Parkers overall rating: 4.2 out of 5 4.2
  • Two petrols and two diesels initially available
  • GLA 220 d and GLA 250 are both strong performers
  • Two Mercedes-AMG versions if you need more zest

The GLA range currently comprises of two petrol and two diesel models, the AMG 35 and 45, plus a plug-in hybrid model arriving later in 2020. Although the entry-level GLA 200 delivers adequate performance, moving up to a GLA 250 will feel like money well spent, as it's significantly quicker and doesn't seem much less economical.

As for the diesels, we suspect the 200 d will turn out to be all you need, based on how impressive it is in the A-Class. However, in the GLA, we’ve so far only tried the more expensive 220 d, which pulls strongly throughout its rev range and generally feels in tune with its standard eight-speed automatic gearbox.

The GLA 250 is impressive – the 350Nm of torque on offer is delivered at 1,800rpm, making it feel strong and responsive to throttle pedal inputs. This punch does begin to wear off at 4,000rpm though, well before the engine's redline. Helping manage things are the brilliant eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission - and this has a shorter first and a taller top gear than before. What does this mean? Well, the GLA feels faster off the line and uses less fuel at high speed.

Select Comfort mode from the car's DNA drive mode system and you may need matchsticks to keep your eyes open. At the other end of the attention scale is Sport mode and a manual setting for the gearbox, which won't shift up automatically and makes the car feel more fun to drive.

GLA 35 performance

While this car uses the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine as the more powerful A 45, it makes do with slightly less power – 306hp and 400Nm of torque, which in fairness is still quite a bit of poke.

Like all AMG performance engines though it features strong responses and remains punchy throughout the rev range, with a characterful exhaust note and rapid gearshifts from the standard-fit eight-speed, dual-clutch transmission.

This is a real highlight (as per usual for AMG) thanks to its innate ability to find the right ratio at the right time, although short gears and appetite for revs means you’ll often finding yourself wanting an option between second and third when exiting roundabouts, for example.

Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 S engine

Still, 0-62mph falls in a not-too-shabby 5.2 seconds, meaning you’ll have enough get-up-and-go to leave other cars trailing in your wake. Although granted, not quite in the same way as the more powerful version…

GLA 45 S performance

The GLA 45 S 4Matic+, to give it its full title, is pitched as something of an ultimate all-rounder (or the ‘assured master of a multitude of disciplines’ in Mercedes-speak).

It teams a practical, comfortable SUV body shape with the most powerful series-produced four-cylinder turbo engine in the world, resulting in a model that can mix it with sports cars on track that you can also take skiing.

The 2.0-litre motor is assembled by hand and produces 421hp (up 40hp over the old car) and 500Nm of torque. This results in a 0-62 time of 4.3 seconds – enough to worry an entry-level 911 – and a top speed of 168mph.

Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 S driving front

Make no mistake, this is a fast car, albeit one that normalises its prodigious performance to the point where it lures you into a false sense of security. The GLA 45 makes all this power and acceleration very accessible and approachable.

AMG wanted to give this car a naturally aspirated feel, and while it still has a boosty turbocharged mid-range, the peak torque figure is delivered at a lofty 5,000rpm meaning it’s fun to rev out and responsive to throttle inputs.

The excellent eight-speed DCT is best left in and there’s a standard-fit race start mode, plus on the flip side a gliding function you can activate to help save fuel too.

Handling

  • If you can, specifiy your GLA with 4Matic
  • Agile handling, refined at speed
  • Off-road handling of 4Matic surprisingly good

The GLA delivers fine competence on the road combined with good refinement. The latest incarnation of the 4Matic four-wheel drive system offers better control thanks to electrically operated clutches (rather than the mechanical ones previously) in the four-wheel drive system.

In the Individual drive mode setting of Dynamic Select, the driver can tune the suspension, steering, throttle response and gearbox action to his or her personal preference. Sport unlocks the engine's upper revs, Eco introduces a sedative touch, while Comfort offers a mix of both.

Opt for 4Matic and it’s largely front-wheel drive, with the system deciding when it needs to push drive to the rear axle. We reckon it's worth consideration due to the enhanced traction and more involving feel it lends to the handling.

GLA 35 handling

There’s no getting around the fact that the GLA is a tall and heavy SUV so you have to frame its handling talents within the limitations of its size.

As such the front section of the car has been strengthened to help boost agility (especially when turning into a corner) and the AMG specific suspension has been tuned for high cornering speeds and low bodyroll. It’s surprisingly successful in this regard, feeling taut and predictable even when dealing with multiple direction changes.

In truth the GLA 45 is more talented in this area but the less dynamic car is a better all-rounder, offering a ride that is easier to live with and handling talents that will satisfy the majority of drivers. You can choose between three different suspension modes to tailor that balance exactly how you want it, too.

The fast steering teamed with grippy 4Matic all-wheel drive makes for a confidence-inspiring combination, giving you plenty of assurance when cornering quickly and plenty of room for error when you get it wrong.

GLA 45 handling

Like the slower GLA 35, the 45 is equipped with all-wheel drive to help put its power down on the road, although this car has a more sophisticated rear axle that can divide torque between the left and right wheels too.

Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 S driving rear

That means grip is rarely an issue and the car feels very tied down in all but it’s most liberal Master dynamics mode (your other choices are Basic, Advanced and Pro), which is the only setting that makes the GLA feel remotely rear driven.

It’s no surprise that the GLA 45 handles like a big A 45 – not delivering the ultimate in driver thrills but very fast and effective none-the-less. Bodyroll is kept admirably under control for such a tall car, too.

What's it like off road?

Although we accept that few GLAs will be going off-road, it's good to know there's the ability if it needs to. All 4Matics come with an off-road package, which means hill descent control plus engine and gearbox controls designed for rugged use. That's largely because in a bid to underline its new, proper SUV, status, our time in the GLA was somewhat limited, and largely off-road.

Off road, you have surprising ability, certainly significantly more than any GLA buyer will ever need, proving it can scramble up and down slopes you’d not walk up, at least without ropes.