The 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic is marketed as a "crossover" SUV and is priced as such. In reality, the GLA-Class is more akin to a compact hatchback with extra ground clearance. This means it is graced with handling and fuel economy that is superior to most similarly priced luxury crossovers, but with significantly less interior space and a lower seating position. Add to that significant ride comfort and drivability issues and the result is a "C" rating from our editors.
What Is It?
The Mercedes-Benz GLA250 challenges the definition of the term "crossover." It has the ground clearance and available all-wheel drive of an SUV, but has the body and interior space of a compact hatchback like the Volkswagen Golf. It can seat five people, and although there is a high-performance GLA 45 AMG available, the four-cylinder GLA250 is the only trim level. Pricing starts at $31,300 with front-wheel drive and $33,300 with "4Matic" all-wheel drive.
How Much Space Is There Inside?
Even if the GLA-Class is questionably called an "SUV," none of its compact luxury competitors offer much in the way of cargo space. On paper and in person, the GLA is certainly more in line with a compact hatchback rather than an SUV. Its 17.2 cubic feet of space behind the backseat isn't much better than a sedan's trunk, as the heavily sloped roof line and tailgate prevent the storage of large boxes or other cargo that would fit in boxier vehicles. It's usefully deep, though, which could explain why the GLA has marginally more room than the Audi Q3 and BMW X1 with the seats raised. When the seats are lowered, it has less than both and in fact, the GLA's maximum cargo capacity of 43.6 cubic feet is nearly 10 cubic feet less than a Volkswagen Golf.
Backseat space is at a premium as well. Although it has much better headroom than the mechanically related CLA-Class sedan, it is still tight for taller passengers, especially when outfitted with the optional panoramic sunroof. Furthermore, comfort is hampered by the lack of a reclining rear seatback: a feature that's commonplace among SUVs. Legroom is decent for a small SUV, but fitting a rear-facing child seat can be difficult. Getting kids into car seats will also be a bit harder since the GLA's seats are lower to the ground than most other SUVs.
Up front, our test drivers found an ample amount of legroom. However, there is less headroom than we expected, and visibility is average at best. The seating position is low, the A-pillars are aggressively raked, the rear-quarter view is compromised and in general, the cabin feels rather confining. The tall, commanding view of the road so sought after by SUV shoppers is not present in the GLA250.
How Does It Drive?
Much as we discovered during our long-term road test of the mechanically related Mercedes-Benz CLA250, the GLA250 can be very frustrating to drive. To begin with, its throttle response is poor, as nothing really happens when you initially press the accelerator. This conspires with an obtrusive automatic stop-start system and a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission that is slow to engage and shift. In traffic it lurches about as the engine shuts down, roughly fires back up again and then struggles to move forward. Disengaging the auto stop-start and/or putting the car into "Sport" mode quells these delayed responses, but in normal, non-aggressive driving, gears are held too long. Selecting "Manual" mode and changing gears yourself using the steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles alleviates these issues, but is ultimately a workaround and most folks are unlikely to go to this effort.
Driving around town is also hampered by an unsophisticated and at times punishing ride, made worse by the big wheels included with our test car's Sport package. Much as in our 2014 CLA250 long-term car, potholes, expansion joints and uneven concrete send jarring impacts into the cabin. At higher speeds and especially on better asphalt, the ride is perfectly tolerable. Indeed, both the ride and transmission/throttle issues become less problematic when out on the open road. Keep it away from cities and it's much happier.
Should those open-road travels take you to or through a twisting mountain road, things get even better, as the GLA is otherwise a sharp, engaging and fun vehicle to drive. The fact that it's not much of an SUV hampers it from a functional standpoint, but it's a boon when driving. It feels solidly tethered to the road, instilling confidence while tackling corners with minimal body roll. The steering is of particular note. It errs on the lighter side of effort, but it remains consistent and precise while turning, and allows you to feel the road. Plus, the optional 4Matic all-wheel-drive system gets rid of the torque steer (the phenomenon of the steering wheel tugging left and right due to excess torque being channeled through the front wheels) we experienced in the CLA250.
When it comes to off-roading, it's quite obvious you won't be doing rock crawling in the GLA250, but its 8-inch ground clearance is more than that of most small SUVs and (obviously) hatchbacks. Its 4Matic all-wheel drive also includes hill-descent control, an off-road transmission mode and a special display in the COMAND electronics interface that shows steering angle. Most of the time the GLA powers the front wheels, but the 4Matic system is able to send as much as 50 percent of torque to the rear wheels when needed. There are no locking differentials or fixed torque distributions, but the GLA will likely do well in snowy or slippery conditions.
How Does It Accelerate and Stop?
The GLA250 is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 that produces 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Initial throttle delay aside, the engine itself is eager and there's ample low-end power that makes it feel quick around town and robust when passing on the freeway. In other words, it's a good engine hampered by a wonky transmission and throttle calibration.
At our test track, the GLA went from zero to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds, which is 1.2 seconds quicker than the rather pokey Audi Q3. It's a half-second slower than BMW's estimated time of 6.3 seconds for the X1 xDrive28i, but the BMW's more powerful turbocharged four-cylinder is a pretty exceptional engine. The GLA's 0-60 time also happens to be the average for larger "compact" luxury SUVs.
When it came time to test the brakes at our test track, the GLA went from 60 mph to zero in a superb 105 feet. Some of the credit goes to the grippy summer tires and upgraded brakes included with the optional Sport package. Subsequent panic stops were similarly shorter than average. The pedal itself is a little spongy and longish in travel, but not objectionable.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Can You Expect?
The GLA250 with 4Matic is rated to return 27 mpg in combined driving by the EPA. With front-wheel drive, it bumps up to 29 mpg. These are excellent figures, and on our 116-mile Edmunds evaluation route, the GLA250 4Matic returned 27.5 mpg. This is better than we got in the less powerful Audi Q3 as well as larger luxury SUVs. During our year-long test of the mechanically related Mercedes CLA250, we struggled to match some of its EPA ratings, but tanks higher than 30 mpg were commonplace.
What's the Interior Like?
Just about everything you touch in the Mercedes GLA comes from the same high-quality parts bin as other, higher-priced Mercedes like the GLK-Class SUV and E-Class sedan The stalks, switches, buttons and COMAND multipurpose control knob look good, and engage with a pleasing action. This interior is certainly a more premium one than those found in utility vehicles from most non-luxury brands.
However, it's still a step below some of its siblings. There are definitely more hard plastic pieces of trim in the GLA than you'll find in higher-end Mercedes models and even vehicles of a similar price. It generally lacks that sense of overengineered specialness we expect from cars festooned with that three-pointed star.
In terms of technology, though, we have consistently found the GLA's iteration of Mercedes' COMAND electronics interface to be pleasantly easy to use. There is some learning curve, but the redundant dash-mounted buttons paired with the central screen and rotary controller make accomplishing both simple and complicated tasks easy. You don't need to wheel and click through multiple menus just to select a radio preset, for instance: Just press a number on the phone-style pad.
What Features Come Standard?
Every 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 comes standard with 18-inch wheels, a collision warning system, a driver inattention warning system, a power liftgate, automatic wipers, eight-way power front seats with four-way lumbar and driver memory settings, MB-Tex premium vinyl upholstery (which doesn't feel much different from our test car's real leather and will wear better over time), a 5.8-inch COMAND display, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a USB audio input and HD radio.
All told, that's a pretty solid standard features list given its price. Our test car included the popular Premium package that adds dual-zone automatic climate control, heated seats and a Harman Kardon audio system with satellite radio and an iPod interface. That sort of equipment is usually standard in this price range. The Multimedia package then added a navigation system, a rearview camera and a larger COMAND display. The Interior package adds leather upholstery, MB-Tex on the dash and the same sport seats that are standard on the CLA250. Besides the Sport package that helps the GLA stop shorter but ride rougher, our tester also included popular options like a panoramic sunroof, bi-xenon headlamps and a blind-spot warning system.
How Much Does It Cost?
All together, our GLA250 test car was rather loaded, but not with what we'd call especially superfluous features. Its consequent as-tested price was $45,935, which is frankly a bit shocking for such a small vehicle with modest utility.
By comparison, a similarly equipped Lexus NX 200T or Volvo V60 Cross Country would have similar prices, but are both bigger and have plusher interiors. The same goes for the much larger Acura RDX that will actually save you about $3,000. True, the $31,300 base price is attractive, and the Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class or other, bigger German SUVs would be costlier still.
What Competing Models Should You Also Consider? BMW X1: BMW's smallest SUV is similarly challenged in terms of utility and offers questionable value, but it also doesn't suffer the GLA's comfort and drivability issues. It's also even more invigorating to drive.
Lexus NX 200T: The new, baby Lexus SUV is smaller than most competitors, but still offers far more utility than the GLA. It has a higher base price, but things even out when the two are comparably equipped.
Volvo V60 Cross Country: It's not an SUV, but then neither is the GLA-Class. This Volvo also offers an elevated ride height and all-wheel drive, but has a nicer, more practical cabin.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
You are searching for a reasonably efficient, fun-to-drive car with more utility than the typical compact luxury vehicle, along with all-wheel drive and extra ground clearance for the occasional adventure off the beaten path. Also, if a premium badge with accompanying premium equipment and style are a must, then it's worth a look.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
The ride is rough. It's frustrating to drive. Space for passengers and cargo is lacking given its price. It's harder to see out of than an SUV. The interior isn't that special. Competitor SUVs and wagons provide better value. Any of these could give you serious pause.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.