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There’s little doubt that Mercedes-Benz have a very impressive SUV line-up (well vehicles in general for that matter). Boasting everything from the 5.5L V8 powered AMG GLS 63 (and of course the G-Wagon) to the all new X. Large or small and whatever the terrain, it would appear that Mercedes-Benz have a seat that will take you where you want to go – and in style too.

As part of the launch of their smallest member of their SUV family (and to prove the expansiveness of their range capabilities), Mercedes-Benz NZ took us to the frozen South Island to try out both the new GLA and the G-Professional – in a winter wonderland ‘on and off road’ experience.

As you are probably aware, the A-Class is the ‘baby’ of the brand’s line-up and in 2014 ‘A’ joined the G (Gelandewagen – offroad) family as the GLA. Beefing up the compact car’s shell and toughening up the mechanical bits made it ‘crossover’ ready, however, its styling has always seemed a little removed from the rest of the GL (SUV) range. So what’s changed with the 2017 model?

Well, even at a cursory glance you can see that the updated GLA’s appearance is far more in line with the Mercedes-Benz SUV range. A taller stance front and rear, a redesigned grille, new bumpers at both ends, integrated underbody protection, and updated alloy wheels. Bi-xenon headlamps are now all LED and the taillights (LED too) have a new design pattern. The interior is predominantly the same modern cabin but the infotainment system is now 8” and is free-standing.

Our South Island adventure began in Christchurch with dinner and an overnight stay in the George. The George is a luxury boutique hotel that oozes southern hospitality and boasts an impressive one to one guest/staff ratio (they should allocate people upon arrival) But on top of this, the bed turn down service gives you a small teddy bear to keep – so it seemed only fitting to call it ‘little G’ and take it along for the ride.

Next morning our hosts had the GLA range ready and waiting for us (180, 220d, 250 4Matic) but I was handed the keys to the Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 4MATIC. With a 2L 4-cylinder turbocharged engine (280kW/475Nm), AMG SPEEDSHIFT DCT 7-Speed, 20-inch AMG multi-spoke alloy wheels, RED CUT AMG performance seat, Panoramic electric sunroof, AMG DYNAMIC SELECT and AMG RIDE CONTROL – not a squeak of complaint was to be heard from me or little G!

The route took us out of the city and on a 1 hour-ish drive inland to Terrace Downs golf resort – we wouldn’t be hitting golf balls though (thankfully). The drive kept the stunning white capped mountains visage through the windscreen and the rawkus note of the AMG’s exhaust added the soundtrack – nice.

Upon arrival, we had time for a quick coffee and car change before jaunting off to Lake Coleridge Station where we would come face to face with the G-Professional and an off-road experience. For this trek, I slipped behind the wheel of the GLA180.

A turbocharged 1.6L 4-cylinder that produces 90kW/200Nm. Connected to the 7G-DCT 7-speed automatic this Front wheel drive SUV has a reported fuel efficiency of 5.7L/100km that I’m sure (on those windy roads) I came nowhere close to. 18” 5 twin-spoke alloy wheels kept the rubber to the road and the ARTICO man-made leather upholstery kept my rear end to the seat. Even as a base model the 180 still came with Blind Spot Assist, KEYLESS Start, DYNAMIC SELECT and Garmin MAP PILOT navigation (which as we were in single file I didn’t need).

Arriving at nearby the Station we met the very imposing Mercedes-Benz G-Professional. With its substantial dimensions (2m tall x 1.85 wide and 5.2m long) it’s certainly hard to miss and with its military appearance, it actually looked more rugged than the terrain we would soon to be climbing in it. 16” black alloy wheels, bullbars, snorkel, exposed metal loading deck and a no frills interior, it lacks almost all the refinement of the Mercedes-Benz GL’s we had just arrived in but the G-Professional made up for it with a confidence inspiring dominance – especially when caked in mud.

With an experienced guide by my side, we headed off to the elevations that surrounded the homestead. The 3L 6 cylinder turbo diesel engine felt capable of anything and with 135kW/400Nm it probably was. Heading up steep mountain sides in Road tyres is always a bit daunting but the G Professional didn’t bat an eyelid – it was phenomenal. The moment we set foot on the off road terrain, we engaged the 3 (yes 3) diff locks and that was essentially all she wrote. The truck’s high ground clearance and powerful ‘will to achieve’ running gear, had us up the slippery deep rutted uneven terrain without a hint of drama, it wasn’t quiet or luxurious, just pragmatic about the job at hand and resolute about getting it done.

A few pictures were to be had on top of the range before heading back to the Station, Little G enjoyed the view. One point of note – No downhill descent control button was engaged, mainly because the G Professional doesn’t have it – this was all truck and driver control (well truck and guide tutorial).

As the others took their turn going off base in the big G, I took the opportunity to experience the rest of the GLA range. Firstly the GLA 220 d with its 2,143cc, turbocharged Diesel (130kW/350Nm – 4.5L/100km) and Front wheel drive. 18-inch 5 spoke alloy wheels, KEYLESS-GO Comfort Package, and THERMOTRONIC. We (little G and I) went for a spirited drive on the potholed flats further inland. Puddle splashing and grit spreading (or helping out the locals as I’d prefer to call it)

Last but not least, the GLA 250 4MATIC with a 2L, turbo engine and a 7G-DCT 7-speed automatic box (155kW/350Nm – 7.0L/100km), 19” 5 spoke alloy wheels, Ambient lighting, Panoramic electric sunroof Suspension with Adaptive Damping system – But most importantly it had 4MATIC all-wheel drive, so off up the snowy/icy hill we went. The roads were tight and pitted and the surrounding mountains added a glorious backdrop. The GLA 250 felt sure footed and responsive, spinning wheels ‘rally style’ under heavy acceleration invoked traction control lights but at no time did I feel nervous or lacking even a modicum of control. A quick trip up and down the unsealed and snow dusted track, the perfect way to experience the small but capable SUV.

With the event essentially over, (and the clouds threatening) we all convoyed back to Christchurch. It had been a very involving experience both on and off road and although the GLA and G-Professional are at the opposite ends of the Mercedes-Benz SUV range it’s plain to see they are part of the same big family. Even ‘Little G’ enjoyed the day – he is now safely in the loving care of my son in case you wondered.

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