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Mercedes-Benz GLA 200 Facelift nips and tucks through Sai Kung, and stretches marque’s range in Hong Kong

Luxury compact sparks debate on cross-over’s role, but proves a fun drive in the New Territories

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 June, 2017, 4:33pm
UPDATED : Friday, 02 June, 2017, 8:50pm

Recently, my other half and I spotted a Mercedes-Benz GLA 200 in Sai Kung. Offering her best approximation of a petrol-head’s opinion, she said: “It looks confused.”

I was taken aback. I had marvelled at its svelte, subcompact sports utility vehicle lines; cooed at its accentuated aerodynamic profile; lingered over the light-emitting diode headlights; gyrated at the curvy, pull-up-to-my-bumper-baby remodelled fenders. Fill your boots, Grace Jones.

It was not that the GLA had stopped at a fork in the road and was scratching its roof, trying to figure out which way to go; nor was it wondering if it was OK to turn left at a red signal, which Australians, for example, seem to think is bonzer. It transpired that, simply, the car was not a saloon or a truck – therefore, how could it possibly be a Mercedes?

Trying to follow this elusive wisp of logic further, I discerned that to many of our transatlantic cousins, “Mercedes” cannot possibly mean “hatchback” of any kind. This complaint, however, is out of date: the GLA 200 is a “crossover”, which in plain speak means a hatchback that is suitable for daily use and gives a comfortable ride, but that also comes preloaded with some sports utility vehicle attributes,

such as added ground clearance and a dose of off-road ruggedness. My supervisor had not been informed that these are now the best-selling automobiles in the United States.

It transpired that she who must be obeyed was taking issue most pointedly with the car’s aesthetics: she felt its design suggested that bits of other vehicles had been bolted together to create a

Frankenhybrid. So, with a domestic dispute brewing, the only thing for it was to take a GLA 200 on an excursion to affirm or rebut all accusations …

At kerbside and from behind the wheel, the GLA 200 was not suffering any identity crisis I could identify: it seemed no more confused than a Mazda CX-3 or a Nissan Qashqai – named, naturally, after a nomadic Iranian mountain tribe, who have probably never seen one and who may still be awaiting their invitation to unveil it at the Geneva Motor Show.

Elongated of snout and muscular at the rear, the GLA seemed keen to stretch its legs, although it did not have much about it that was screamingly SUV-ish. The one obvious concession to the lure of off-roading was the rear-wheel clearance, which had 30mm on previous GLA incarnations, but I still wasn’t desperate to haul the car over any handy tree trunks or boulders – it just looked too civilised

for undergrowth and mud.

Three years into the model’s career, Mercedes officially calls this brush-up the “Facelift” iteration; so which features have been lifted? Apart from those headlights, bumpers and aerodynamics, plus alloy wheels of various designs, not many. The interior has been updated, although the standard layout, in hard-wearing if hardly cosseting fabric, is less than luxurious. The boot is still a capacious 481 litres

and the price is still high, starting at HK$389,000.

After some tweaking of instrument panel dials, the dashboard remains mercifully uncluttered and the steering wheel and console controls, in these push-button times, relatively simple. And although, thankfully, the centrally mounted touch screen is not even a distant kinsman of that hideous angled billboard in the Tesla S, it is still an ugly vertical blot that sticks up like a duck in a shooting gallery. The faux-metal air vents, meanwhile, don’t quite pull off any aviation-inspired pretensions they seem to me to have.

But never mind all that: what is it like out in the pitiless badlands of the New Territories? It is ready for battle, say I – or at least a skirmish. The GLA 200’s four-cylinder, turbocharged, 1.6-litre power plant delivers 156hp, and 250Nm of torque at 1,250rpm, but it feels like it is putting out much more oomph, especially between the highway speed cameras. Initially the steering feels somewhat spongy; that wears off as you make the car’s acquaintance, although the over-shoulder blind spot that’s as big as an eclipse and inflicted by the C-pillar does not.

Whatever the reservations, however, the GLA 200 is still fun to drive, not least when you engage Sport mode and use the paddles to exploit the seven-speed gearbox. True, in one of the toughest market segments Mercedes-Benz here favours comfort rather than thrills, but counters that with agility and a lightness of touch, as well as by throwing in decent overall petrol-consumption figures of 5.8 litres per 100km.

The front-wheel drive GLA 200 is not really designed for honing around: it is a high-riding A-Class hatchback with extra beef in the body. It is an ersatz SUV. It is an SUV in the way that Milli Vanilli were an actual band. It is an SUV in the way that wearing combat pants from the Army-Navy store makes you ex-armed forces.

And ultimately? I enjoyed the ride so much I did not want to give it back. So now for the tricky part: persuading the powers that be that when we buy our next car, then maybe, just maybe …