20 years on from when the Mercedes-Benz A-Class first came to South Africa, the little city car has gone through a pretty impressive transformation.

In 2012 the next-generation A-Class was launched in SA – what a radical change in design that was! – and shortly after the A-Class range was expanded with the CLA (sedan and Shooting Brake) and GLA (crossover). Globally, since 2012, more than two million of these three vehicles were sold; which is pretty impressive for a premium car to do in the span of five years.

And now Mercedes-Benz gave its GLA a dose of freshness that should keep it spunky for the next phase of its lifecycle.

Pricing

Petrol models:

GLA 200 – R485 400
GLA 250 4MATIC – R654 700
Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 4MATIC – R856 700

Diesel models:

GLA 200 d – R513 000
GLA 220 d 4MATIC – R592 500

Fresh GLA

One of Merc’s success stories of the current decade has to be the GLA. Not only does it afford buyers the first step to acquiring a Mercedes SUV, but it puts it all together in a package that is appealing to both an older and younger audience. Young couples needing something for their active lifestyles bought into the GLA; seeing that it looks lekker.

But for 2017 the GLA receives a little facelift that sees the crossover looking a lot fresher and a bit more mature. Cosmetic changes to the car include changes to the grille – now looking a more expressive and pronounced – and at the back the lines and creases are a lot tighter and cleaner. Three chassis options are available on the GLA: the standard Comfort setup, Sport, and Off-road. Both Sport and Off-road come at no extra cost, but the optional Adaptive setup has a fee. With Adaptive, both the latter two chassis setups will adjust as you drive along; giving driver and occupants the best possible ride quality. The Sport chassis sees the ride height being lowered and can be chosen in conjunction with the AMG Line or Dynamic Handling packages.

A grippier steering wheel is also added to the mix, as well as sport seats for front passengers. With Off-road, the GLA is equipped with the standard Comfort chassis, but the vehicle’s body is raised by 30mm. Together with the raised ride height, the seating position is also higher and cosmetically it also looks more capable to tackle gravel than the other models in the range. All models, bar the two 200 derivatives, are equipped with Mercedes’ all-wheel drive system, called 4Matic.

Engines and gearboxes

Two diesel engines are available in the range: the 200d and 220d 4Matic. Both vehicles are powered by Merc’s 2.1-litre diesel engine, but in the 200d power is rated at 100kW/300Nm and in the 220d it’s 130kW/350Nm. Both engines have been tuned to be economical and proved to be just that on the launch route.

For the petrol derivatives the GLA 200’s 1.6-litre kicks out 115kW/250Nm, and the 2.0-litre in the 250 4Matic is good for 155kW/350Nm. A third petrol model, the GLA45 AMG, uses the same petrol engine as the aforementioned 250, but the power levels have been increased to 280kW/475Nm. This is also the most powerful series-production engine on sale in the world today!

All models feature Merc’s 7-speed automatic gearbox.

From behind the wheel

The 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLA offers a slightly improved driving experience than the outgoing model. Not taking anything away from the pre-facelift model, but now the crossover feels just… more matured. Along the test route that stretched from Cape Town’s city centre to and around Simons Town on day one and then to the Cape Winelands on day two, the different derivatives could be sampled on various road surfaces and conditions.

Bar the GLA45 – which we’re getting to soon – all models’ suspensions setups are tuned to deliver a softer ride. And it does. In the standard and off-road tuned GLA’s bumps and undulations were rarely felt, which added to the enjoyable drive. And though it was enjoyable, these models do not really have that wow factor when you driving along. But the off-road specced vehicles should come into their own on gravel.

The GLA250 slots in below the high-performance 45 AMG, but is vehicle enough to justify its place in the range. When called upon, it’ll have the performance to tackle roads with vigour and eagerness. The sport seats, however, were a bit hard and didn’t make the drive in this model all that comfortable. In the GLA45 the harder seats made sense, plus it was easier getting comfortable in this model’s driver seat.

Gunning for the AMG

The AMG is the highlight of the range and does very little not to fulfil that role. Its engine is alive with the continuous combustion of emotions and the exhaust is an over-eager conundrum of addictive noise. Dialling through the settings (Individual, Comfort, Sport, Sport+, Race) will delve into each of the car’s personas, adhering to the driving style of the driver.

The suspension is very hard on this model, especially over bumpy surfaces, but fortunately it can be made “softer” with the press of a button. The 7-speed gearbox, too, is always on cue and is eager to rush up to the red line. The GLA is the more practical between it and the A-Class and CLA, but the AMG derivative is practical hooliganism.

And that definitely counts for a lot in my books.