Five-Point Inspection: 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4MATIC

Mike Schlee
by Mike Schlee

With the success of last year’s CLA-Class compact sedan coupe, Mercedes-Benz is unabashedly eager to expand its front-wheel drive line-up in America.

The CLA already shares a platform with the A-Class and the B-Class around the world, but neither of those small hatchbacks would probably work well here since Americans prefer crossovers. So to ensure success with the next vehicle, rather than import an existing one, Mercedes decided to create an all-new small vehicle: the GLA-Class crossover.

Slotting in at the low end of the Mercedes-Benz SUV and Crossover family, the GLA is powered by a small turbocharged engine driving either the front or all four wheels. Curious if this little tall-hatch is any good, I got the chance to spend some time behind the wheel of one in Vermont. Here are five key points about the new GLA-Class.

The GLA is small, quite small. Measuring in at 173.9 inches in length, it’s nearly 4.5 inches shorter than the GLK, which is Mercedes next smallest crossover. The goal with the new GLA is to compete in the sub-compact luxury crossover segment against the likes of the BMW X1 and Audi Q3.

By length the GLA fits in between the especially short Audi and the slightly longer BMW. Not quite as tall as either vehicle, the GLA has a lower roofline that, combined with a relatively high ride height, gives the little Mercedes a menacing “Mad Max” look from the back.

Motivating the GLA 250 4MATIC is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 208 hp and 258 lb-ft. of torque. Power is sent primarily to the front wheels via a seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission, but can be transferred to the rear-wheels through a variable 4Matic all-wheel drive system if wheel slip is detected by either front wheel.

This adds up to a claimed 0-60 MPH time of 7.1 seconds; not bad for a crossover that also returns 24 MPG in the city and 32 MPG on the highway. But not all is well with the drivetrain. Despite the turbo engine’s willingness to build boost, the transmission lets it down. Delayed to react from a dead stop, the seven-speed is less than smooth at low speeds. Combined with the default start/stop system, it becomes tiresome always momentarily waiting for the GLA to move from a complete stop. I will say though, once underway, the transmission provides smooth, quick shifts.

It would be foolish to assume that a vehicle with a short 106.3-inch wheelbase would ride like an E-Class or S-Class, but the GLA lacks the smooth, composed road manners I’m accustomed too. It’s choppier over broken pavement than I expected and delivers a ride that doesn’t feel any more refined than compact crossover offerings from more attainable segments.

The GLA 250 4MATIC may be a “soft-roader”, but it does feature some off-road hardware, even if it is equipped with a slip-and-grip all-wheel drive set-up. Besides eight-inches of ground clearance, it comes standard with downhill speed regulation, an off-road drive program and an off-road display. Sadly I did not get to test any of these systems out and although I doubt the GLA is ready to climb the steepest trails of Moab, it would be interesting to see what exactly this little crossover is capable of when the pavement ends.

The inside of the GLA is surprisingly spacious for how compact the vehicle’s exterior is. Four adult passengers can fit thanks to a rear seat that is more generous than the 33.9 inches of legroom would suggest. Although the optional panoramic sunroof lets some welcome light inside the GLA, it compromises the already cramped headroom by lowering the roof liner 1.7 inches.

Even with a usable passenger cabin, there are still 17.2 cubic feet available in the cargo area to swallow up gear.

Pricing for the GLA 250 4MATIC starts at $34,225 after destination charges, which is $4,600 cheaper than a GLK. When the front-wheel drive GLA arrives next year, pricing should drop by another $2,000. Of course, these are just entry prices as a fully loaded GLA 250 4MATIC can easily break $50,000 when optioned up.

That isn’t a lot of cash to gain entry into a Mercedes-Benz vehicle, but the GLA doesn’t quite feel like a traditional Mercedes either. A good vehicle on its own, it may help for Mercedes to have a sub-brand to market the GLA under like BMW has MINI and Audi has Volkswagen. Regardless, I am certain that much like the CLA, customers will flock to showrooms to purchase the new price leader in Mercedes-Benz crossovers.

GALLERY: 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4MATIC

Discuss this story on our Mercedes-Benz GLA forum.

Mike Schlee
Mike Schlee

A 20+ year industry veteran, Mike rejoins the AutoGuide team as the Managing Editor. He started his career at a young age working at dealerships, car rentals, and used car advertisers. He then found his true passion, automotive writing. After contributing to multiple websites for several years, he spent the next six years working at the head office of an automotive OEM, before returning back to the field he loves. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA). He's the recipient of a feature writing of the year award and multiple video of the year awards.

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