In a rather flamboyant press event at the Hungaroring F1 circuit in Budapest, we were recently privileged to get behind the wheel of a number Mercedes’ New Generation Compact Cars (NGCC) or as they like to call it – The Glorious Five.
So, as we draw closer to the launch of the facelifted 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLA compact crossover, let’s take a closer look at how Merc’s little SUV looks, feels and goes.
Merc’s seminal small SUV has been a hit, both home and abroad, excelling at what Mercedes call their conquest cars. Mercedes claim the NGCC cars have a conquest rate of 70 percent, meaning these buyers have been poached away from buying cars such as the BMW X1 or Mini Cooper Countryman.
For the most part, there were limited chances to drive the incoming Mercedes-Benz GLA on the road. Regardless of the large number of units Mercedes had supplied, there were simply too many journalists jostling to get 10 minutes behind the wheel of the new car.
However, to prove the GLA is more than just a Fifth Avenue Cruiser, Mercedes prepared a special off-road course, in an especially tranquil forest section of the circuit grounds, to put the newly facelifted crossover through its paces.
The GLA is the latest member of the compact car family to receive a facelift, after being first introduced in 2013. New for 2017 is a restyled front and rear bumper, and premium variants also receive full-LED headlights. Along the flanks, a new chunky 5-spoke wheel design fills the wheel arches. Canyon Beige is a new highlight colour for 2017.
For the most part – the updates are subtle, perhaps to keep to a winning formula that has charmed the world over.
In some markets, customers have a choice between three chassis variants: as standard, the GLA features a comfort-oriented suspension; lowered suspension is available in conjunction with the AMG Line and an optional off-road comfort suspension raises the ride height by 30mm higher for improved off-road capability.
Count on the facelifted GLA 45 AMG model to bring AMG's blend of style and fury to Malaysia too.
The engine variants will likely mirror that which is available now – the GLA 200, GLA 250 and the full-Monty GLA 45 AMG. However, new for 2017 is the GLA 220 4MATIC, which slots just below the GLA 250, with an 184hp / 300Nm turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, it remains to be seen if Mercedes-Benz Malaysia will opt for the GLA 220 instead of the GLA 200 as an entry point for the facelifted model.
On the inside - the 360-degree camera system is new, which can display full image depiction or in seven different split-screen views on the infotainment media display. A virtual top view of the car, is also available, stitched from four cameras views around the car.
The interior of the GLA has been refreshed with new seat covers and trim parts as well as chromed control panels. The air-conditioning vents are of a new design too. The rear boot of the GLA has been upgraded now to an automated “hands-free access” – opened and closed with a foot movement, also found on its competitor, the MINI Cooper Countryman.
From the inside, everything feels familiar, aside from the new design of the seats and the updated infotainment system. The GLA’s infotainment options have also been upgraded - now with Apple CarPlay connectivity.
Round a tight bend, we head through a patch of lush green forest, the GLA is able to make full use of its compact dimensions and all-wheel drive traction. A new feature of the facelifted model is the 'Off Road' drive mode which alters the engine map and tractions settings, softens the suspension to allow for more travel and loosens the steering rack to allow for more precise steering adjustment, in my opinion, systems works really well.
For the most part, the rutty path is made up of loose dirt and rocks – definitely not a surface one would call challenging for, let's say, a Toyota Fortuner, but definitely commendable for a compact crossover like the GLA. The grip levels are good and given the quick spooling turbocharged engine, pulling yourself up a hill or out of a small ditch is rather easy.
A second obstacle puts the car through a complex of “elephant tracks”, big undulations designed to throw the car off balance onto three or just two wheels contacting the ground. This put the GLA under stress to send power to the wheels with the most amount of grip – working its 4Matic all-wheel-drive system.
The system reacts with sublime quickness – recognising a loss of traction and almost instantly channeling power to other wheels. The system also works when only two wheels, diagonal from each other are touching the ground – where power is needed, not just front to back but from side to side on a particular axle.
Another challenge involved driving the GLA over a rather steep embankment, some 23-degrees slant, threatening to flip the car over – this, my instructor explains, tests the mechanical grip of the GLA and also the steering accuracy, allowing me to pass through with minimal fuss.
The final challenge involved scaling down a steep, tight incline, using only the Downhill Speed Regulation (DSR) function which maintains vehicle speed at around 10-12 km/h. This feature now also works in reverse – assuming one would need to reverse out of an icy driveway, or vice versa.
Coming up an equally steep ascent, gives me a chance to test out the hill-hold functions and more crucially the 360-degree camera, just before reaching the top of the hill, my view out the windscreen was nothing more than blue sky, switching on the monitor, gave me a birds eye view of the surroundings, allowing me to climb through easily.
It’s easy to surmise what Mercedes-Benz was trying to do with the updates of the new GLA model. Having established the GLA within the compact crossover segment as all stylish transport for the up-and-comers of the world, the emphasis now would seem to build its potential as all-rounder SUV, and by all accounts, they have succeeded.