G'day john, I currently own a 2011 Grand Cherokee 70th Anniversary 3.6. I have become interested in the Mercedes-Benz GLA 250. Do you think it is just a girlie cheap merc or a decent alternative to the Jeep? We are not getting any younger and could do with a lower vehicle with easier entry and exit for my sweet little Nana. We do appreciate the smooth ride of the Jeep's air suspension. Enjoy listening to your 2UE radio show on weekends. and would like your opinion of the Merc. Regards, Trevor.
Watch the video above or read the transcript below.
Is the Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 just a trumped-up A Class with an unjustified pricetag - or a solid SUV worthy of your short list? Let’s find out.
Trevor Writes in: Now, Trev owns a Grand Cherokee 3.6. He’s considering the Merc GLA 250. Trev asks:
“Do you think this is just a girlie cheap Merc or a decent alternative to the Jeep? We’re not getting any younger, and we could do with a lower vehicle with easier entry and exit for my sweet little Nana.”
Cue the Doris Day showtunes - and I don’t mean for Nana - it’s time to look at the GLA 250 objectively, as an actual ownership proposition.
Decent alternative to the Jeep? Well, the Jeep has its own postcode. The GLA is much smaller, won’t go off-road (at least in all-terrain terms) and is a very different beast. So, yeah, it’s an alternative - but only if you want a very different vehicle.
Mercedes-Benz says the GLA will take you on a journey to amazement - and beyond. And beyond. I’ve never been there. I’ve been to ‘amazement’. We all have. I actually thought the world as we know it stopped just after Amazement, and after that it was … I dunno … dragons. Frankly, this is the kind of statement that happens when advertising agencies drink too much Red Bull, but otherwise suck on a dry tank when it comes to superlatives. I mean, what if you just want to go up the shops? And you end up beyond amazement... Whenever this happens to me, I know it's time to go back on my meds.
Trev’s falling in love with the GLA 250. And I think he knows it’s wrong. That’s pretty clear. The boss’s secretary always looks pretty good in the right light, and after that second beer. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. The only way to assess this rationally is to look at what else you can get for the money, and see how it stacks up objectively, on the practicalities - features, value, retained value. The stuff that matters after the fling is over and you need to find your other sock before she wakes up. Trev’s stated objectives are to downsize into a comfortable SUV, which sits a bit lower than the Jeep, and is still sweet nana compatible. Here goes.
Let’s forget about Audi and BMW - the Q3 and X1 are just philosophical clones of the GLA. To assess this thing on value, you have to think outside the box, and look at the market more broadly.
The GLA is literally a trumped-up A Class. The 2.0-litre engine with turbocharging and direct injection drives through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and on-demand all-wheel drive. That means it’s generally a front-wheel drive, and plays catch-up sending the drive rearwards when a front wheel slips. The engine outputs are pretty reasonable - 155 kilowatts and 350 Newton-metres. And the GLA 250 will set you back $57,900 plus on-road costs.
Outside the box: The Subaru Forester XT Premium. I’m not saying ‘buy one’. I’m saying let’s use it to benchmark the GLA’s objective net worth. The Forester is not a trumped-up anything. It’s a hugely successful SUV - the nameplate is one of the first SUVs ever to enter the market, along with the CR-V and the RAV4. And I think we’ll play the Angels and not Doris Day when we drive it. (Vale Doc Neeson; very, very sad.) The Forester also has a 2.0-litre direct injection turbo engine, but with 14 per cent more power. It’s line-ball on torque and has an eight-speed CVT. Symmetrical all-wheel drive - that’s a huge plus. And the Forester is $7000 - or 12 per cent - cheaper.
I know. You’re thinking there’s something magical about Mercedes-Benz. There’s not. At least, not for less than $100,000. Here in the cheap seats, Benz, BMW and Audi have but one trick: leverage the badge you really can’t afford, and strip equipment away from the vehicle just to compete with the Japanese on price. It’s what they do.
In the GLA 250’s case, you don’t get eight speakers. The Forester does. You don’t get high-speed crash avoidance with auto braking. Forester’s got that. (So much for ‘engineered like no other car’.) You don’t get radar-guided adaptive cruise control. Forester does. And you don’t get a proximity key fob or voice recognition, which are both standard on the Forester. You do get 19-inch alloys. Forester gets 18s.
You can option up the Benz’s audio system to trump the Forester. That’ll set you back $2500 - that’s in the so-called ‘Command’ options package. And you can option up to the radar-based adaptive cruise control, in the so-called ‘Driving Assistance Package’ … for another $2500. And if you want metallic paint it’s $1200 on the Benz and thrown in at no extra cost on the Subaru.
The Benz is certainly very attractive in that girly way to which Trev alluded, in contrast to the Forester, which is pretty conventional. The GLA is also 63 kilos lighter. There’s more cargo volume in the Forester and more headroom as well - so Nana is a lot less likely to feel claustrophobic, perched in the back, on the way to lunch at the beach.
The deal breakers for me on the Benz are its inherent girliness (if that’s a word) plus the staggering price premium - it’s actually about $13,000 more than the Forester once you option it up. Also hateful on the Benz (and you can’t change this) is the dual-clutch transmission - these are invariably lousy for ordinary traffic but quite good for performance driving. Unfortunately, most driving is the ordinary kind, in which the dual-clutch transmission is a nice concept with second-rate performance. And the Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive system is tremendously superior - it doesn’t have to play catch-up every time it rains, seeing as it’s already driving all four wheels. All the time. That’s a real plus.
And then there’s the D-word. Depreciation. A Class Benzes - on which this is based - depreciate like stuck pigs. Subarus don’t. A 2009 Forester XT premium today retains about 51 per cent of it’s original retail price in a private sale, while an Mercedes-Benz A 200 Turbo Avantgarde of the same vintage is down to 40 per cent. So much for the badge. Old Benzes, BMWs and Audis fall from grace very fast.
Trev, mate, take a deep one. On the one hand, in the immortal words of the Village People, it’s fun to stay at the YMCA. I think everyone agrees with that. And the GLA 250 certainly will take you there. And beyond, according to the brochure. But it also fails the gestalt theory test - the whole is not greater than the sum of the badge and the parts. It’s a lot less. The GLA is a very cynical exercise - it’s smoke and mirrors with a badge. Save $10,000 mate, and at the same time get yourself an objectively better vehicle.
Maybe even one that wears pants.