Looking to make the big shift into luxury? And have you zeroed in on the all-new GLA? We don’t blame you one bit because the new GLA is a giant leap ahead of its predecessor. The previous one was small and looked nothing like an SUV. It had a basic and dated interior and, biggest of all, appalling space in the rear. The new one then is quite a jump because not only does it look like a proper SUV this time around, it also has pretty much everything you would want from a compact luxury SUV. However, as good as the new GLA might be, it has entered a segment that it never mastered. So to see if it actually is worthy of the crown, we had to put it up against two of its main rivals, the Volvo XC40 and the Mini Countryman Cooper S.
Now, the older GLA rivalled the BMW X1 and the Audi Q3, and there are good enough reasons why we didn’t include them here. First, the BMW X1 is a very capable SUV and has been our favourite for quite some time now; however, it has started showing its age, especially when it comes to the interior and equipment. Then is the Q3, which is on its way out, and an all-new version is expected very soon. So it didn’t make sense to add that. But, Audi also launched the Q2 in CBU guise, which meant exorbitant pricing. Plus, it too missed out on a lot of features and space. The two closest then were the Volvo XC40, thanks to the bundles of space and a long and impressive list of features and the Mini Countryman because why won’t you want to stand out from the rest.
In terms of design, it’s safe to say that they are all quite different. The GLA brings with it maturity and luxe appeal; the Volvo is more SUV-ish and has the dimensions that trump the other two here. Sure, the GLA has a longer wheelbase, but the Volvo’s length, width, and height make a big difference, especially when you look at them side-by-side. The Mini is the most outlandish here, with its stripes and retro charm. Nevertheless, it is a car that will always draw eyes on the road.
The round chrome-line LED headlamps, and the split grille gives the Mini a happy and docile face, which is ironic considering it’s the most powerful and fastest SUV. The Mini we had was not the standard Cooper S but was the JCW Inspired edition. And that meant an aggressive and sporty aero kit, feature additions, bigger wheels and a sports mode for the gearbox. The design, though, is evidently a bit sportier than the standard car. And what never fails to impress are the Union Jack LED DRLs for the taillamps. Just so much character and attention to detail. That said, it’s not like the other two get lost in the crowd. With its increased dimensions, the new GLA is in line with Mercs latest design theme and has sharp creases and angles all over. It has shed behind its bulbous and cute appeal and is now a lot more grown-up.
The XC40 made headlines for its design when it was launched, and you can tell why. The Thors hammer DRLs, a bold and squarish face, the two-tone roof and the lamp-shaped taillamps give it a prominent look. Also, the XC40 is now available only in R-Design spec, which means blacked-out bits and funky looking alloys. However, on the whole, when you want an SUV, you want size and road presence, and even though the GLA is a lot better looking now, and the Mini has its old-school charm, it is the XC40 that nips ahead.
The other crucial aspect of an entry-luxury SUV is the interior and how it feels on the inside. I have been an advocate of Mercedes-Benz interiors for a long while because I don’t see any other manufacturer offer the plushness and special feel like Merc does. The suave design, the blend of materials, and the overall ambience are just impossible to beat. The GLA is a fine example of that. Stem inside, and you see brushed aluminium, open-pore wood, piano black and soft-touch plastics with bright upholstery. It adds so much to the luxuriousness and gives you the feeling that you have elevated yourself into the luxury world. Also, it’s not like the GLA has skipped on features. You get everything from a panoramic sunroof, wireless charging, 10.25-inch touchscreen with MBUX connectivity, digital instrument cluster, emergency braking, seven airbags, and the list just goes on. The only bits that it doesn’t get from the others are the adaptive cruise control and hill descent control from the Volvo and a heads up display and wireless Apple CarPlay from the Mini. Even the seats on the GLA are soft and comfy and get electric adjust for both driver and passenger along with memory function and a neat kinetic seat function. Now, they aren’t massaging seats, but the seat keeps shifting the cushions on specific durations. You would probably not notice it all the time, but it does make up for a relaxing drive. Also, as I mentioned earlier, the back seat too is vastly superior now, and thanks to that segment-best wheelbase, there is plenty of room on offer. What further helps is the panoramic sunroof that brings in light and air, and you also have AC vents with blower controls and a USB type C port in the back. So a big jump indeed and all very impressive. But what about the other two?
The interior of the Volvo is in line with their Swedish minimalism theme. There is very little clutter; it’s all straight lines and clean finishes but still very modern looking. It sure is very different from the GLA, and it might not get you that richness that comes from the wood and aluminium, but it has a charm of its own which in isolation is quite neat. What dominates the cabin is obviously the 9.0-inch vertically oriented touchscreen, which isn’t the biggest but surely the most capable as it houses almost every function. Temperature control, calls, navigation, it’s all in there, and while you have to be well-versed with the system to use it swiftly, it just isn’t as easy as on the GLA. Then you have the instrument cluster too can be customised to an extent, but again, it’s all very focused and will only allow you to change the theme or display different settings. To be honest, all these gimmicks are good only for the initial few days. Once you start to use the car daily, you will barely touch those settings again. The equipment on the XC40, too, is a long laundry list. Much of it is similar to that of the GLA, like the panoramic sunroof and wireless charging, but Volvo is globally known for safety and reflects in the kit on offer. Finally, you get adaptive cruise control, which basically means the car will lock on to the sped of the car in front of you and maintain the distance. If that car slows down, the XC40 will too. Next is the hill descent, and I know these aren’t the traditional SUVs with all-wheel drive, but having it is quite useful on steep slopes.
But, the highlight of any modern Volvo is the seat comfort. Powered seats with memory function, but the support and the way your back feels is unlike any other SUV in this class. Even though it doesn’t have the fancy ‘kinetic’ function like on the GLA, it is hugely supportive and comfortable in the front of the XC40. Move over to the rear, and it is unlikely that you will notice the lack of wheelbase from the GLA. It is only marginal, but overall, the XC40 is quite spacious, so wheelbase loss isn’t felt that hard. However, what will be a bit of an issue is the upright backrest.
Where the GLA offers a more reclined and relaxed backrest, the Volvo is a tad too upright. But the seats here too are high on support and feel plush, but you will want to get out and stretch over a long distance. However, what is good is the high seat rear seat, which offers a theatre line seating position. This means you aren’t cooped up and claustrophobic in the rear despite the dark upholstery. You also have vents in the pillars along with the ones mounted in the centre.
The Mini, yet again, is quite unique looking when it comes to its interior. That old-school retro charm has been tastefully employed all over, and you surely feel a lot more special when you are seated inside. The classic design with the large circular centre pod features an 8.8-inch touchscreen, and it has cool touches like the ambient lighting around the circular pod. The switchgear, the start button, the vents are all just so beautiful that you keep ogling at it for a while before you come to grips with it. Sadly, the analogue cluster that we so dearly loved is now replaced by a digital unit that isn’t half as fancy as on the other two but keeps the focus on what it should be showing. The steering is chunky and a proper driver’s delight, and then you have some cool bits like the heads up display. You also get a lot in terms of kit, and there is nothing that the Mini misses. Sure it’s got only 4 airbags, but you get all the other stuff like wireless Apple CarPlay, wireless charging, ambient lighting and even a web browser. The seats, however, are supportive and hug your body well, but the focus is evidently on the driving dynamics. The front seats are set low, and although you can raise it up a fair bit, it won’t give you a towering SUV feel. And that’s probably a good thing because if you buy the Countryman, chances of you being in the back seat are quite slim. Still, on those rare occasions that you will find yourself there, it isn’t all too bad, and the amount of room on offer is rather surprising. Still, it is the driver’s seat that you should be in.