Neat styling in a niche market | The GLA250 4MATIC, with its all-wheel-drive, is exceptionally good in the snow.
Recently, manufacturers have introduced vehicles that essentially invent new segments; cars and trucks targeted towards a very specific niche that didn’t previously exist. Cars like the BMW 4-series GranCoupé don’t necessarily differ from other segments too drastically, but they’re unique enough to prompt competing automakers to try new things as well. Up until recently, the only really unique thing Mercedes-Benz has done is slap a “coupé” moniker on the new four-door CLA-class. We sampled a 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4MATIC for a week, which is a new crossover-hatchback contraption based on the CLA.
First things first; the GLA got a lot of looks throughout its test with us. It’s as if everybody wanted to know what it was, and how much it cost. It’s a four-door hatchback not too much larger than the B250, the smallest car in the Mercedes-Benz lineup. However, the GLA sports edgier lines, a low roofline, and enough ground clearance to qualify as a crossover not unlike the Audi Q3 and the Buick Encore. This is a quickly emerging segment with a bunch of new entries having been introduced within the past couple years. The GLA is easily one of the best-looking of the gang, with huge HID headlights with LED accents, especially with the AMG styling kit fitted to our tester.
The GLA250 shares its powertrain with the CLA250 as well as the B250. It’s the smallest gasoline engine Benz currently offers, and boasts a turbocharger. There’s also a GLA45 AMG with considerably higher power numbers, but this is definitely the one most buyers are going to opt for, especially because of how aggressive the pricing is. The GLA250 has a 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, good for 208 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The interesting thing about this motor is that peak torque is available between 1,200 and 4,000rpm, making the GLA a blast to zip through the city streets. On the highway, the lack of power is noticeable, but no more than that of a Q3 or an X1. After all, both of those immediate competitors also offer 2.0L turbo-fours as their base engines. They all have adequate torque and a decent amount of horsepower for the vast majority of buyers.
Because of its low centre of gravity and good steering, the Mercedes-Benz GLA250 handles quite competently. It darts around obstacles with ease and makes navigating through traffic as well as tight parking lots extremely effortless. The 7-speed automatic, a dual-clutch unit, is very good at what it’s meant to do. There’s a manual-shift mode with paddle shifters, and they’re responsive when asked to be, but we left the GLA in automatic mode the majority of the time. The sporty suspension does a good job at eliminating most of the body roll usually seen in smaller crossovers, but it takes a significant toll on ride quality. The GLA rides pretty harshly, and the bumps are felt right into your back; not the level of comfort seen in other Mercedes-Benz products.
We found the driving position hit or miss. One of our writers at about 5’8 had no issues fitting comfortably into the car, but another at 6’1 had issues getting comfortable. The seats (powered and heated in front) are Artico leatherette, and they feel just as upscale as real leather seats. The naked eye can’t really tell at all that they’re not authentic leather, and the leatherette is likely much easier to clean, for those who have kids that might make messes. Even with the low roofline, getting into the front seats is no problem at all. Taller folks might have issues with the rear seats, but as with any other smaller vehicle, rear accommodations are for kids and occasional passengers only.
With a starting price right around the $37,000 mark, the GLA250 is going to be bringing a ton of new buyers into the Mercedes-Benz dealership. As a comparison, our fully-loaded Hyundai Santa Fe Sport with a very similar 2.0L turbo-four stickers right below the $40,000 mark. The GLA-class and its German competitors are trying to bring the buyers of other SUVs and crossovers in a similar price range into the experience of premium vehicle ownership, hoping that someday these will be traded in on C or E-Class models. Plus, with aggressive lease and finance options, this isn’t exactly a bad idea.
Adding to the low starting price, our tester was optioned-out at just over $45,000. This included the Premium and Premium Plus packages, which add things like a panoramic sunroof, COMAND infotainment with navigation, automatic climate control, a power lift gate, bi-xenon headlamps, reverse camera, blind spot monitoring, auto-dimming mirrors, and a few other things. Additionally, it came with the Sport Package, which includes 19″ AMG wheels on winter tires, AMG body effects, and aluminium trim throughout the outside of the car. It’s actually a pretty slick package overall.
As an entry-level crossover for Mercedes-Benz, the new GLA250 is pretty compelling. It provides a decent amount of value and a ton of style for what’s (relatively speaking) not very much money. It’s pretty easy to option up both of its rivals from Germany to a similar amount of money. However, it does have its drawbacks. The interior is pretty decent, but it does seem pretty similar to the B-Class, which doesn’t really feel all that expensive or special. Ride quality was a complaint from most of our team members, but this would be solved by skipping out on the Sport Package and the big wheels.
The GLA250 4MATIC, with its all-wheel-drive, is exceptionally good in the snowy conditions. Even disabling ESP and turning off the stability assist, it wasn’t hard to keep the little Mercedes in line through a snow storm. We can see a bunch of car guys picking these up as their daily drivers while they keep their AMG cars and Corvette Stingrays garaged, or even as a runabout for other family members. Buyers won’t be disappointed – the GLA delivers everything it promises, which is a good amount of comfort, a decent number of amenities, and a relatively trouble-free ownership experience for years to come.