Among luxury micro-utes, we’d crown this one king. It’s a real pleasure to drive despite not being traditionally Benz-like. For 2018, you get updated styling, a larger infotainment system, standard rearview camera, and a hands-free power liftgate. The GLA is one of the most affordable entries into Mercedes-Benz ownership and deserves the three-pointed star as much as any other model, with superb quality, sound reliability, and class-leading safety. If you’re looking for a luxury subcompact SUV, refuse to compromise. Buy the GLA.
The luxury subcompact list is a short one, in both history and variety. It’s comprised of the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Mercedes GLA, Land Rover Evoque, and Infiniti QX30. That last one is a rebadged version of the GLA, more or less. Of these, the GLA is the highest performing, especially in AMG form. The X1 is a close second and delivers more passenger and cargo space and, perhaps, slightly better handling than the 250 but not the 43. However, they’re all priced rather similarly. Mercedes is the lone manufacturer to offer a full suite of advanced safety features standard. We think the GLA is the best of the bunch because of its superior reliability, quality, safety, and performance, not to mention, serious badge appeal for the money. Would you rather buy a 30-some-odd thousand dollar Audi or a Benz? We wouldn’t settle either.
The GLA is available in three distinct forms. The front wheel drive GLA 250. The all-wheel-drive GLA 250 4MATIC and the all-wheel drive AMG GLA 45. The first two pack a 208 horsepower, 258 lb-ft of torque turbocharged inline 4 cylinder engine mated to a dual clutch 7-speed gearbox. The AMG version receives a hand-built version of that same engine, outfitted with sturdier parts and tuned to produce 375 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque. This model receives a sport-tuned suspension and a special AMG version of the 4MATIC all-wheel drive system. Oh, and dare we forget, an AMG sport exhaust the burbles and coughs like an angry WRX STI. Mercedes claims a 7.3 second zero to sixty time for the GLA 250 but multiple testers report times in the low six-second range. MB says the AMG version will do the same in just 4.3 seconds, faster than an Aston Martin DB9! That’s saying something. The transmission can be slow to shift and sloppy in the standard comfort setting. We’d recommend using the paddle shifters or sport setting to eliminate this issue, besides it’s more fun to select your own gears. The tradeoff of the sluggish shifting is stellar fuel economy with the comfort and ECO settings, at up to 33 miles per gallon highway and 24 miles per gallon in the city. Unlike the bulk of the Mercedes-Benz lineup, the GLA features stiff suspension. That’s bad news if you’re expecting the plush ride quality the brand normally delivers, though it’s good news for the driving enthusiast. The harsh ride quality means this SUV handles more like a hatchback than a crossover. The body motions are well-controlled in corners and the steering feedback is phenomenal. One common complaint among critics is that the GLA couldn’t measure up to the competition when roads end. So, Mercedes Benz invited a gaggle of automotive journalists to Hungary's Hungaroring track, an off-road playground, where the rumors were subsequently quashed. 4MATIC models even have Downhill Speed Regulation, usually referred to as hill descent control, a sort of off-road cruise control that allows you scale and traverse the sketchy stuff without the need to carefully modulate the gas or brake pedal. We doubt even a handful of owners will ever use this function but it’s worth some bragging rights at your next office happy hour. Though the baby Benz makes some compromises in comfort and refinement, it should not be overlooked by prospective luxury buyers with eager right foots and preference for the windy way home.
The GLA boasts mostly high-quality materials you’d expect from the German brand, with soft-touch, contrast stitched MB tex panels covering the doors and dash. Still, there are some cheap looking and feeling plastic materials covering the vents and lower dash. The seats are cozy and supportive, with sufficient legroom in the front. The headroom is somewhat lacking due to the sloping roofline and rear seat room is nearly nonexistent. The standard lumbar support is excellent and uncommon in the subcompact segment. That’s not really the point of a subcompact SUV, so we can’t really fault Mercedes there. Still, there are some subcompacts with a more useable second row like the Buick Encore or even BMW X1. Interior changes for the 2018 are minimal, with the infotainment system growing an inch and the addition of a few higher quality trim pieces. The only other changes are a standard rearview camera, which was a costly option in previous year models, and black faced gauges that are easier to read than the outgoing silver ones. The COMAND infotainment system is one of the better systems around and uses a combination of touch and analog controls to the delight of many users. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are only available via the 350 dollar Smartphone Integration Package, even on the top trimmed GLA45 AMG. At least the advance PRE SAFE system is standard, including autonomous emergency braking and driver drowsiness monitoring. Upgrade to the AMG GLA45 and you get a superior interior with many more design options, including the DINAMICA trim that’s especially suave. The AMG steering wheel is probably the nicest feeling steering wheel on the market and the solid feeling paddle shifters are an absolute joy to enthusiasts. The GLA has one of the lowest cargo capacities of all SUVs, at just 43.6 cubic feet with the rear seats folded and 14.9 with seats in use, smaller than actual hatchbacks like the Volkswagen GTI. At least access is easy with the standard power liftgate and low load height. Those expecting the quiet cabin and isolated ride quality found in bigger Benzes will be disappointed, this is no luxobarge. However, many buyers will be willing to make the trade for the dynamic driving experience the larger models lack. We think most buyers will be satisfied with GLA’s interior despite its few shortcomings.
2018 brings a minor mid-cycle refresh to the GLA’s exterior. The headlamps, taillamps, grille, and body receive minor updates to bring a more consistent design language across the MB lineup. Not that the GLA really needed them, it’s a stylish hatchback. Errr, we mean SUV. Mercedes was sick of the critics making that same faux pas, so they gave the GLA a similar grille to the larger SUV and added some black dimpled body cladding in an effort to make the SUV appear more rugged. The AMG Exterior or trim add more aggressive bodywork to reflect the racier side of the cross-dressing hot hatch. Whether you think it’s a true SUV or an A class that’s been raised two inches, there’s no question it’s good-looking Benz.
Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has performed crash tests on the Mercedes Benz GLA Class. Fortunately, the European New Car Assessment Program, the European equivalent of the NHTSA, performed tests on the 2014 GLA200. Though that specific model isn’t available in the US, its only real difference is a turbocharged diesel engine in lieu of the turbocharged gas engine found in the US GLA. The Euro NCAP awards the GLA a 5-star overall rating, with a 96% adult occupant protection rating, 88% child occupant protection rating, 67% pedestrian protection rating, and a 70% score for Safety Assist technology. In their assessment of the automatic emergency braking, the Benz prevented a crash in two of the tests and reduced the speed dramatically in the other two despite making contact with the “vehicle.” We commend Mercedes Benz for including their PRE SAFE advanced safety technology, Electronic Stability Program, and a rearview camera standard for 2018 models. The GLA is an eminently safe subcompact SUV.
Consumer Reports ascribes a 3 out of 5 predicted reliability rating to the Mercedes-Benz GLA, while GLA offers a higher 4 out of 5 predicted reliability rating. That latter figure represents reliability that’s “better than most,” which is definitely better than most luxury SUVs. According to Repair Pal, the most common repairs are thermostat replacement, spark plug replacement, brake pad replacement, and transmission flush and fluid change. These repairs are reasonably priced at a few hundred dollars each, on average. Our research of NHTSA records revealed a few recalls. The most extensive affects 495,290 Mercedes Benz vehicles manufactured from 2014 to 2016. They have defective air bag sensors that may cause the driver airbag to deploy for no reason, potentially causing injury or an accident. Certain 2015 GLAs, a few hundred, have intake or exhaust camshaft welds that may fail, causing extensive engine damage. As always, these recalls can be resolved by you local Mercedes Benz dealer at no cost to the owner. Run the VIN of the vehicle in question through the NHTSA website to determine whether it’s affected. At the time of this writing, there are just 25 complaints filed with the NHTSA for the GLA, most of them for the 2015 year model. There are a few complaints of the forward collision warning system activating when there is no possibility of an accident, nearly causing the owners to be rear-ended. Other complaints include poor mirror visibility, rough reverse, and the pedals being too close together. All are rather minor. There are just 6 Technical Service Bulletins issued for all GLAs. Four are related to the check engine light. If the GLA goes into “limp mode,” it’s a result of either the throttle valve actuator, exhaust back pressure sensor, or a shift valve fault. We suspect the last is the cause of the “rough” reverse shift. Another TSB warns a metallic grinding sound heard in 4MATIC models may be the result of an issue with the limited slip differential and should be taken to the dealer for servicing. Considering the low number of known issues and complaints to the 70,000+ GLAs on the road, the baby Benz SUV is more reliable than the average luxury SUV. However, it’s worth noting that this brand is particularly expensive to insure and repair, a fact you may want to consider before purchasing. It’s not a big deal if you’re buying new or leasing but repair bills on a used model can quickly add up.
Perhaps the most potent competitor to the GLA 250 is its cannibalized cousin, the QX30. In a deal struck with Daimler, Infiniti designed the QX30 from the chassis of the GLA/CLA/A-class platform. It even includes the same engine, transmission, and many parts. However, INFINITI retuned the transmission and throttle, added a different exhaust, and it’s own sheet metal. The base QX30 rides quite a bit softer, is higher off the ground, and significantly slower than the GLA. However, the Sport model, an $8,000 dollar premium, really shines. It’s just .1 second slower to sixty and out handles both the GLA 250 and GLA 250 4MATIC, pulling over .9gs on the skidpad. Thanks to lower suspension and better dampers. The QX30 also sports a far more unique interior design, with swooping lines and high-quality materials. We just wish they would have carried over the COMAND infotainment system too, because INFINITI’s sucks. At the QX30’s price, you get standard LED lighting, black leather interior with white stitching, a 360-degree camera, a suede headliner, and aggressive bodywork to match the larger wheels. To outfit a GLA 250 accordingly could easily push the price close to 50 grand. If you’re not gonna go all out for the far superior AMG GLA 43 and could care less about badge appeal, the QX30 is one hell of a steal. It’s basically a better GLA 250 for a lot less money!
The 2018 GLA 250 starts at $33,400 with a 2.0 Liter turbocharged inline 4 cylinder engine with direct injection that makes 208 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 258 lb-ft of torque at 1,250-4,000 rpm. A 7G-DCT dual-clutch 7-speed transmission with shift paddles transfers that power to the front wheels. Four wheel independent strut front suspension and multilink rear suspension keep the chassis planted on all 4 18 inch 5-spoke wheels with all-season Extended Mobility tires. The engine has a start/stop function that helps it achieve 24 miles per gallon city and 33 miles per gallon highway. The DYNAMIC SELECT system utilizes Comfort, Sport, ECO, and individual modes to adjust throttle and transmission response to suit your driving style. An electric parking brake automatically releases when the shifter is placed in drive or reverse. Standard safety and security features include Active Brake Assist, ATTENTION ASSIST, Electronic Stability Program, adaptive braking technology, Predictive Brake Priming, Automatic Brake Priming, Automatic Brake Drying, Hill-Start Assist, brake HOLD feature, Emergency-sensing Brake Assist, Advanced Tire Pressure Monitoring System, rearview camera, 8 airbags, daytime running lamps, front foglamps with chrome rings, automatic light-sensing headlamps, SmartKey remote locking, push-button KEYLESS-START, hands-free power liftgate, and anti-theft alarm system with remote panic feature. For comfort and convenience, power front seats with memory and power lumbar support are standard, as are extendable thigh cushions, a 60/40 split folding rear bench with folding center armrest with pass-through, tilt and telescoping steering column, multifunction steering wheel with leather trim, dual zone digital climate control, amber ambient cabin lighting, chrome roof rails, rain-sensing wipers, rear-window wiper-washer, and heated side mirrors. An 8-inch high-resolution COMAND infotainment system is now standard, along with a central knob controller, a high-resolution color driver information display in cluster, Bluetooth audio streaming, hands-free Bluetooth interface, dual USB audio ports, SD card reader, HD Radio receiver, and 5 years of Mercedes Benz mbrace connect services. The AMG Line Exterior furnishes AMG body styling, 19 inch AMG multispoke silver wheels, and perforated front brakes with painted calipers for $2,300. The $2,600 Night Package adds the same but in gloss black. The $2,300 Multimedia Package supplies COMAND navigation, 3 years of navigation map updates, advanced voice control, 5 years of SiriusXM Traffic and Weather service, in-dash DVD/CD player, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto. The Interior Package costs $1,700 for impeccably tailored Leather upholstery, sport front seats, and multicolor ambient lighting. The $1,800 Premium Package adds Blind Spot Assist, KEYLESS-GO, hands-free access, heated front seats, and Sirius XM radio with 6 months of access. The Parking Assist Package equips a Surround View System, power-folding side mirrors, and the Parking Pilot autonomous parking system for $1,400. The $1,500 Driver Assistance Package furnishes Distance Pilot DISTRONIC, an autonomous cruise control system, and Lane Keeping Assist that vibrates the wheel when the systems senses you're leaving your lane. The Convenience Package equips auto-dimming driver-side and interior rearview mirrors, a compass, and universal garage door opener for 400 dollars. Lastly, a Smartphone Integration Package adds Android Auto and Apple CarPlay for $350.
The GLA 250 4MATIC provides an Off-Road package with push button off-road driving mode with Downhill Speed Regulation for maintaining a preset “crawl speed,” and 4MATIC variable torque all-wheel drive at a starting price of $35,400. The AMG Line Exterior furnishes AMG body styling, 19-inch AMG multispoke silver wheels, and perforated front brakes with painted calipers for $2,300. The $2,600 Night Package adds the same but in gloss black. The $2,300 Multimedia Package supplies COMAND navigation, 3 years of navigation map updates, advanced voice control, 5 years of SiriusXM Traffic and Weather service, in-dash DVD/CD player, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto. The Interior Package costs $1,700 for impeccably tailored Leather upholstery, sport front seats, and multicolor ambient lighting. The $1,800 Premium Package adds Blind Spot Assist, KEYLESS-GO, hands-free access, heated front seats, and Sirius XM radio with 6 months of access. The Parking Assist Package equips a Surround View System, power-folding side mirrors, and the Parking Pilot autonomous parking system for $1,400. The $1,500 Driver Assistance Package furnishes Distance Pilot DISTRONIC, an autonomous cruise control system, and Lane Keeping Assist that vibrates the wheel when the systems senses you're leaving your lane. The Convenience Package equips auto-dimming driver-side and interior rearview mirrors, a compass, and universal garage door opener for 400 dollars. Lastly, a Smartphone Integration Package adds Android Auto and Apple CarPlay for $350.
The AMG GLA45 supplies a handcrafted 2.0 Liter turbocharged inline 4 with direct injection that generates a whopping 375 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 350 lb-ft of torque at 2,250-5,000 rpm mated to an AMG SPEEDSHIFT DCT dual clutch 7-speed transmission with paddle shifters. AMG Performance 4MATIC all-wheel drive provides power to the 19-inch AMG twin 5-spoke with summer high-performance tires, held in place by the AMG Sport Suspension. The AMG DYNAMIC SELECT adds a Sport+ mode and RACE START launch control function. This trim also adds a AMG Sport Exhaust System, AMG High-performance Braking System, Torque-vectoring ESP Dynamic Cornering Assist, 3-stage electronic stability program, LED daytime running lamps, LED headlamps, LED taillamps, LED brake lamps, LED turn signals, Sport front seats, Sport steering wheel with flat bottom design, AMG grille, and AMG body styling with matte silver front splitter and rear diffuser. The AMG “Red Cut” Exclusive Package adds Black “Red Cut” leather, Designo Red seat belts, and multicolor ambient cabin lighting for $1,700. The $400 dollar Convenience Package adds auto-dimming driver-side and interior rearview mirrors, a compass, and universal garage door opener. The AMG DYNAMIC PLUS Package costs $2,800 and adds AMG RIDE CONTROL Sport Suspension with 2-stage damping, higher spring and damping rates, RACE mode, AMG Limited Slip Front Differential, and higher top speed. The $1,400 Parking Assist Package adds a Surround View System, power-folding side mirrors, and the Parking Pilot autonomous parking system. The $350 Smartphone Integration Package adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for $350. The Driver Assistance Package equips Distance Pilot DISTRONIC, an autonomous cruise control system, and Lane Keeping Assist that vibrates the wheel when the systems senses lane drift for $1,500. The AMG DINAMICA Interior Package costs $850 and covers the dash in DINAMICA while installing a DINAMICA Performance steering wheel. The $2,300 Multimedia Package supplies COMAND navigation, 3 years of navigation map updates, advanced voice control, 5 years of SiriusXM Traffic and Weather service, in dash DVD/CD player, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto. The AMG Aerodynamics Package furnishes AMG Gloss Black rear wing, larger Gloss Black front splitter, and front apron flics for $1,950. The Interior Package costs $1,700 for impeccably tailored Leather upholstery, sport front seats, and multicolor ambient lighting.