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I had the pleasurable experience of a fortnight's holiday in Lanzarote, the most eastern of the main islands that make up the Canaries, situated just off the coast of Morocco. During my stay, the weather turned from a pleasurable 25ºC down to middling and late teens combined with a lot of rain; Great! Sun beds away, tan lotion back in the bag and hideout in the resort until it all blows over. I cannot stand English resorts so we therefore came to the conclusion that we had only two choices, fly home early or get a hire car of some description so that we can at least take shelter if caught out or to try to chase the sun around the island like a stupid dog and its tail.
We opted for the latter and went to organise a hire car. They used to be a cheap and cheerful way of getting around whilst on holiday because you’d pay some guy in a small hut £50 to get to drive some battered and war-torn Nissan Micra for a week but now you have to ensure you have fully combined insurance due to the scams and you will only choose professional hire companies out of shear fear of the horror stories you’ve been told. So, I was in complete shock to find that the local hire firm would charge £220 for 10 days inside a Renault Kangoo! I wouldn’t even pay that much to own one. I just could not understand the concept. It was made all the more laughable because for an extra £50 I could drive a Mercedes Benz GLA. Hmmm, not much discussion happened there but perhaps that’s why the "cheap" cars are so expensive, to make the gap in price between that and the next group up more tolerable persuading people, as I did, to make that leap. Well anyway, I wasn’t about to rant at the guy behind the counter, as after all he is just doing his job, so I grabbed the keys and handed the money over for the Merc…
The Mercedes Benz GLA 200 sport. It is not a special car, it is not an amazing car yet it is a practical one, so this will probably be a short piece about it then. This car can only really appeal to a certain market and unfortunately for the cost of one of these things, I’m not in that market. With a starting price of £25,000 for the very low spec base model which is nothing but crude in my opinion, you can easily get the cost of one of these up to near £40,000 and past; I won’t even start on the cost of the very diluted “AMG” version of these which, I’m surprised they have even attached their name to it. Now for that money, you just don’t get much "bang for your buck" and you certainly don’t get the quality of Mercedes that you are convinced you should get from handing over that kind of cash. For start, everything feels cheap, the plastics are tacky, the leather feels like vinyl and the boot lid closes with a shattering vibration. Inside you get an average Mercedes interior which isn’t the best but it’s the components that make it feel all the more bargain basement not German luxury. It leaves you with a great sense of being underwhelmed as you sit there with that iconic three pointed star staring back at you from the ill thought out steering wheel yet, without it you could be in any other vehicle. Actually I’d argue you’d be happier in a Ford, Vauxhall, or VW of which they all offer an equivalent. Predominantly due to the fact that you would be sat in comparable luxury for a fraction of the price.
The model variant I was in was GLA 200d Sport Auto 5dr with a starting price of £30,660, with the few options that were spec’d, after looking on Merc’s website, I would say around £37,000. It has a 2.1 l engine under the bonnet which will shift the car from stationary to 60 mph in 9.1 secs then on to a top speed of 127 mph. It has a tank range of 739 miles when you achieve the stated fuel economy of 67 mpg even though we only managed 50 mpg with the easy driving Lanzarote has to offer. The engine feels powerful enough for a car this size and for what most users will be doing with it. It delivers all the power down through a front wheel drivetrain and 18 inch alloy wheels sporting Continental 225/50s.
Whilst sat in the driver’s seat, you have a very fitting and supportive seat, uncanny to the car really, securing you in place whilst the gear stick is nowhere to be seen. I know it’s an automatic but there is usually some sort of lever sticking up from the centre console so that if for nothing else it gives a place for my hand to rest yet, in this, it is missing to instead be replaced by a cheap stalk on the steering wheel resembling the type of thing you see in an American pickup. When you do want to change gear yourself in the semi manual mode, they have opted for flappy paddles which always brings a smile to my face as I revert back to being a child again. In real world driving the paddles are useless because combined with the gearbox, it’s slow and it feels like it is questioning whether you know what you are doing. In sport mode, the gearbox is a bit more responsive and intuitive but it’s definitely got no racing pedigree, there’s certainly no attempt at fooling you of that.
The appearance again is designed for the market who are willing to pay that money for that car, I can’t say it's ugly but it hasn’t exactly got those beautiful Italian lines either; it is just very average. The panel gaps along the car were not gaps but gulfs, and the letters on the back had even started to fall off, comically, it began looking more embarrassing than Theresa May’s Tory Party Conference, all we were waiting for was the car to start spluttering. Spatially the car is a decent size, compact enough to park but offers enough space for travelling 5 up with luggage. The boot is fair, offering a capacity of 481 Litres with the seats up but it also has a flat load pan to allow ease of loading and unloading. The front A-pillars aren’t that wide giving enough view out the front with minimal blind spots though, the side mirrors are ghastly and poorly designed whilst the rear quarter might as well have a curtain pulled all the way around. You can barely see out the rear window, yet if you try to look out of the windows on the rear doors, they are anything but useful, so you just have to edge out slowly in the hope everyone around stops when they see the fairly large back end coming. The rear seats have enough leg room for adults but you can tell they are designed for children especially with the enormous ride comfort difference between front and back.
The ride itself is okay. It wobbles a bit at the lower end of the speedometer but seems to stiffen and firm up when you begin to climb. It can handle most corners at usual speed but, when pushed, the body has a bit of roll and give in it. The chassis seems stable enough—to be honest it should be considering it’s an A-class on stilts. Ground clearance was acceptable, these cars are built to mount curbs, not hills after all.
So, it came to the end of my 10 days in this odd car, I began driving it with a sheer shock, awe, and, disgust at the quality of product Mercedes is accepting to stamp its name on, to then actually somewhat enjoying the car as you should with a rental. It’s a hire car, so I well and truly ragged it and drove down some unforgiving roads, ones which you wouldn’t dare if it was a normal test drive and certainly wouldn’t even consider if it was your own car. The Mercedes Benz GLA 200 d does exactly what you need it to, for double the price I would be willing to pay. Personally, I think Mercedes should be ashamed of pumping these out with the lack of quality and at the extortionate price tag but then again, they have just released huge profit figures, I can’t help but think this is a major factor. However, diluting your brand to this level to keep shareholders happy? I’m not sure I can ever view Mercedes in the same light again. So, if indeed this is what it eventually has come down to, big name car manufactures diluting their brand name so much that they are willing to just ship out any old pile of junk then it is, quite a sad time for motoring.