2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA Class Review

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John Voelcker John Voelcker Senior Editor
May 4, 2015

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.

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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.

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2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA Class

Styling

The 2015 Mercedes GLA isn't a utility vehicle but a compact hatchback CLA; as such, it's handsome outside, semi-luxe inside.

While it may carry the GL prefix that indicates a Mercedes-Benz utility vehicle, the body and proportions of the compact GLA "crossover" are fundamentally those of a five-door compact hatchback.

The GLA 250 model has the ground clearance of a utility vehicle—8 inches, 1.2 inches higher than the European version—and can be ordered with all-wheel drive. With its large 18-inch wheels, the basic GLA conveys the look of a small but somewhat low crossover. It's exactly the same trick that the Subaru XV Crosstrek pulls off against its mundane Impreza hatchback progenitor.

The GLA 45 AMG is more than 3 inches lower to the ground--meaning it's a passenger car to the NHTSA, not a light truck as the GLA 250 is--and the two look rather different in proportion, aided by the AMG's 19-inch wheels.

Both GLAs share underpinnings and most of their interiors with the corresponding Mercedes CLA models. Like that compact sedan, the GLA's styling is smoothly rounded but aggressive--Mercedes calls it "sporty, emotional design." But while they're built on identical wheelbases, the GLA is not only 3 inches taller but a startling 8.4 inches shorter--giving the rear a stubby, businesslike purposefulness against the sedan's elegantly tapered rear.

At the front, headlights sweep back along the fenders from the upright Mercedes oblong grille, with a pair of horizontal bars supporting a very large round emblem in the center. The body sides are deeply sculpted, removing any hint of slab-sidedness, and the rear pillars are quite raked, anchored by large oblong taillights that are just this side of caricature. With the Mercedes tri-star, wheels, rear lights, and a few other elements so visually oversize, the car carries far more presence than you might expect for its size.

The sporty cockpit features gauges at the ends of cut tubes, and no fewer than five oversized vents--one at each end of the dash, and three in the center. It's clean and sleek, and the instrument cluster and controls are all instantly recognizable Mercedes fittings. In reality, they're roughly four-fifth scale models of their counterparts in big Mercedes sedans.

Sitting on top of the dash is a floating display screen. Opinions are sharply split on this: Some like it as a way to lighten the instrument panel, others feel it looks tacked on as an afterthought. The standard interior sports dark-grey synthetic upholstery--it's called MB-Tex--with an optional two-tone package available that greatly lightens the cabin. Other options include wood, aluminum, or mock-carbon-fiver accent trim. The AMG model gets contrasting seatbelts and matching accent stitching in the upholstery. Naturally, leather is available as an option.

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2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA Class

Performance

The 2015 Mercedes GLA 250 performs and handles decently, but the GLA 45 AMG is truly a hot hatch--albeit a very pricey one.

Much like the CLA compact sedan on which it’s based, the 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA has only two powertrain choices.

The regular GLA 250 is fitted with a 208-horsepower 2.0-liter direct-injected and turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 258 lb-ft of torque. It's mated to a seven-speed direct-shift gearbox that powers the front wheels. Mercedes quotes 0-to-60-mph acceleration of 6.4 seconds for the 4Matic all-wheel-drive model.

The engine is responsive under acceleration, but the transmission is programmed to upshift as soon as possible--in some cases at engine speeds as low as 1750 rpm. The result is that calling up the available power can take a couple of seconds, while the turbo spools up at the same time that the transmission shifts down one or two gears. Under relaxed driving, however, that doesn't happen much--and the shifts themselves are smooth, quick, and well-insulated.

That AWD system remains front-biased, distributed up to 50 percent of the torque to the rear wheels only when it senses a loss of traction. It's also optional, at a cost of $2,000, though the U.S. will see only 4Matic models for the first several months. A GLA 250 with front-wheel drive only will be added to the range sometime during the spring of 2015.

The GLA 250 handles essentially like a car, but it's taller than its CLA sibling. So while the two feel somewhat similar from the driver's seat, there's more discernible body roll to the crossover. It holds the road well and has nicely balanced cornering. We didn't take our test cars off the road, but the GLA 4Matic has received good reviews for being able to handle more than simply slick roads and muddy fields.

The second powertrain comes in the hot-rod GLA 45 AMG, which has a far more powerful 355-horsepower engine putting out 332 lb-ft of torque. It too is a turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0-liter four, but most of the internals have been strengthened and reinforced to allow it to put out what would have been race-car power levels just a few years ago. While it’s not built at Affalterbach—the traditional home of AMG, the performance sub-brand of Mercedes—each engine for this model is assembled by a single worker, and bears a plaque with his name on it.

The AMG version is perhaps the world's priciest hot hatch, very much in the character of the Mitsubishi Evo, Subaru WRX GTI, and Volkswagen GTI. But it costs twice as much, is far more refined--and would likely still give all of them a run for their money. It's fairly fast for a four-seater of any size, and once turbo boost kicks in above 2000 rpm, it takes off like a rocket. The company has given it some delightful exhaust notes, too, a blend of howl and rasp.

In a 90-minute drive of the AMG model, we found that under power on curves it will actually hang the tail out--which is entertaining and no doubt exactly what at least some of its buyers will want. Otherwise, it hangs onto the road, aided by its lower-to-the-ground stance and considerably wider 19-inch wheels and tires.

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2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA Class

Comfort & Quality

The 2015 Mercedes GLA is quiet and comfortable inside, though hardly roomy, and its interior is well-built and stylish for the segment.

The 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA lineup offers more headroom than its CLA sedan counterpart, but it's still a better vehicle for two than for four.

The front seats of the standard GLA 250 have excellent backs with firm bolsters, and are undeniably comfortable. But broader or larger adults may find the lower cushions short and narrow. MB-Tex is the standard upholstery, with leather optional. Both front seats have power adjustment for rake and position. The Recaro sport seats in the GLA 45 AMG are simply fantastic, complete with contrasting stitching.

The console includes a pair of storage bins, with one in the standard location under the driver's elbow and the other a squared-off recess where the shift lever would normally sit (and does in the GLA 45 AMG version). Instead, the standard GLA has a modern interpretation of the old-fashioned column shift, freeing up considerable space between the seats.

In the rear, there's enough headroom for adults but, like the CLA, legroom is limited--meaning the GLA is one of the more confined compact crossovers, especially compared to its GLK big brother, a far more traditional truck that turns out to be just 5 inches longer.

As for cargo space, the GLA offers essentially that of a five-door hatchback: 17 cubic feet with the rear seat up--there's a pass-through for skis or other long items--and a more useful but hardly expansive 43.6 cubic feet with the split rear seat back folded down. It doesn't fold quite flat, but close enough.

Refinement is good, with the GLA staying quiet and calm under most circumstances and providing a compact-car sized version of Mercedes-Benz solidity. The optional low-profile tires on larger wheels could get noisy on certain pavement types, and we weren't able to test the standard wheels, which make cut some of that noise and the little bump harshness we felt with less aggressive tread and taller tire sidewalls.

Quality is high inside the GLA, and cost-cutting to achieve a $31,300 base price only shows through in a couple of areas. The five vents have notched silver trim rings that are glossy plastic, and the glare-reducing shade on the sunroof feels like the thinnest of fabrics.

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2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA Class

Safety

The 2015 Mercedes GLA hasn't yet been rated by the NHTSA or IIHS, but it should do well, given its many optional active-safety systems.

One of the selling points of the 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA range is a high level of safety features, both standard and optional. They start with eight airbags—front, side, and knee bags for front-seat occupants, plus side-curtain bags across front- and rear-door windows—as well as the usual suite of anti-lock brakes, traction control, and stability control.

Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has yet tested the GLA for crash safety. The company says it expects to achieve top ratings.

A standard feature that sets the GLA apart from most cars its size is Collision Prevention Assist Plus with automatic braking. This system monitors objects ahead, and alerts the driver if a collision is imminent—then applies the brakes automatically if the driver doesn’t respond in time. It can avert some collisions at lower speeds, and lessen the impact at higher speeds. The GLA is far from the only car to offer such a system, but thus far, it’s standard equipment only on much larger and more expensive vehicles, and optional on the smaller vehicles that incorporate it.

Another is Attention Assist, which alerts the driver if it senses that his or her responses are slowing or control of the car is wavering. Finally, adaptive braking incorporates hill-start assistance and brake drying in wet weather, along with a hold function that keeps a stationery GLA in place even if the driver remove a foot from the brake pedal once it has stopped.

Optional safety equipment on the GLA includes Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control, Lane Keeping Assist to warn drivers if the car is drifting out of its lane, and active parking assistance. Bi-xenon headlamps are also optional, as is a rear-view camera (though in future model years, the camera may be required as standard equipment by the NHTSA).

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2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA Class

Features

The 2015 Mercedes GLA is another inexpensive Benz that you can quickly load up with five figures of available features.

There are three basic ways to order a 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA. The vast majority of sales will be the GLA 250 model, either with front-wheel drive or the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. The base GLA 250 with front-wheel drive starts at $31,300, and the 4Matic system adds $2,000 to that. As with the CLA compact sedan that preceded it, the GLA offers a long list of options that can add up quickly—taking what is essentially a luxury five-door hatchback well above $40,000 if buyers aren’t careful.

Then there’s the hot-rod GLA 45 AMG, on which 4Matic AWD is standard. As well as its vastly more powerful engine, sportier suspension tuning, and standard 19-inch wheels with low-profile tires, it has a host of standard and optional exterior and interior appearance items, from aerodynamic body add-ons to contrasting upholstery stitching that matches contrasting seat belts inside. The GLA 45 AMG starts at $48,300 and can reach toward $60,000 with all the options ladled on.

Standard features on every GLA 250 include 18-inch alloy wheels, power front seats with memory, a power liftgate, eight airbags, 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 a suite of electronic active-safety systems. Those include the Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control, Lane Keeping Assist, and Active Parking Assist. A rearview camera is also optional, surprisingly, as is a 12-speaker Harman/Kardon premium audio system.

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2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA Class

Fuel Economy

The 2015 Mercedes GLA gets good gas mileage for its size and weight, especially with AWD; the AMG version is a different story.

Like many of the newest cars, the 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA range is fitted with smaller and more efficient engines and transmissions with more gears than it would have used just a few years ago. Its turbocharged 2.0-liter engine and seven-speed direct-shift gearbox give it enough power to move his heavy vehicle around and still return far higher fuel economy figures than it would have with the V-6 it would likely have featured 10 years ago.

The GLA 250 4Matic model with all-wheel drive is rated at 27 mpg combined (24 mpg city, 32 mpg highway). Giving up the all-wheel drive gains you 2 mpg, to ratings of 29 mpg combined (25 mpg city, 35 mpg highway).

The GLA 45 AMG, which produces half again as much horsepower from the same size of engine, is rated at 25 mpg combined (23 mpg city, 29 mpg highway). We'd suggest, however, that anyone willing to pay upwards of $50,000 for a luxury five-door compact hot hatch isn't going to be very concerned with gas mileage--and isn't likely to drive in a particularly fuel-efficient way to start with, meaning that real-world mileage may be considerably lower.

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October 26, 2015
2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA Class 4MATIC 4-Door GLA 250

Looks and performs great

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Purchased my 2015 GLA-250 a few weeks ago. Looks great, turns a few heads that's for sure. Performance : Plenty of power in particular in sports mode, very smooth 7 speed gearbox, On board high tech gear to... + More »
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October 21, 2015
2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA Class 4MATIC 4-Door GLA 250

Very Ugly cars that Mercedes-Benz makes now of day...Don't like it.

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I don't like the new Mercedes-Benz...there Ugly as hell...they are reliable though, I don't like the body line on either of them it don't even look like a benz, I will go with the older Benz any day. I think... + More »
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April 18, 2015
For 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA Class

No regrets

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MB has a winner on their hands with the GLA. Enjoyable to drive. Bought the 4Matic with Premium, Navigation, Blind Spot, Moonroof, Xenon Lights and 19" wheels. So many features to list and so many to like. I... + More »
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April 17, 2015
For 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA Class

More than I thought it would be...

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This model is everything M-B said it would be! Stylish, athletic, safe and luxurious! The GLA model is new to the U.S. however it was first introduced globally via the A-Class. If you are looking for a higher... + More »
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