News of the week:
- South African Automotive Week (SAAW) kicks off next week at Gallagher Estate in Johannesburg.
- The event, which was previously hosted in Port Elizabeth has now been moved to Gauteng due to this province boasting four major automotive manufacturers.
- This is an important show where various industry heads, leaders, parts manufacturers meet, host conferences and showcase their products to local and international buyers and visitors.
- South Africa is a lucrative automotive market and the gateway into the rest of Africa, and hence SAAW helps to attract foreign investment and showcase the country as a leading market for automotive component manufacturing and vehicle assembly too.
- Numerous activities feature as part of SAAW, including the RMI World Skills Competition, the winners of which will represent South Africa in Brazil and a student design Competition to manufacture an automotive component from recycled plastic.
- Key exhibits, as part of the 350 booth tradeshow include several pavilions representing the Gauteng, Kwazulu/Natal and Eastern Cape auto centres, a showcase of Aluminium use in the sector, demonstrated through the New C-class Mercedes, produced in East London and a pavilion dedicated to Electric Vehicle development.
- More than 20 emerging automotive manufacturers will also be showcased with the mainstream, thanks to the support of the Small Enterprise Development Agency, while up to 3000 technical scholars will be exposed to the initiative as part of a skills and career development initiative hosted by the Retail Motor Industry Organisation.
- The show runs from 13-17 October 2014.
Road test: Mercedes-Benz GLA 200 CDI
We take the Mercedes-Benz GLA 200CDI SUV for a spin on Gauteng’s roads. Thegandra Naidoo thinks Audi and BMW should be worried.
The GLA is Mercedes-Benz’s solution to the Volvo V40 Cross Country, Audi Q3 and BMW X1. It’s built on the same platform as the A- and B-class and, like the hatchback siblings; it carries Mercs’ bold new design language rather well.
It’s not a very tall car and hence, easier to think of as a crossover than a proper SUV. To put things in perspective, its stance is somewhere between the estate-like X3’s and the more upright Q3’s.
Whether that works for you or not, you’ll agree that the GLA does look quite striking in the flesh. The beautifully-detailed headlights and large grille up front, the swoopy curves on the sides and that wide-hipped rear give the GLA ample star quality.
The aluminium scuff-plate, roof rails and plastic cladding on the wheel arches also help the look, but perhaps not as much as the wheels. The GLA comes with 18” wheels as standard, but they aren’t as appealing as you’d expect to be.
What’s it like on the inside?
There’s a lot to like about the cabin, so long as you are realistic about space. The cabin feels cosy rather than roomy. Up front, you wouldn’t be wrong to think you are sitting in a jacked-up A-class. The nicely-finished dashboard and all other panels are the same, but courtesy the higher driving position, you get a better view out.
The electrically adjustable front seats are also comfortable. Rear seat legroom and headroom (thanks to recesses for the sunroof) are also decent, but the cabin’s width restricts this to a place best for two. The raised floor also means thigh support is insufficient in the back. You could possibly make this up to your rear passengers by specifying the GLA with the optional rear seat entertainment system.
What’s noteworthy though is how well equipped the GLA comes as standard. Our test model, however, came equipped with a fair amount of extras – a panoramic sunroof, sat navigation, reverse camera, a Harmon Kardon sound system, tyre pressure sensors, ambient lighting and bi-xenon headlamps. But, there’s no automatic climate control and the screen for the infotainment system was also quite small.
One great feature, however, was how easily it connected to my iPhone. It takes a while to get use to the Bluetooth and infotainment system, but it works like a charm and makes any trip so much more eventful.
What is it like to drive?
Our test unit came with a 2.2L turbo diesel engine which is claimed to produce 100kW and 300Nm of torque. It’s available in front-wheel drive form, and if you do want the safety of all-wheel drive, Mercedes will sell you the GLA 220 CDI in 4MATIC, or you could just order the mad GLA45 AMG.
So, back to this engine. Having already driven the petrol version at the launch this year, we know it to be a strong performer but also one that doesn’t like to be revved too hard.
As for the diesel, it’s nice but not exciting. It’s the same 2.2L engine you’ll find in a whole host of Mercs. The power and torque figures do put the GLA 200 CDI at a disadvantage to the X1, Q3 and the V40, and if you really push the car hard, it shows. It’s not exactly quick off the line as well. It’ll sprint from 0-100kph in 9.9 seconds and reach a top speed of 205kph.
The diesel motor doesn’t particularly like being rushed and gets quite vocal when you try, though it does rev to 4500 rpm. The seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox is also not the quickest on downshifts.
But adopt a more relaxed driving style and the GLA diesel becomes a lot more likeable. The gearbox works to keep revs low and in doing so, also keeps the engine running reasonably quiet. On the whole, refinement levels are good.
On the open road, it becomes really frugal as well. As a constant 120kph, it cruises along while sipping on 5.3-litres per 100km. In urban traffic, it still managed to consume a relatively low 7.0-litres per 100km. It also falls under the 120g/km CO2 emission level; hence it doesn’t carry an emission tax.
Road noise is fairly well contained though the firmness of the suspension can be heard on sharper bumps. It does absorb the bumps well enough on most occasions. Good stability, further make this a car you’d be very comfortable to drive on the highway.
Grip levels are good too and though not engaging to drive as an X1, you can derive some fun behind the wheel. The GLA is quick to turn in and on most bends, feels like a tight, sporty hatchback.
Should I buy one?
The GLA 200 CDI is priced at R444 200 Our test unit had the AMG kit fitted and a host of optional extras, which pushed the pushed slightly over the R520 000 mark. While it isn’t cheap, Mercedes has loading the GLA with lots of features so you won’t exactly feel short-changed.
Elsewhere too, the GLA offers quite a bit to keep buyers more than content. While only a full-fledged comparison can reveal how it fares against its rivals across parameters, we have established that the GLA is pleasant to drive in both petrol and diesel forms, comfy enough on the inside and looks desirable on the outside.
The lack of all-wheel drive in all models might spoil the fun, but for the majority who will use the GLA in town, it’s not a deal breaker. As is, the GLA is certainly a small SUV worth seriously considering.
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