Compact sports utility vehicles or utility coupe vehicles (ute) continue to be the flavour of the season with their launches in all segments - from one below Rs 10 lakh right up to the luxury range. The latest is Mercedes-Benz with its GLA, possibly the most anticipated car of 2014.
The first thing you will notice is that the GLA looks similar to the gorgeous A-Class. That's not a bad thing really. If you look at the competition, there is the quirky BMW X1 and the capable Audi Q3, which is almost identical to the Q5. So the GLA is definitely a snazzier, more contemporary offering than the others. I can't imagine anyone disliking Mercedes-Benz's entry-level SUV for its looks.
Once criticised for being boring and predictable, the German company has gone all radical in adopting the coupe design for a compact SUV. The sloping roofline is quite the antithesis of the rugged, boxy Mercedes-Benz SUVs, but the imposing twin-silver, matte-finished front grille adds both sportiness and the necessary aggression. To impart that touch of luxury, you have the front lower lip getting a silver finish. The GLA comes with a smart, large A-Class like headlamps with daytime running LEDs. It has muscular wheel arches and body cladding, which make it come across more as a crossover than a hatchback on stilts.
The GLA is a stunner from the rear. The LED lamps will take your breath away, while you will be impressed with the silver finish of the lower region of the bumper and the large twin exhausts. The standard 18-inch alloy wheels and aluminium roof rails ensure that it is not an A-Class pretender. The AMG line body kit takes away any semblance of tameness it might show.
The interiors are available in different colour options like beige or, my favourite, all black. Like the A-Class, the GLA's dashboard looks very sporty as the design is inspired by the iconic SLS AMG. The fit and finish meet the luxury benchmarks, but some of the plastic inserts feel low-cost. Also Mercedes-Benz should seriously think about changing the entertainment system's screen. It has always looked like an afterthought, and in the GLA its shows its age. Having said that, the top variants come with a phenomenal Harman Kardon sound system, seven airbags, Anti-Skid Regulation (ASR), anti-lock brakes and Brake Assist System (BAS).
Seating wise, the front two are comfortable and can be adjusted electronically. The seat stance is good and provides a decently commanding view of the road. However, for those in the rear seat, they will find that the coupe design eats away the headroom, while legroom is just about average. If the driver's height is around six feet, then chances are the front seat's back will be resting on the rear passenger's knees. That's to add to the fact that the rear bench also lacks thigh support. The GLA is a four seater and the best place to sit in is in front. It comes with dual sunroofs, which somehow makes the cabin less claustrophobic. The add-on is the rain sensor that automatically closes the sunroof in case of precipitation.
In India, the GLA comes in two variants - 1,991 cc petrol and 2,143 cc diesel. The first offers a punchy 181 bhp that provides smooth yet responsive acceleration. Driving it, I found no lag, which means driving in traffic or on inclines should not prove disappointing to buyers. The USP of this engine is that it makes overtaking easy, though it doesn't like being push around in the redline region. The 134 bhp diesel, on the other hand, is all about economy and is excellent in the low range, which makes it a great urban vehicle. Step on the accelerator and you will realise it's a couple of seconds before the ponies wake up. Both the engines are mated with the 7-speed automatic and come with paddle shifts behind the steering wheel.
In the handling department, the suspensions are on the stiffer side, so you will end up feeling some harsh bumps on the road. It does, though, have a good clearance of 183 mm. The GLA is very good in taking corners. It is a front wheel drive crossover, and though there is some body roll, which is expected, it feels firm and safe. On city tarmac driving conditions, the GLA is a comfortable ride.
Starting at Rs 32.75 lakh and going all the way up to Rs 36 lakh, the GLA, especially the top variants, might come across as a slightly expensive proposition when its competition offers all-wheel drive and roomier and better finished cabins. The GLA's trump card is that it stands out in terms of looks. It comes with all the bells and whistles expected in this segment.
Arup Das is Features Editor at AutoX