- Easy to drive, compact size
- Stylish, less intimidating than SUV
- Fuel-efficient and fairly fast
- Tight back seat
- Minimal cargo space for "utility vehicle"
- Options boost bottom line quickly
The 2016 Mercedes GLA isn't the roomiest of crossovers, but its luxury badge and a double shot of urban attitude give it a distinct appeal.
The 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class is somewhere between a smaller version of the brand’s luxury SUVs—the compact GLC (nee GLK) or the mid-size GLE (nee ML)—and a five-door hatchback version of the CLA compact sedan. It’s got the "GL" prefix in its name, but its urban flair and both underpinnings and an interior shared with the small Mercedes CLA sedan make it a bit of both.
Still, small crossovers are a growing part of the car market globally, and luxury versions are flooding into the market fast. The GLA offers enough ground clearance to define it a light truck in the eyes of the U.S. government, and available all-wheel drive that actually gives decent off-road capabilities. It’ll likely spend most of its time on highways and city streets, but it’s definitely more practical than its CLA sedan sibling—a coupe-like vehicle whose sleek lines conceal an almost unusable rear seat.
For its second year on the market, there are few substantial changes but a host of minor feature and option upgrades.
The GLA sits high, riding on tall 18- or 19-inch wheels, and its curvaceous profile, body-side sculpting, and exaggerated lights and details give it a more outré attitude than most Mercedes utility vehicles. It’s a remarkable 8 inches shorter than the CLA sedan that spawned it, at just 174 inches long—meaning that it parks like a subcompact. The goal is to attract young, affluent first-time luxury buyers to a Mercedes-Benz with the capability of a crossover but without the stodgy, practical, family-friendly appearance of more traditional compact utility vehicles.
From the front, 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. The wheel arches are large, and the car’s creases and ripples—especially the surfacing of the hood—are refined up close but dramatic from a distance. In back, large protruding oblong tail lamps exaggerate the width of the vehicle, with an SUV look provided by a prominent skid plate and sill guard. Overall, its aggressive sculpting gives the GLA more youthful and dynamic looks than any other Mercedes—and deliberately so.
Inside, the dashboard and cabin will be familiar to CLA owners. Its horizontal shelf layout includes five circular vents and smoothly rounded details—a look that carries over from vehicles like the new S-Class and C-Class, but still works well in a smaller scale. The display screen hovers above the dash top, as a standalone vertical plane, which lets the dash stay low and slim—a look we like. Both textures and materials differ between the upper and lower portions of the dash, and a few unusual choices—matte-satin wood is one—definitely make the cabin stand out from other small luxury cars.
The powertrain comprises by a 208-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 producing 258 pound-feet of torque paired to a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission driving either the front wheels or all four wheels. No manual gearbox is available, and a start-stop system is standard (though it can be switched off). Mercedes quotes 0-to-60-mph acceleration in just 6.4 seconds, and to a top speed of 145 mph.
This year the high-performance GLA45 AMG gets a power bump to 375 hp and 350 pound-feet of torque, with 0-60 mph times reduced to just 4.3 seconds, officially. There's also a new Race mode, among other upgrades.
No sane owner will try to make a GLA do the same kinds of off-road duty as a Jeep, but it's surprisingly capable AWD system provides rugged ability in snow and on dirty and gravel tracks. The GLA 4Matic isn't limited just to muddy sports fields and slick roads, though. AWD models are fitted with Downhill Speed Regulation, as well as an off-road transmission mode. The taller ride height makes body roll more apparent on fast corners, but its CLA sedan underpinnings let the GLA offer roadholding and handling that’s more like a passenger car than a utility vehicle. A new electromechanical steering system is designed to pair with stability-control intervention, to aid control.
Once behind the wheel, the power-adjustable front seats are well-bolstered and comfortable even for extended trips. The rear seat remains a tight fit for adults, with the same limited legroom as the CLA—and if tall drivers push their seats all the way to the rear, legroom essentially disappears altogether. But there’s considerably more rear headroom, which the sedan’s coupe profile compromises in the rear.
A rigorous focus by designers on reducing aerodynamic drag and wind noise gives the GLA a commendably quiet interior and ride. A few examples include a tailgate spoiler to extend the roofline, underbody panels to reduce turbulence, and carefully shaped door-mirror housings. But that steeply raked liftgate limits cargo volume, which is 46 cubic feet with the rear seat folded down. Let’s be clear: This is a small, AWD hatchback utility vehicle better suited to couples than to families who carry the standard amount of stuff.
Standard features on every GLA250 include 18-inch alloy wheels, a power liftgate, power front seats with memory, and on the 4Matic version, hill descent control and other off-road assistance programs. 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.
Eight standard airbags lead off an extensive list of standard and optional safety features. Few cars in this class offer as many comprehensive safety features like Attention Assist drowsy-driver detection, for example. Then there’s a radar-based forward collision mitigation with automatic emergency braking, aimed at eliminating low-speed collisions 4 mph up to 31 mpg. Add in the active cruise control, and the system is upgraded to Collision Prevention Assist Plus—which can brake automatically at up to 124 mph to help reduce the severity of a crash. Other safety extras include parking assist for automatic parallel or perpendicular parking, blind-spot monitors and lane-keep assist. Strangely, a rear-view camera remains an optional extra.
The base front-wheel-drive GLA250 starts slightly above $30,000, and adding 4Matic all-wheel drive will cost you another $2,000. It's entirely possible to add $10,000 or more of options to the GLA, including to the hot-rod GLA45 AMG version—which is more than $15,000 pricier to begin with.
You'll get 24 mpg city, 32 highway, 27 highway from the GLA250 with 4Matic all-wheel drive. If you can live without the AWD, though, you'll add an extra 2 mpg, to ratings of 25/35/29 mpg.