2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class Review

When you look at the Mercedes-Benz GLA, do you see a sporty compact crossover or a smallish four-door hatch? Mercedes appears to be hoping that, in SUV-loving America, the GLA will be perceived as a baby G, the most youthful and affordable member of the brand’s SUV family, sitting alongside the GLK, the GL, the G-wagen—and the, er, obviously misnamed M-class. But it also could be seen as a truncated version of the four-door CLA sedan (coupe?), with a practical rear hatch that increases functionality but decreases fabulousness.

Sibling to the CLA

Mechanically, the GLA is unabashedly a sibling to the CLA. The two models share Mercedes’ new FWD/AWD compact-car platform (along with the A-class and B-class four-door hatchbacks sold in Europe). Their transverse-mounted powertrains are identical, which for our market means a 208-hp 2.0-liter turbo four in the GLA250 and a 355-hp version of the same engine is the GLA45AMG. Both use a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The GLA250 will come with a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (although the former will trail the latter by several months), while the AMG version is all-wheel drive only.

Turbo fours in two strengths

We started our drive in the GLA250 4Matic. With 258 pound-feet of torque on tap, the small turbo four does an admirable job motivating the GLA, scooting to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds, according to Mercedes-Benz. Fuel economy should be close but not quite equal to the CLA’s, which in front-wheel-drive trim posts city/highway/combined ratings of 26/38/30 mpg (there are no EPA ratings yet for the CLA250 4Matic, which is not yet in dealerships). We saw an indicated 30 mpg on our two-hour drive, which combined mountain roads, a bit of freeway, and some low-speed puttering through coastal villages. The latter exposed a weakness we previously experienced with the CLA: sometimes light or changing throttle inputs, particularly at low speeds or when moving off from a stop, bring an imprecise, uncertain reaction. It could be a function of the dual-clutch transmission, the turbocharged engine, or some combination thereof, but it makes for less precise response than we’d like.

The AMG’s heaping helping of additional output—355 hp and 332 pound-feet—masked the problem, and the GLA45 just felt quick. It’s not quite as quick as its sedan counterpart, but it still rips from 0 to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds (versus 4.4 seconds for the CLA45 AMG). The AMG also snarls at start-up with its own specific exhaust. An even louder sport exhaust is optional.

Familiar chassis

Mercedes engineers tell us that the GLA’s chassis tuning is designed to closely mimic the CLA’s. The GLA250 we drove steered and handled very much like its sedan counterpart, which is a good thing. The steering is light yet precise, and the vehicle handles more like a sporty compact than a small crossover. That’s even truer of the GLA45 AMG, which adds a sport setting to its stability control system and whose standard all-wheel-drive system includes torque vectoring. The AMG version has a pleasant heft to its helm and carves corners with confidence. Yes, it will understeer if really pushed, but over a long series of mountain switchbacks, we found it easy to develop a rhythm with this baby AMG, which is far more balanced than you’d expect given its drivetrain layout.

There are two caveats here, however. The smooth, sun-kissed roads of southern Spain provided no real test of ride quality, and given the similarity in suspension tuning, we suspect the latest baby Benz will suffer the same ride harshness that afflicts the CLA. The GLA45 AMG, which already is tuned more firmly than the standard car, offers an even-stiffer optional performance suspension that is probably best reserved for those whose commute is pothole-free. Compared with the Euro-spec cars we drove, the U.S. version of the GLA250 will have a 1.2-inch higher ride height—so it can be classified as a light truck by the EPA—which could dull its handling sharpness a bit. (The AMG version does not get the taller ride height for the USA.)

Hitting the dusty trail

With Daimler-Benz board member Thomas Weber at the wheel, we rode in a GLA 4Matic with the raised, U.S.-spec suspension on an off-road course. Weber enthusiastically demonstrated the GLA’s surprising trail-readiness as we climbed and descended grades as steep as 30 percent and traversed ridges that sometimes had the GLA lifting a wheel off the ground. Hill descent control will be standard on our GLA250 4Matic, and there’s also an off-road screen on the Comand system that gives readouts of the percent grade. We still don’t see the GLA as the hardcore off-roader’s choice, but the 4Matic is better off-pavement than you might suspect—and probably better than it needs to be.

Shape shifted

More so than its off-road capability, the GLA will likely be defined in the U.S. market by its shape and its price. The GLA rides on the same 106.3-inch wheelbase as the CLA but has had some eight inches snipped from its overall length. The GLA is taller, however, by nearly three and a half inches. Without the sedan’s sloping roofline, the GLA is less cramped inside—its A-pillar doesn’t crowd the driver and rear-seat headroom is adequate for adults. The seating position and interior design, though, are lifted directly from the CLA. The latter conveys the sporty-Mercedes message with the brand’s deep-set twin gauges, chunky three-spoke steering wheel, prominent air vents, and (optional) Comand rotary controller.

Bargain hunting

With the GLA not arriving in showrooms until this fall, Mercedes-Benz is not ready to release pricing, but we expect the car to come in slightly higher than the equivalent CLA. (In European markets, however, the CLA is more expensive.) Bargain hunters will have to wait for the less-expensive version, the front-wheel-drive GLA250, which won’t arrive until next spring. They also might be distressed to learn that basics like leather, a backup camera, and satellite radio are all extra-cost items.

That situation doesn’t seem to be dimming enthusiasm for the CLA, though. It’s selling quickly—and to buyers that Mercedes says are new to the brand and ten years younger than the average Mercedes owner. We expect the same crowd will be drawn to the GLA. Rather than an SUV or a compact hatch, shoppers are likely to see the GLA the same way they see the CLA: as a relatively affordable Mercedes-Benz, only one with a bit more room inside for people and their stuff. And this perception means this close kin to the CLA looks poised to repeat that model’s success.

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA

On sale:Fall 2014
Price:$35,000/$49,000 (GLA250 4Matic/GLA45AMG, est.)
Engines:2.0-liter I-4 turbo, 208 hp, 258 lb-ft; 355 hp, 332 lb-ft
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Drive:Front- or 4-wheel
Weight:3318/3329 lb (GLA250 4Matic/GLA45AMG)
Cargo capacity:14.9/43.6 cu ft (rear seats up/folded)
Fuel economy:N/A

robert jansen
Having tried to shoehorn myself into a CLA at an auto show a few months back (unsuccessfully, I might add), I'm looking forward to finding out how much additional headroom a GLA has to offer.
Phil Kroll
Something does not look right about this car, an effort to merge two different scales and IMHO does not work, the back looks like a big error in design. Seems Merc is trying too hard and spoiling the cake! Buy a Lexus....
Sydwel Maundkse
No rivals
Just like the CLA, the GLA will fly off the shelves upon release.  The GLA is far less sexy though.  Just sayin' :)
European SUVs/CUVs don't have enough cargo area, why?Who buys an SUV/CUV, needs room in the back, otherwise you don't buy an SUV/CUV.Hate the new infotainment style. Where can I install my own stereo?
MB, Just doing what they do best. Capturing an even larger market share. I guess redistributing the wealth just doesn't work in this country. LoL
Sorry MB, it's just an ugly hatch. And that afterthought of a display screen is just ridiculous. Unexpectedly horrible design both inside and out.
Noor Ashraf
بسم الله ما شاء الله
Sylvain Raymond
Tons of those down here!!!!
Raval Pal
awesome car
Raval Pal
awesome car Mercedes
Dave Christen
This is a market they do not need. Do what you know. 2 & 4 "coops"
Patel Ronak
Nice car
Ben Watkins
It's a five door hatch.
Tom Champion
Marc Hamady
Overpriced just like all Mercs and likely to spend lots of time in the shop!
Lee Klein
Definitely a crossover.
Alexander Stewart
Joseph Herbias
Crossover... people hate hatches here
Ahmed Barrasali
I C Macan !
Conor Sweeney
Shhh don't tell the suburban moms
This is a nice little hatchback comparable to the Ford Focus or Mazda 3.  Leather being optional it is typical of the other sub-luxury models, VW/Audi, BMW both require you pay extra for leather and other amenities.   
Should be bigger than a CT200... but with 50+ photos it'd be nice to get a pic of the cargo area... ya know..the one big difference between that and a CLA250 for buyers...
Steven Zupko
What was your overall feel and impression for cargo space and rear seating? Reason I ask is because I'm in the market for a small SUV or Crossover with some luxury perks. My current Lexus Ct200h is not fitting the bill with getting my 2yr old in and out, let alone some extra family gear now being added into the mix. Any more insight would be appreciated as I need to know whether or not to hold out to see if this vehicle could work for me.
@billytbones Take another look, who knows you may just be driving one soon ! Go, MB
Speak english
Yeah, So you can count. Thanks for sharing !
Which MB may you own ?
OK, You've got that ONE !!!!  LOL
Where ?
@Steven Zupko  The GLA is going to be an overpriced MBZ product until its been out for at least 6 months.  Keep in mind that they won't discount it at all for early adopters.
@NicoleJ @Steven Zupko That's CAPITALISM my dear !
@1180DMON @NicoleJ @Steven Zupko  Guess I'm guilty of stating the obvious aren't I?

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