The Mercedes Benz GLA from its inception into the Indian market in the year 2014, has seen a massive number of takers. The sleek body design with high ground clearance and not so SUV like stance sold really well, it reminded me of Vesper Lynd ( Eva Green ), it looks very athletic yet has those beautiful curves that give it that sensuous outlook and when needed, it can take a beating on the bad patches and rough tarmac as well, like Vesper took hold of the bad guys with her gun.
Enough of my James Bond movie scene fixations, the GLA has gotten a complete transformation for the year 2021-22 and I've had it for a very special trip up the mountains from the plains. The meaning of my name 'Ishaan' is Lord Shiva. I am on my way to one of the temples of Lord Shiva which has quite a significance to me as per my culture.
The day started quite early as I wanted to avoid getting stuck in any kind of traffic jam that can happen during office hours, and there were more than 55 km of Delhi I had to dissect through to get to the other side of the state. With so many road construction sites currently active across Delhi it is highly advisable to leave before the office traffic kicks in, or else you'll be as petrified driving through the slow-moving traffic as Donald Trump in India without a Beef burger. What I have with me for this trip is the Mercedes Benz GLA 220d 4-Matic AMG-Line, and what instantly surprises me about it is the way it looks.
There is no denying the fact that the new GLA is more than just a generation change. It is a completely divergent design language from the past and it now looks like a proper SUV, it has elements in all the profiles that speak it to be more muscular, more mature in terms of aesthetics. The cuts and creases on the body scream of it to be more aerodynamics, a tougher outlook in motion or even when standing still. In this AMG Line trim, I like the massive air dams on the bumper and the muscle likes on the hood which draws my attention every time I get out of the car.
After passing through the road construction sites/roadblocks of Delhi NCR, I and the GLA finally saw some open road and we took the maximum advantage of it.
The 2.0 L turbo-charged diesel motor of the GLA220d scoops out 188 bhp and 400 Nm of torque which is channelled via an 8-speed torque converter gearbox to all 4 wheels in this 4-Matic version. The all-wheel-drive system works seamlessly not just in creating great grip on the road with gravel, ruts or muck but also in very tough off-road situations where you sometimes have one of your wheels hanging in the air. The system works seamlessly in generating a great amount of power and torque and using minimum fuel. In my case, with 20% driving in city roads with marginally lower average speeds, 60% wide-open highways and an uphill climb in the mountains of about 18% and 2% in slow-moving traffic through the trip of 315 km, the GLA220d 4-Matic still managed to give 20.8 km/L of fuel economy which was astonishing.
The way this car has handled the good roads and the bad roads while I was coming up till Mukteshwar is something to write home about, despite being fitted with 19-inch AMG alloy wheels and thinner profile tyres than the standard GLA220d, the ride quality did not feel like it was in any way compromised. There was quite a lot of confidence driving over potholes and sharper bumps, the suspension just wouldn't crash. The experience reminded me more of the proper G-Wagen than any other, more sophisticated Mercedes Benz SUV.
Uttarakhand through times of COVID's second wave and the recent third wave was even stricter with the state entry process. There was a long queue of people/tourists who were waiting outside the check-posts to get their e-Passes approved for access. With double vaccination done and a duly filled e-pass, it was quite a breeze to get through into the state. What that also meant was there would be lesser people on the road and less chaos to deal with while going full-monty on the twisties. On the twisties, the GLA is a delight to drive, the AMG line models get a full-on aero kit, larger air-dams in the bumper, rear aero diffusers which do add to the aerodynamic efficiency besides making the GLA look absolutely bonkers!
Mukteshwar is a temple town situated at 2300 m above sea level. In recent months, it has modernised tremendously due to the ownership of a large chunk of real estate to some of the wealthiest people in the northern part of India, including Bollywood actress Neena Gupta and Cricketer Virat Kohli. This happened due to the downfall of the hospitality industry through the tough months of COVID in the state which was the bread and butter of thousands of people. It has seen the entry of a lot of known builders rebuilding beautiful structures and boutique hotels. That said, the same developments have also pushed the government to improve the quality of infrastructure, roads and connectivity to and from Mukteshwar to major metropolitan cities.
Mukteshwar, surprisingly also has tonnes of Apple Orchards around the main town too. I was a little apprehensive about the quality of apples as Uttarakhand in the recent months saw one of the highest rainfall in the state in a long long time, which does, in fact, affect the farmers and their crop tremendously. Luckily, I got to a farmer who was very much dedicated to producing top quality Kumaon Apples.
The Mercedes Benz GLC's boot space, thanks to the fitment of the spare wheel under the boot-floor, unlike how it was before with the space saver tyre kept freely on top of the boot floor liberates quite a lot of luggage space for 4 boxes containing 40 kilos of freshly plucked Apples to be transported back home.
Add to that, my own carry-on bag was added to the boot and I still had space for a duffle bag or two. Mercedes's luggage management is even more enhanced thanks to a lower loading lip and wide boot opening. This top of the line trim also features an electronic opening and closing system for the boot lid which interestingly also has a tiny illumination at the edge to help see things around.
I was barely 5 kilometres away from the main temple when my eyes laid upon a tiny shop at the cliff-side of the road. The view behind the shop looked spectacular and since it was during the earlier hours of the day, the sight of evaporating clouds from the valley was something to stop for and stare at. I stepped into the shop to check who was there and I found an old lady who appeared from the dark corner of this unlit dwelling whose face reminded me of my late grandmother, and without even asking for what I wanted, she offered me some tea. While I stood at the edge of her shop we talked about her adventurous yet simple life here and how Mukteshwar as a town turned into a rich man's country.
The view from here was breathtaking indeed, the panoramic view of the Kumaon range with the misty weather during the warmer of the plains felt brilliant. Add to that, the masala chai that the old lady made with some fresh Naan-Khatai that one of my friends in the hills gave for the way, made my experience sitting on a short bench more exquisite than what I can get at the 5-star hotel coffee shops.
After spending about half an hour just sipping into the tea and chattering with the wonderful lady from the shop, I made a quick trip to the temple to pay my respects and drive back to my cottage. Mukteshwar and the areas around like Ramgarh, Gagar and Bhowali have seen a growth in the economy post-second wave of COVID with rising demand in housing and tourism around.
I stopped over at yet another institution for coffee lovers called 'The Wildflower Cafe' in the little hamlet of Gagar which is run by a young lady called Akanksha who has brought fresh ground coffee and lip-smacking comfort food plated to perfection in the heart of the route towards Mukteshwar from Bhimtal.
Her expertise with coffee making and bakery has made this beautiful cafe with a view a regular spot to pig out for a lot of people.
For us people from the cities, living one above the other in tall skyscrapers, functioning out of ego and not dispassionately, competing with one another with who has the biggest house, biggest screen and the biggest bank account, coming over to the mountains and realising the simplicity of everything around is something to take note of.
No one is in a hurry, the birds are all around doing their chirping, people greet each other, you wait for long hours for your food to cook in this cold. There is peace in this delay. An emotion a few can fathom.
Little things in life matter the most, at least that is what I can say about the new GLA too. I've come up to the top of the mountains with questions in my mind about how it will perform, will it be a very uncomfortable affair to drive it through such rough terrain, I have 19-inch rims on these thin tyres, I was constantly hoping to not get a flat tyre. So many things went through my mind and it was the complete opposite of all the doubts I had. The GLA 220d 4-Matic proved to be such a delight to drive and travel long distances through that I questioned myself again if anything else would do better?
The experience with the new GLA is something to really write home about, it is unlike any other car in its class. As much as it feels like the A-Class limousine from the inside with certain elements, it has genes of the G-Wagen in the way it makes you feel while in motion. It is a stiff setup car mind you, the AMG line character does show up in places, but that is an excellent thing! It allows me to throw it around corners with absolute confidence which I might not be able to do with any other SUV that the GLA competes with besides being a brilliant off-the-road.
The interiors of the GLA play a vital role in uplifting the mood while driving long distances too. The generous use of Alcantara, leather, red stitching (AMG Line specific) and dallops of aluminium trimmings make this interior very sporty indeed. And yet, when you yearn to sit back and relax sitting on the well-cushioned seats with adjustable under-thigh support on the wide-open highways switching to cruise control, listening to the glorious sound of the Harman Kardon stereo system, the experience gets better two folds.
The new 10.25-inch command screen has crisper graphics, which are essential while navigating, supports wired Android Auto + Apple CarPlay and also has 64 colour ambient lighting to support your mood while driving. The touch sensitivity is massively improved and with massive buttons on the touch screen to navigate through functions, it becomes an easier task to toggle while driving. What could have been improved is the voice command system which barely understands Indian accents properly and I ended up repeating commands multiple times. What is annoying though is every time you say the word 'Mercedes' it triggers the voice command system. So it will be a hard time explaining to your friend why your Mercedes is better than his Audi.
In conclusion, the GLA 220d 4-Matic ticks all boxes that you want in a luxury mid-size SUV! It is spacious, practical, entertaining and most of all very very fun to drive. The way it tackles Indian roads made me feel like I am driving Toyota than a sophisticated German SUV. It can drive through a blast, drive beside a band of drummers while keeping you cocooned inside without a speck of noise filtering through. The diesel engine is absolutely brilliant with the 9-speed gearbox and the 4-Matic system in this car, pulls like a bullet and is very relaxed when needed too. To the pocket, the price might be a little on the steeper side, but to the heart, it is every bit worth it!