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Variety breeds success

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Entering the premium market in the compact class has paid significant dividends for Mercedes-Benz. Reuben van Niekerk reports

Globally, 2016 saw Mercedes-Benz achieve record sales for the sixth year in a row and, for the first time, sell more than two million passenger cars in 12 months.

 A big contributor to that success was the manufacturer’s ever-expanding compact car line-up, comprising the A-Class, B-Class, CLA and GLA. The models are perceived to offer variety, driving enjoyment, innovation and a sophisticated design idiom, making them popular across the world.

In terms of keeping pace with modern trends, Mercedes-Benz recently facelifted the GLA making adjustments to the line-up’s styling in terms of interior and exterior design, and updating equipment lines.

As the first compact SUV to be launched by the brand, the GLA helped to inject a breath of fresh air into its market segment and has since established itself as a major player. The model is highly manoeuvrable around town, lively on country roads and dynamic and efficient on the motorway.

With a seven-model SUV series, Mercedes-Benz makes no secret of striving to meet mobility requirements of a wide range of customers and, within the GLA line-up, no other competitor offers a larger choice of options.

From the diesel-powered, 100kW, GLA 200 d to the fabulously fast 280kW Mercedes-AMG GLA 45, the brand appears to have all of its bases covered.

So, what’s new regarding the latest version of the model? First, technology upgrades are significant. Second, design and styling adjustments – though many tending towards the unobtrusive – have been made in the interests of improving aerodynamics and providing more comfort and better fuel economy.

On the technology front, bi-xenon headlamps have made way for LED equivalents, with optional LED high performance headlamps replacing the previously offered bi-xenon counterparts. The new beams are characterised by brilliant illumination and, in the interests of relieving eye strain, operate at a colour temperature that resembles daylight.

At the rear, new LED performance taillights have replaced outmoded predecessors, the brake lights and indicators in the cluster operating at three intensities – full brightness during the day and, to limit dazzle, medium level at night and low level when the car is stationary in darkness.

Further, the GLA’s SUV leanings have been underlined through the introduction of a 360-degree camera that records the car’s direct surroundings, transmitting the picture to an information display where it can be depicted as a single image or split into seven different views on an eight-inch screen.

The attractively styled interior is characterised by high quality materials and excellent workmanship. New-look seat covers and trim parts make their appearance, along with chrome finishes for the control panels. As before, the media screen is slim – its display easily legible – while the equally readable instrument cluster features refreshed dials with red needles.

At the rear, the introduction of hands-free boot access means a wave of a foot under the restyled bumper opens the hatch, while a choice of new alloy wheel designs add visual appeal.

Good airflow characteristics around the car’s body – which contribute decisively to low fuel consumption in everyday conditions and a pleasantly discreet noise level at higher speeds – have been achieved through a multitude of aerodynamic optimisations carried out in wind tunnel tests.

With vehicle safety being a top priority a Mercedes-Benz, the GLA has a number of active and passive features as standard equipment, among them Active Brake Assist – which can automatically apply brakes if the vehicle ahead stops suddenly – and Attention Assist, which detects typical signs of drowsiness.

In terms of suspension options, a choice of three variants is offered – an off-road comfort package which is fitted as standard; a softer comfort version or a lowered package which brings the chassis closer to the ground.

The range topping GLA 45 4Matic has been refreshed with added intelligent aerodynamic measures like a restyled front apron and roof spoiler. The model boasts LED performance headlamps as standard equipment.

Twin louvres on the grille are finished in silver chrome, as are inserts in the side sills. As an additional option, a 20-inch alloy wheel is available in two colour variants. Improved details at the rear include a new-look diffuser and silver chrome trim.

The interior, too, has been upgraded, the dashboard covered with Artico leather which features contrasting red stitching. The instrument cluster has also been refreshed.

With maximum outputs of 280kW and 475Nm, the GLA 45 is one of the most powerful cars in its segment, capable of completing the 0 to 100km/h sprint in 4,4 seconds.

Entering the compact class is a strategy that has paid off handsomely for Mercedes-Benz. It has allowed the brand to attract a large number of new customers to the market’s premium segment, but at an affordable price point.

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