First Drive: 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLA

First Drive: 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLA

Another week, another launch. In the life of a motoring journalist, nothing new there, but of significance is that it comes after the release of new-vehicle sales figures issued by the Department of Trade and Industry.

A dramatic slump in sales — thanks primarily to an uncertain economic outlook — means blood continues to flow on showroom floors.

Although some manufacturers are undeniably feeling the pinch — Citroën being the latest to pack its bags and head back to the relative comfort of Europe — it helps to be part of an organisation with a network covering most of the globe — such as Mercedes-Benz.

The German manufacturer continues to offer a prolific range of vehicles, from the practical A-Class to the sophisticated E-Class and the raw muscle of its AMG derivatives.

When it comes to market penetration, Mercedes-Benz has most bases covered.

A more recent success for the brand has been the GLA range, launched in 2013.

It slots nicely into the compact, premium-SUV category, and offers a slightly aggressive look with pronounced lines, off-road suspension, decent ground clearance and strong emphasis on safety. Oh, and never underestimate the value of the three-pointed star.

Because the world of motoring is constantly evolving, the facelifted version of the GLA was launched last week in the Western Cape.

Changes have been kept to a minimum: the manufacturer has obviously resisted the urge to tinker too much with a winning recipe.

It takes a well-trained pair of eyes to notice that the expressive design of the GLA now boasts modified bumpers along with LED lights.

The interior also has minimal changes, although various packages are available depending on the look and feel you are after.

The model and engine lineup is unchanged, consisting of the GLA 200, GLA 200d, GLA 220d 4MATIC, GLA 250 4MATIC and the range-topping — and slightly manic — GLA 45 4MATIC.

Across the range, standard features include KEYLESS-GO starting, cruise control and ECO start/stop function.

At last week’s launch it was obviously the 45 4MATIC that got the most attention, and it was good to reacquaint myself with this particular sports car.

That distinctive “burp-burp” when you hammer through the seven-speed auto gearbox is still there, and the taut sports suspension is a reminder that this particular car is probably more at home on a racetrack than it is doing some monotonous suburban school run.

A complaint in the past about the GLA has centred on road comfort — or, rather, the lack thereof.

When you step into the AMG version you expect the ride to be stiff — because that is the nature of the beast and it adds to the attraction of driving a performance vehicle.

But that same stiff ride is evident throughout the range: one would like something “softer” in the smaller engine derivatives.

Mind you, there is definitely a feel of quality and assuredness when you get behind the wheel of the GLA. From its road-handling manners to the quality of materials used in its construction, the car has Mercedes-Benz written all over it.

•The AMG version is available as an exclusive Yellow Night Edition. The package — also available on the A 45 4MATIC and CLA 45 4MATIC — gives owners an exterior in Night or Cosmos Black, with Tron-like yellow highlights on the front apron, exterior mirror housings, inserts in the side skirts, rear diffuser and the rear wing. The interior also gets the yellow highlights.

You pay an extra R105 000 for this waspish look. – Bruce Fraser

2017 Mercedes-Benz GLA Pricing:

GLA 200: R485 400

GLA 200d: R513 000

GLA 250 4Matic: R654 700

GLA 220d 4Matic: R592 500

AMG GLA 45 4Matic: R856 700