- Compact size popular, easy to drive
- Stylish lines, less imposing than an SUV
- Quick but fairly fuel-efficient
- Excellent safety technology
- Adept in urban spaces and forest trails
- Backseat room tight
- Short on cargo space for a utility vehicle
- Options add up quickly
The 2015 Mercedes GLA isn't the roomiest small crossover, but it's a stylish vehicle with a double shot of urban attitude--and a dash of ruggedness--that looks fully up to Mercedes-Benz luxury standards.
The 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class is the smallest vehicle offered as a GL-branded sport-utility vehicle by the German luxury maker. Small crossovers may be the hottest part of the car market globally, and luxury offerings are flooding into the market fast.
You can think of the 2015 GLA as a more compact version of utility vehicles such as the compact GLK and the mid-size ML, with an added dash of urban flair. Or you can view it more like a five-door hatchback version of the coupe-like CLA compact sedan, with which the GLA shares its underpinnings and interior, but with enough ground clearance to make it a light truck and available all-wheel drive that actually gives decent off-road capabilities.
The GLA's curvy but upright profile, sculptured body sides, tall 18- and 19-inch wheels, and exaggerated trim give it attitude that Mercedes expects to attract young, affluent first-time luxury buyers who want the capability of a crossover without the stodgy family appearance of a more traditional compact SUV. Fully 8 inches shorter than the CLA sedan that spawned it, the GLA is just 174 inches long--for parking purposes, a subcompact.
Mercedes-Benz describes the design philosophy as being an expression of clarity; it says the exterior sheetmetal offers “clear contours and smooth surfaces that communicate both high-tech sophistication as well as emotional appeal.” The aggressive sculpting gives the GLA more youthful and dynamic looks than any other car on sale today from the brand. The wheel arches are large, and the GLA leads off with a large Mercedes star on a rakish nose and upright front end. Fog lamps are integrated into the front bumper, and piped lighting in the swept-back headlights adds more detail to the front end. From any side angles, the creases and ripples--especially in the hood--seem sculpted perfectly to catch the light. They appear more dramatic from a distance than they are up close. In back, the large and protruding oblong tail lamps are split far apart to exaggerate the width of the vehicle, with a chrome handle that sweeps across. The bottom rear adopts an SUV look, accented with a prominent skid plate and sill guard.
Inside, the GLA makes good use of the retro-style horizontal shelf layout combined with five circular vents and smoothly rounded details—a look that fits just as well in this small car as it does in vehicles like the new S-Class. We especially like the display screen that hovers above the dash top, as a standalone plane, rather than taking up space in an instrument panel made larger and thicker to accommodate it. Materials and textures look different in the upper dash than down below, and materials like matte-satin wood stand apart from what’s currently offered in this class.
The GLA 250 is powered by a 208-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 258 lb-ft of torque. A standard seven-speed dual-clutch transmission propels it to 60 mph in just 6.4 seconds, and to a top speed of 145 mph. Stop-start is standard, though it can be switched off. The all-wheel-drive GLA250 4Matic model has been available since launch, while a front-wheel-drive GLA250 will join the lineup in the spring of 2015.
The GLA is hardly a rock-climbing off-roader in the Jeep vein, but it provides rugged ability and a surprisingly capable AWD system to take you through snow or to the outdoor activity of your choice. As with the systems in most recent M-B vehicles, includes the power take-off in the transmission to help save weight and aid efficiency. These models get Downhill Speed Regulation, as well as an off-road transmission mode, and with 4Matic, the rear axle carrier gets special rubber bushings for ride comfort. That is, the GLA 4 Matic isn't limited just to muddy sports fields and slick roads.
Its CLA sedan underpinnings give the GLA passenger-car handling and roadholding, though its greater height and higher seating position make body roll more apparent on fast corners. Steering is provided by a new electromechanical system that’s designed to pair with stability-control intervention, to aid control. The interior is commendably quiet as Mercedes-Benz has focused on cutting aerodynamic drag, optimizing mirror housings, fine-tuning airflow in back with a spoiler, and adding underbody paneling.
Up front, the power-adjustable seats are comfortable and well-bolstered. The small footprint of the GLA makes the rear seat a tight fit for adults, though. There's plenty of headroom, but like the CLA, legroom is limited--and taller drivers in front can push back their seats to make rear-seat legroom disappear almost entirely. Cargo volume is limited by the steeply raked liftgate, though with the rear seat folded flat, 46 cubic feet is available. The GLA is best used not by small families, but by couples.
Safety features in the GLA include eight standard airbags, Attention Assist drowsy-driver detection, and a radar-based Collision Prevention Assist with Adaptive Brake Assist, which can curb collisions from 4 mph on up. With Distronic Plus active cruise control, the system is upgraded to Collision Prevention Assist Plus and can autonomously brake at up to 124 mph to help reduce the severity of a crash.Other safety extras include Blind Spot and Lane Keeping Assist, as well as Parktronic and Park Assist, for automatic parallel or perpendicular parking. Oddly, rear-view camera is an optional extra.
Standard features on every GLA 250 include 18-inch alloy wheels, a power liftgate, power front seats with memory, and on the 4Matic version, Downhill Speed Regulation, Offroad Drive Program, and Offroad Display. The list of options is extensive, but highlights include the COMAND vehicle information and infotainment system, bi-xenon headlamps, a panoramic sunroof, and that suite of electronic active-safety systems.
Prices start at $31,300 for the (not yet available) front-wheel-drive GLA 250, with 4Matic all-wheel drive adding $2,000. The hot-rod GLA 45 AMG version starts at $48,300. It's entirely possible to add $10,000 or more of options to either model.