When is an off-roader not an off-roader? Or rather, where’s the point at which particular car lacks enough of the bits of an off-roader to not be an off-roader? Mercedes Benz is keen to push the envelope on this one with the arrival of the GLA, a vehicle based on the A class, but with more ride height. Buy the more powerful petrol GLA250 and you get four wheel drive, but the diesel GLA200 here makes do with front wheel drive only.
No, what these cars are is an alternative for people who find it too hard to slide down into the seat of a normal car and would rather step into the welcome confines of the GLA cabin. Oh yeah, there will be a few people who will buy it for the ‘off-road’ image, but you’ve got more chance of seeing the Loch Ness Monster taking a UFO for a spin.
But as a vehicle, the $64,900 GLA200 works very well. The 2.1litre turbo diesel pumps out 100kW and 300Nm of torque, and a spirited prod on the accelerator pedal sends it scampering along at an impressive pace.
And the inside of the GLA is comfortable, well designed and the dashboard looks great. Actually that’s not quite true. There’s a big display screen right in the middle of the dashboard and it’s attached in such a way that it looks like an aftermarket holder for a small tablet. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more than a few smash and grabs, only for the potential thief to find out the screen is solidly fixed to the dashboard.
As for the infotainment, sat-nav and the like, it’s all operated by a rotary knob and it takes ages to get used to it. I’m on to my third stint in a Merc with this system and only now am I beginning to work it all out.
One last word about the colour of the car. In red it looks fantastic, sporty, with a thrusting nose and sweeping lines down the side. In silver, as on the GLA250 I’m driving right now, it loses much of its character and becomes yet another Mercedes Benz in the traffic. For new Zealand’s sake, order the red paint job.