An assistant editor with autoX, Ishan has great technical and practical knowledge, and his life-long love for cars has seen him devote some of the best years of his youth to perhaps wasteful, yet satisfying, pursuit of his obsession with automobiles. He has worked with lifestyle publishing brands as a freelance / consultant for over 5 years and as a part of the autoX team for 3 years.
September 2014

One of the fastest growing segments in the Indian automotive market today  has to be the compact SUV segment, of which customers simply don’t seem to get enough of, if you notice how quickly they are being lapped up. And this holds true across segments, so it comes as no surprise that Mercedes-Benz India has put in every effort possible to introduce their latest SUV – the Mercedes GLA into India at the earliest.

Having had a rather successful 2014, with the face lifted E-Class finding immense acceptance amongst consumers, as well as the new S-Class, which has already been sold out for 2014, the going has been good for Mercedes. So, the latest foray into the entry-level luxury SUV segment will only serve to improve sales further.

Visually, the Mercedes GLA offers a unique perspective, with the looks being more akin to a crossover rather than a butch SUV. The styling has evolved from the A-Class – with which the GLA shares its platform – and now features much stronger lines catered to give it increased presence on the road. And it seems to work, the flared rear arches along with the dominant front seem to give it a unique look, which tends to draw a fair amount of attention. Also helping matters are the large 18″ wheels – the largest in its segment – which definitely add to the car’s presence and looks.

The interiors though offers little change from the A-Class, and as expected are not the roomiest place to be. So, while the Mercedes GLA does offer comfortable seating for four, it is an SUV best suited to self-driving, as space in the rear can be rather tight – especially as the sloping roof reduces the available headroom. However, the rest of the interior is typical Mercedes fair, offering a well laid out package with a large centrally mounted screen and a sporty steering wheel. One thing that does add to the appeal of the interior though is the standard fit panoramic sunroof which increases the space and also gives the interior an airy feel. Interestingly, Mercedes hasn’t compromised on the safety front and so the GLA offers 7 airbags as standard fitment – highlighting the company’s focus on passenger safety.

Available initially with two engine options – 200 petrol and 200 diesel – the GLA has decent power outputs – 181bhp for the petrol and 134bhp for the diesel. Torque ouput on both engines is equal at 300Nm. Paired with the engines is the ubiquitous 7G 7-speed transmission, however, the GLA is currently available only as a front-wheel drive version, with 4MATIC all-wheel drive versions slated to be launched at a later date in India. An interesting choice by the company, however, in our conversations, the company’s executives readily explained that a vast majority of their customers don’t take their SUV’s off-road and so don’t care much about the all-wheel drive option, especially on an entry-level product.

On the road, the 200 diesel performs adequately, but could do with some more power, as the engine response at times can be a bit laid back. It’s not slow, but I would like added punch as this would increase the driving appeal of the car. This is also vital as products from rival manufacturers do offer far higher power figures. The petrol on the other hand is far faster and is quite fun to throw around, with the front tyres scrabbling for traction when driven aggressively around corners. Overall, both the engines are quite satisfactory and should be frugal enough to suit the taste of Indian consumers.

The ride setup on the other hand is quite spot-on, despite the large 18″ wheels, the GLA rides very well on our broken roads. Also helping matters is the 183mm ground clearance which makes tackling bad roads and stupidly designed speed breakers a breeze. The handling too is quite decent, with body roll firmly in check and the compact size of the car making it easy to be thrown around. The steering though, while quick and direct enough, lacks enough feel.

Overall, the GLA offers an attractive combination of styling, attractive interiors, equipment levels and decent powertrains. And with the brand presence of Mercedes rising every day in India, this new product should be quite well accepted by the SUV-crazy Indian consumers.