By Kap Maceda Aguila
YOU DON’T NEED me to tell you that crossovers/SUVs are ruling the roads. We’ve been long enamored with the category ever since the first Land Cruisers and Pajeros stole our hearts with their tall-riding, terrain-conquering mettle.
Along the way to the present, the segment players multiplied like Gremlins in the rain. Across a galaxy of price points and propositions, the SUV is now the understandable category king. There’s an SUV for every budget.
Having said that, the GLA 200 AMG Line is the most affordable three-pointed crossover star. That’s something of a misnomer because the premium tenets of Mercedes-Benz have hardly been known for being affordable. Still, this star nebula exists in both realities — a dichotomous though immensely attractive realm where luxe and (comparatively) attainable intersect.
The price of admission for this crossover is P3.59 million. Yes, even if it is in the lower range of the MB price band, it still better earn our attention and evoke inspiration and enthusiasm.
So off I went with an example of the GLA 200 AMG Line, waiting for it to both figuratively and literally move me.
If you’re a spec sheet reader, a 1.3-liter engine might fail to impress you. In fact, you’d probably wonder how it could move a solidly built vehicle like the GLA 200. But hold your horses; this 1.3 mill is turbocharged. It corrals 163 ponies and a relatively stout 250Nm of torque — the latter coming at an early 1,520rpm. You don’t have to wait long for the GLA to get a move on.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The experience begins when you climb aboard. There’s no mistaking its premium character. Materials, execution, and even the smell of our test unit were as calming as a five-star hotel’s chambers. Even if it’s not the biggest of the lot, you won’t feel claustrophobic. While we’re at it, Mercedes-Benz obviously listened to the feedback of its customers when it trotted out this all-new GLA. The first generation (which debuted in 2013) was a lot less roomy — particularly for the folks in the back.
So while the all-new GLA is a tad shorter and narrower than the model in replaces, it is taller and is given a longer (by 30 millimeters) wheelbase. It also is bestowed 116mm more headroom, 45mm additional elbow room, and 43mm more rear shoulder room. Even the front passengers get 22 more delicious millimeters. That’s good news.
“This is fit for a barkada or family. We see the GLA as a gateway car that’s very capable,” opined Mercedes-Benz Philippines Product Management Head Benjie Bautista, who I got to interview when I picked up the unit. He also said that the days of the Mercedes-Benz as an “old man’s car” are done and dusted. “The GLA comes with a lot of connectivity features and functionalities,” he added. And yes, that’s definitely one of the surprising value propositions you get in a Merc these days. The touted MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) and its accoutrements bring the brand into the here and now and even to tomorrow.
The system is predicated on a large seven-inch touchscreen which is ensconced in a single upright structure atop the dashboard — also housing the fully digital instrument cluster. These may be bells and whistles, but the execution speaks volumes about how Mercedes-Benz is charting its future.
Elsewhere in the cabin, you’ll see the luxury (and sustainability) executed in the choice of materials and textures. The seats are swathed in Artico man-made leather/Dinamica microfiber (a happy consequence of the “AMG Line” appendage), and there are nice carbon-structure touches within, along with AMG mats.
Four driving modes (Dynamic Select) are available to suit your mood and the conditions on the road: Eco, Comfort, Sport, and Individual. I was surprised by the steering column-mounted stalk to change gears, but it’s easy to learn and adapt to. If you’re inclined for a little more dynamic manual gear changes, a pair of sporty paddle shifters are just behind the steering wheel.
Speaking of the steering wheel, it’s pretty busy one with plenty of controls and a touch control button which allow you to do more than just change the song that’s playing. The MBUX also has a Linguatronic feature which lets you command the car with a simple, “Hey, Mercedes.” I’m happy to report that there’s both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. You also get a trackpad (with a thoughtful wrist rest) for an additional way to access the myriad of functions. The graphics and reversing camera function (along with the exquisite guidelines) are tastefully executed. Remember, things can get very gimmicky real fast if you don’t know what you’re doing. The folks at Stuttgart thankfully do.
The riding height is not at par with a more proper SUV, but that’s not what the GLA is about. I think of it as a larger hatchback blessed with more space and a higher perch. Additionally, this is not just your typical crossover; the three-pointed star on its grille indicates that and more.
“The best thing we offer to our customers is the experience of Mercedes-Benz. We want to let would-be customers experience the brand and get behind the steering wheel,” concluded Mr. Bautista.