If you load up one of the best selling games on Nintendo’s Wii U videogame system, Mario Kart 8, you’ll notice something that is not like the others. Amongst all the make-believe go-karts is a cartoony rendering of Mercedes-Benz’s newest entry into the ubiquitous compact crossover segment: the GLA.
Type “Mario Kart + GLA” into the search bar on YouTube, you will also be treated to a bizarre Japanese live-action commercial starring everyone’s favourite pixelated plumber and the newly-released vehicle, which aired shortly after the game’s release a year ago. The point I am trying to make is that the quirky small SUV represents a step in a different direction by the upscale German manufacturer. It looks, and to some degree, drives quite different than anything else Mercedes-Benz offers, and that’s a good thing.
The purpose of partnering with a gaming company of course is to create buzz within the 25-34 segment – the average age of a Canadian gamer is 33 years, according to a 2010 survey conducted by Entertainment Software Association of Canada. The GLA 250 has many attributes that a younger audience would appreciate, starting with its alternative-sporty appearance.
Huge headlight housings and signature two-slat grille dominate the front of the vehicle, and you can recognize the GLA approaching from afar because of the LED “eyebrow” light strip that gently slopes down and over each projector headlamp. An attractive metallic garnish overlays the radiator opening and foglight recesses.
The side profile of this crossover is the most telling angle when it comes to uniqueness. Squat and stout, it reminds me of a hatchback that grew a little too quickly, and in some places more than others. The roofline remains low, but the wheel arches bulge out hinting at possible off-road inclinations. At the back, a contrasting metallic bumper diffuser grabs the eye and reinforces the suggestion of toughness.
Inside the GLA, the design is refreshingly simple and as Mercedes-Benz says, is “a bridge between modernity and avant-garde, between tradition and progression.” Dials and buttons are straightforward and easy to find, and more importantly easy to operate. The wavy silver 3D dash covering might make you dizzy if you stare at it for long enough though.
The freestanding display hovering above the dash vents actually works in this case, rather than appearing like an afterthought. The only problem I had from an usability standpoint
was trying to pair my iPhone via Bluetooth to stream music. There are submenus upon submenus, and I found it an overly complex process, even for someone that uses a lot of
different systems on a weekly basis.
A 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine takes care of power delivery, churning out 208 horsepower and a healthy 258 lb-ft of torque. It’s punchy when you give it some gas, but the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission feels a bit laggy – setting the car to Sport mode helps this somewhat. Coupled with the capable 4MATIC all-wheel drive system, the 0 to 100 km/h time is around the 6.4-second range.
Chances are, the only drag racing or off-roading done by GLA owners will be the virtual kind with a Wii U controller. The important thing is that the equipment allows such activities, if they decide to pursue it in real life. The chassis is rigid with reinforcements added to areas including the B pillars and underbody, and 4MATIC adds Downhill Speed Regulation to help the vehicle maintain a steady rate of speed when traversing down a steep stretch. An off-road transmission mode alters shift points and acceleration to optimize driving on loose terrain.
This new creation by Mercedes-Benz is built right for attracting that desirable new demographic to the brand, but the only deterrent may be the price. The base sticker is $37,200, but the model I drove loaded with everything you wish was standard (navigation, automatic climate control, panoramic sunroof, backup camera, etc.) isn’t, ballooning the price to $43,000.
Then again, can you put a price on driving the same automobile as the Super Mario Bros.?