Is the new 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class a compact crossover SUV or a high-riding four-door compact hatchback? Although officially known as the former, we won’t correct you if you use the latter description as well, since the GLA certainly looks the part. However, as Americans typically see hatchbacks as down-market vehicles, Mercedes-Benz is marketing the GLA to compete in the growing small-crossover SUV segment in which models from Audi, BMW and Infiniti also belong.
These vehicles are actually smaller (and typically less expensive) than established crossovers like Mercedes’ own GLK-Class. Yet the GLA has a proper upscale vibe with swoopy styling, a high-quality cabin and energetic performance. Measuring about 4.5 inches shorter in length and about 8 inches lower in height than the GLK, the GLA is obviously better suited to the tighter parking spots and garages of big cities.
As the GLA shares its basic platform and running gear with the CLA sedan, it similarly offers 208 horsepower in standard form and 355 spirited horses in fiery AMG form. The all-wheel-drive GLA250 4Matic and GLA45 AMG arrive first, with the front-wheel-drive GLA250 to follow in early 2015. The GLA also mirrors the junior sedan inside as well, with three vents sitting atop the center console, just below a freestanding navigation display.
Unfortunately, the GLA also picks up many of the CLA’s bad habits, including an overly firm ride, an unrefined transmission that stumbles in traffic and a noticeable amount of road and wind noise. The cargo area is also on the small side, with just 43 cubic feet of space available with the rear seats folded down. If you’re looking to get an SUV for its practicality, the GLA is not the best choice.
Truth be told, though, none of the GLA’s competitors, including the 2015 Audi Q3, 2015 BMW X1, 2015 Infiniti QX50 and slightly bigger 2015 Lexus NX 200t, are practicality champs. And among this group, the GLA will provide the elevated seating position, premium interior and premium ownership experience that you’re likely looking for. The wild AMG version is also a standout. But the GLA’s comfort and refinement issues mean that a long test-drive in a variety of driving conditions is paramount.
The 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic’s on-road character more closely resembles that of a conventional hatchback than a typical go-anywhere SUV. On the open road, the GLA250 delivers convincing agility, with electric power assist steering that is engagingly direct, if a little vague on center. And despite the added drive height, there is excellent body control with only a limited amount of lean on more challenging roads. The GLA’s relatively tight turning circle of 36 feet proves well-suited to the cut and thrust of urban driving.
Unfortunately, the GLA suffers from an overly firm and occasionally harsh drive quality, especially when you opt for bigger wheel sizes. The automated manual transmission is also frustrating, as it is slow to engage a gear when starting from a stop and causes stuttering motions when stuck in traffic.
This is a shame, since the GLA250 and its turbocharged 4-cylinder nevertheless possess a solid amount of low- and midrange grunt. This gives it a satisfying user-friendly power delivery, as it feels energetic when accelerating away from traffic lights and pulling out to pass laggards on highways. The GLA45 AMG, of course, is an entirely different animal, providing a degree of performance and handling potential that only the Porsche Macan can match. It has a similar drive quality to the GLA250, but as it’s a sport-tuned model, that attribute is easier to accept.
The 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class is available in GLA250, GLA250 4Matic and GLA45 AMG trim levels.
The GLA250 comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, privacy glass, foglamps, roof rails, a power liftgate, automatic wipers, cruise control, 10-way power front seats (with four-way power lumbar), driver memory settings, MBTex premium vinyl upholstery, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and a 60/40-split-folding rear seat (with pass-through). Electronics features include a 5.8-inch central display, the COMAND interface, mbrace2 telematics/smartphone integration, Bluetooth phone and sound connectivity and a sound system with a CD player, HD radio and a USB sound input. Hill-descent control and an off-road transmission mode further burnish its sport-activity credentials.
The available Premium package features auto-dimming mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, a compass, heated seats and a Harman Kardon sound system with satellite radio and an iPod interface. The Multimedia package adds a navigation system, a larger 7-inch central display, voice controls, a rearview camera and a 10GB music server. The Sport package adds 19-inch wheels, a more aggressive-looking front fascia and side sills and upgraded brakes. The Interior package features leather seating, front sport seats, a black headliner and MBTex dash trim. Lastly, the Driver Assistance package includes adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and blind spot warning.
Stand-alone option highlights include bi-xenon headlamps, a panoramic sunroof, adaptive cruise control, an illuminated grille emblem, parking sensors combined with an automated parking system, keyless ignition and entry, heated front seats, wood interior trim, a lower-cost navigation system (integrated into the standard 5.8-inch display), an iPod/media player interface, satellite radio and a Harman Kardon premium sound system.
A limited number (750) of the GLA250 will be available with the "Edition 1" package, which includes white paint, a two-tone brown leather/cloth interior, bi-xenon headlamps, gloss black 19-inch wheels and body trim, a panoramic sunroof, blind spot assist, the illuminated grille emblem, aluminum interior accents, and the Premium, Multimedia and Interior packages.
The high-performance GLA45 AMG includes the GLA250’s standard features and adds a more powerful engine, unique 19-inch wheels, sport-tuned suspension and steering, upgraded brakes, bi-xenon headlights and styling tweaks that include a more aggressive front fascia and lower body metallic accents. Options essentially mirror those of the GLA250, but also include Recaro seats, an upgraded steering wheel with suedelike trim, a performance exhaust, a large rear spoiler and an Aerodynamics package that adds a variety of other exterior styling flourishes. There are also the Driver’s package (20-inch wheels, firmer suspension, red brake calipers) and a number of body styling packages featuring unique colors and trim. Other options echo those of the GLA250.
As with the CLA with which it shares many cabin components, the GLA’s interior looks and feels like that of a traditional Mercedes. Big analog gauges, a clean center stack design and tight fit and finish impart the same premium feel shared across the Mercedes lineup. The lone exception is the optional navigation system’s display, which looks like an aftermarket addition given its location — separate and perched high on the dash. On the upside, the screen is easy to read. Although it takes a little getting used to, the column-mounted gear selector quickly becomes second nature and also frees up valuable, easily accessed storage space on the console. Dressing things up is a variety of cabin accents, which include walnut, ash, aluminum and (GLA45 only) carbon fiber.
An elevated driving position provides excellent forward visibility, but the shallow angle of the tailgate and thick roof pillars impede the view out back. Although there is a lot to like about the forward compartment of the cabin, the rear quarters are not quite as accommodating, as space is lacking compared with larger compact luxury crossovers like the Audi Q5 and Mercedes’ own GLK. There’s enough headroom for adult passengers, but the seat cushions are on the short and low side.
Cargo space behind the GLA’s rear seats measures 17.2 cubic feet — about 3 cubes less than the Range Rover Evoque but a bit more than you’ll find in an Audi Q3. Fold the rear seats down and you have 43.6 cubic feet available, which is less than most competitors and indicative of a compact hatchback. The standard power liftgate is nice, but unfortunately the liftover is set quite high, making it a chore to load heavy luggage.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class comes standard with stability and traction control, antilock brakes, a driver knee airbag, front seat side thorax airbags, front seat side pelvic airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Standard technology safety features include Collision Prevention Assist, which uses radar to identify potential collision situations and intervenes with braking as necessary, and Attention Assist, which monitors the driver for signs of drowsiness and inattention. Mercedes’ mbrace telematics system is also standard and includes automatic collision notification, an emergency response button, stolen-vehicle locator, remote auto alarm notification to your phone and remote door lock/unlock.
Rear seat side airbags are optional. Other safety-oriented options include a rearview camera, parking sensors bundled with an automated parking system and the Driver Assistance package, which adds adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and blind spot warning systems.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with 208 hp and 258 pound-feet of torque matched to a 7-speed automated manual transmission (with shift paddles). Initially, just the all-wheel-drive (4Matic) version will be available, with the front-drive version to follow. Mercedes says the all-wheel-drive GLA will accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in 7.1 seconds. Both the GLA250 and the GLA45 AMG feature an automatic stop-start function that, if engaged, turns off the engine when the auto stops to save fuel.
The powerhouse GLA45 AMG coaxes a very extraordinary 355 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque from the same 2.0-liter engine. A quicker-shifting version of the 7-speed transmission sends the power to all four wheels. The GLA45 AMG also features a three-mode stability-control system (that allows drivers to tailor the level of intervention) and launch control. Mercedes says the GLA45 can rocket from zero to 60 miles per hour in 4.8 seconds.
EPA-estimated fuel economy for the GLA-Class is quite good: GLA250 4Matic earns 27 miles per gallon combined (24 city/32 highway) while the GLA45 AMG’s economy comes in at 25 miles per gallon combined (23/29).
Sporty handling and performance from base model; stunning performance from AMG version; premium interior materials; ample safety features.
The 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class mixes hatchback and small crossover attributes to give you a sporting drive, a well-trimmed cabin and an elevated drive height. But its firm drive and limited practicality should give you pause.