it is the navigation tools, surround sound system, music channel selection or connectivity via a seamless integration to smartphones for both Android and iOS.
Giving the interior a very polished appearance are the new seat covers, trim parts and chrome work that embellishes the centre console and door control panels. All these improved exterior and interior features bestow the GLA base model with an inherently swankier and more luxurious appearance.
With the key fob in one’s hand or pocket, a wave of the foot under the bumper opens (and closes) the power rear liftgate. The 420-litre boot space is ample enough to accommodate our weekend luggage, but should more be needed, just fold down the rear seats. With the engine revving and transmission set to Comfort driving mode, the two-hour journey to the small town of Gambang in Pahang begins, en route to the hidden gem of Mangala Resort and Spa for a mid-week escape.
Speeding towards Gambang, the GLA 200’s seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission makes the drive particularly thrilling on the highway. Whether it is overtaking other vehicles or scaling steep gradients, its agility is excellent while the dynamic power transfer between gear changes in terms of response and shift timings is decent, especially on higher speeds.
Powered by a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivers 156hp at 5,300rpm with a torque of 250Nm from 1,250rpm to 4,000rpm, the GLA 200 overcomes most tarmac challenges throughout the trip without a need to change transmission modes from the one set at the start of the drive. The vehicle’s official performance status stands at a zero-to-100kph time of 8.1 seconds and a 215kph top speed.
Space-wise inside the cabin, it feels snug with generous legroom in front with the adjustable seats. As for the backseats, the legroom suffices on short city trips but may prove slightly cramped on long-distance ones.
Pushing the vehicle aggressively around the twists and turns on certain stretches of the highway affirms its superb and confident handling, and firm suspension — a sporting character that absolutely defines not just the GLA 200’s progressive image but also permeates its heart and soul. The steering feels light yet sturdy to manoeuvre, and the vehicle remains commendably steady with a discreet noise level from the engine even when cruising at around 160kph along straight pathways.
Back on city roads, a quick retest of the GLA 200’s Dynamic Select drive modes — Comfort, Sport, Eco and Individual — exhibits its prowess with just a push of a button in the upper control panel. With the different transmission modes to suit various scenarios, the driving experience is both a fun and functional one.
The Eco mode’s start-stop function causes the GLA 200 to disconnect from the engine whenever it is stationary and re-engage immediately when the accelerator is stepped on, which works well in heavy traffic conditions for fuel savings. The Comfort mode is the most versatile option that caters for all sorts of situations, and with the newly introduced off-road comfort suspension, handling is not compromised even on more difficult terrain. Although the Sport mode may provide more power to race around, it has a tendency to feel slightly jerky at times when engaged at lower speeds. To cater for a personalised driving preference, the Individual setting works satisfyingly to vary parameters from the steering to the suspension.
The GLA 200’s collection of radar and safety features is comprehensive and impressive. They run the gamut of automotive technology from Active Brake Assist — which monitors the speeds between it and the surrounding cars and warns the driver by delivering braking when necessary — to Attention Assist, which detects driver drowsiness via steering behaviour and warns the driver accordingly.
Overall, with its compact proportions, versatility, efficiency and agility, the GLA 200 is perfect for urban driving, from zooming around town to parking with ease. In addition, it is ideal for more adventurous driving or getting away on escapes from the city. The GLA 200 is a covetable and gratifying ride for the reasons mentioned and one of the most affordable ways to buy into Mercedes-Benz’s technology, replete with the high repute and luxury that the carmaker promises.
This article first appeared on Feb 19, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.