by Roger Biermann
The Mercedes-Benz GLA enters the market with a smaller price tag than most other models from the manufacturer, but at $33,950 it's still considered a premium vehicle with a premium price tag. For those that can afford it, the SUV promises a thrilling yet luxurious driving experience that even other high-end SUVs like the Audi Q3 and BMW X1 would struggle to match. This is thanks not only due to the 208-horsepower turbo inline-four engine, but also due to the fact that the front-wheel-drive underpinnings are shared with performers such as the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45. Unfortunately, Mercedes seems to have sacrificed in quite a few areas to deliver such a well-performing vehicle at such a low price, so don't expect the same level of luxury and build quality that you normally would from a Merc.
The GLA remains unchanged mechanically from the previous model. All that's new for the 2019 edition is the expanded body color palette that now includes Iridium Silver.
Mercedes' smallest crossover, the GLA bears familiar traits, albeit in diminutive dimensions, sharing more with the CLA-Class on which it finds a basis. The body sports sleek lines, the classic Mercedes three-pointed star on the grille and angular automatic halogen headlights with fog lights below. Daytime running lights are standard with optional LED variants to match the available LED headlights. Spoilers and a sunroof are optional extras. Standard models ride on 18-inch alloy wheels, but a pair of 19s are available even on non-AMG models.
As a subcompact luxury SUV, the GLA has the dimensions to match. At 173.9 inches long, 79.6 inches wide, and 60 inches tall, it is on par with rivals like the BMW X1 and Audi Q3. It is significantly lighter than both, however, weighing in at just 3,296 lbs, with the 4Matic being 132 lbs heavier. The 106.3-inch wheelbase is marginally longer than its rivals.
The standard color palette for the GLA 250 twins comprises Night Black, Polar White, and the striking Jupiter Red. For an extra $720 you can choose from a range of metallic colors such as Cosmos Black, Mountain Grey, Denim Blue, Cocoa Brown, Lunar Blue, and the new Iridium Silver. The most premium color, designo Mountain Gray Magno with a matte finish, will set you back $2,500. We'd advise sticking with something simple though, either Jupiter Red, or for a small fe, Lunar Blue Metallic.
The 208 hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine, mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, gives the small SUV a surprising amount of pep thanks to the refined powertrain. However, if speed is your passion, then you may find yourself living in the red as it takes quite a bit of revving to really get the little crossover moving. The front-wheel-drive GLA 250 is rated as needing 7.2 seconds to reach 60 mph from a standstill, while the four-wheel-drive 4Matic claims to do the same 0.1 seconds faster. Real-world testing has, however, proven that the 4Matic can actually reach the 60 mph mark in as little as 5.8 seconds, making the GLA the quickest small SUV on the market - performance derivatives aside.
A 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with direct injection drives the GLA 250, delivering 208 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels. All-wheel-drive is standard on the GLA 250 4Matic, but both trims use the same seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which comes with shift paddles on the steering wheel.
While the output figures don't sound impressive, the powertrain is perfectly designed to make the most of it. While the throttle feels a little lazy around town, the little car can really fly when you let loose and punch the revs on the open road. And highway merging/passing is quick and easy thanks to the impressive acceleration.
While it may not be remarkable in other areas, the GLA-class Merc promises an exciting driving experience. Thanks to its punchy engine and diminutive dimensions, the SUV can zip through traffic at high speeds, giving drivers a thrill and sense of confidence in its handling.
This is somewhat toned down at lower speeds due to the reticence of the throttle, which can make the car feel lethargic around town. But when you have some open road ahead of you, the car feels lively as you put your foot down. Even a few windy turns won't put a dampener on your fun, as the GLA takes corners with really manageable body roll, despite the vehicle's high-riding chassis. However, this SUV is unquestionably not a sports car, and it will let you know as much when you push its limits.
The steering is a bit on the light side, but it allows for the SUV to react quickly and be nimble in traffic. Still, it is easy to tell what the tires are doing through the steering, and this is very much appreciated by those of us that want to enjoy what this spunky little car is capable of. The brakes are equally reassuring, stopping the compact SUV in as little as 105 ft from 60 mph, but you can expect this figure to rise as the discs heat up if you push the car to its limits.
It rides far softer than the CLA, purely by virtue of the extra wheel travel available, but it still rides fairly firmly for a crossover. Still, the small amount of roll and extra pliability make it ideal, if not as a crossover then at least as a hatchback.
The GLA gets really good mileage for the segment, which is good since the turbocharged engine needs premium gasoline to run. Even so, with an EPA-estimated 24/33/27 mpg over the city/highway/combined cycles, the SUV will set you back a few thousand dollars more than the average modern-day car running on regular gas. The four-wheel-drive 4Matic has slightly worse fuel economy at 23/31/26 mpg. The Audi Q3 might use cheaper fuel, but it only gets 19/27/22 mpg. In its most efficient guise, the GLA 250 can travel 356 miles with its 13.2-gallon tank between refuels.
The interior follows typical Mercedes trends, but due to the GLA's focus on affordability, quality is more skin-deep than with most Mercs. The materials are a bit less refined than you might expect, and the panel finishes don't match the rest of the manufacturer's lineup. Basic features are not that plentiful, but many more can be installed, and what is present is laid out for easy access, although some controls can be a bit tricky to operate. Space is also at a premium inside the cabin, with the rear seats being far too small to fit most adults comfortably.
The seats can theoretically accommodate five, but only the front seats can comfortably seat adults of above-average height. With the cramped head and legroom in the rear, even smaller adults will quickly feel the strain if the ride lasts too long. If you are planning to use the SUV as a family car, you should consider larger alternatives if you have children in their late teens. It is relatively easy for the driver to find a comfortable seating position thanks to the 14-way power adjustability, which combines with height and reach adjustment for easy accommodation of drivers of all sizes. Luckily, the seats, both front and back, are very comfortable.
The standard MB-Tex faux leather upholstery is available in Black, Sahara Beige, or Crystal Gray. If you opt for the available leather seats, you can choose between Black, Nut Brown, or twin tone Black/Beige. These color choices can be paired with various types of trims too: Sail Pattern, Aluminum, Satin Light Brown Poplar wood, or Matte Black Ash wood. The MB-Tex feels like the real deal and offers a decent amount of ventilation, but the dashboard and door panels are not as pleasant to the touch as you might want from a Mercedes. The SUV might advertise itself as a more affordable small SUV, but for the price, we would expect a bit better.
While the GLA is advertised as a versatile daily driver, don't expect too much from it in terms of cargo capacity. With the rear seats up, it offers buyers 17.2 cubic feet of space; this is quite a bit less than rivals like the Audi Q3 and BMW X1. You could fit quite all your shopping in the trunk quite easily, but once you start planning for a family trip, you may find yourself picking and choosing luggage due to the limited space. With the seats down, cargo capacity grows to 43.6 cubic feet. This allows you to move larger objects, but you will unlikely be able to fit more than one or two pieces of small furniture, so find another vehicle to move house with.
Inside the cabin, storage for smaller items is nothing special. There is a small tray beneath the center console, and two small cupholders, with a small armrest compartment between the two front seats. The rear middle seat can fold down to create an armrest with two cupholders. Door pockets are present in the front and rear, but they are slim.
Standard features comprise a rearview camera, automatic emergency braking, driver attention assist, Mercedes emergency call, keyless entry and ignition, a power liftgate, 14-way power front seats with power lumbar and memory functions, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, and dual-zone climate control. With the addition of any of the multiple packages available, you can also get heated front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a panorama roof, true leather upholstery, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, parking assist, active distance assist, and a surround-view camera.
The SUV receives only basic infotainment features as standard, but what it does get is high-quality tech. The infotainment suite comprises an eight-inch touchscreen monitor, a high-resolution driver information display among the gauges, Bluetooth hands-free and audio streaming, two USB ports, HD Radio, and a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 sound system. Other available features include a LOGIC7 sound system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, SiriusXM, COMAND Navigation, and SiriusXM Traffic.
J.D Power awarded the 2018 GLA a dependability score of 82 out of 100. With no mechanical or technical changes present within the 2019 model, we expect this rating to carry over unchanged. However, the vehicle has been subject to several recalls: in 2019, it was recalled for incorrectly upholstered rear seats and faulty rear seat belt anchors; in 2018, it was recalled for improperly sealed sunroofs and in 2017 it was recalled for faulty passenger airbags. Mercedes-Benz offers a full warranty, powertrain warranty and roadside assistance all for 50,000-miles/48-months.
The Merc GLA has not been rated by the NHTSA or the IIHS for safety or crash testing. Mercedes-Benz does, however, invest heavily in its safety systems.
Standard safety features comprise active brake assist, driver attention assist, electronic stability, automatic emergency braking, adaptive braking technology, a rearview camera, and eight airbags. Blind-spot monitoring, a surround-view camera, lane-keep assist, active distance assist, and parking assist are available.
As with any car, the GLA has its own strong and weak points. Where it excels is its performance, offering a level of enjoyment that none can match, even if on-road acceleration is comparable to those it competes with. It also offers a long list of available features, although very few of these come standard. The turbocharged four-cylinder engine is not as strong as it could be, but the powertrain makes up for this shortcoming by being able to squeeze out every ounce of that power. On top of this, the handling is top-notch.
Now for the downsides… To make the GLA fit the more affordable price bracket, Mercedes cut corners on quality inside the cabin. The materials are not as high-grade as you'd expect and the cabin shows its rough edges. The cargo space is also smaller than you might hope for in a family-oriented vehicle, being bested by its nearest rivals, the BMW X1 and Audi Q3.
After weighing it up, the GLA is definitely a great car, but it is far from perfect. And depending on what you really want from an SUV, you may want to consider rivals that offer more in the areas where the Merc fails to meet expectations. For the price you're paying, you deserve to get what you want.
While the GLA is the cheapest SUV that Mercedes-Benz offers, it is still considered a premium vehicle, and its price tag reflects this. Getting behind the wheel of even the base GLA 250 trim will cost you $33,950. Upgrading to the all-wheel-drive 4Matic will set you back an additional $2,000. These are MSRP prices and do not include tax, registration, licensing and Mercedes-Benz' $995 destination charge.
Comprising two trim levels, the 250 and 250 4Matic, the GLA is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivers 208 hp and 258 lb-ft. This output is directed to the front wheels in the GLA 250 and to all four wheels in the 4Matic, both models use the same seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Standard equipment on the GLA 250 comprises 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, fog lights, three driving settings, a rearview camera, emergency brake assist, rain-sensing wipers, faux-leather upholstery, power front seats with power lumbar, 60/40 split fold-down rear seats, dual-zone climate control, an eight-inch touchscreen display, Bluetooth and a six-speaker sound system with HD Radio.
The 4Matic doesn't add any extra features, but it comes standard with four-wheel-drive and the associated functions, like off-road driving mode, downhill speed regulation, and a visual display showing you information such as the vehicle's incline gradient and steering angle.
A plethora of additional packages is available on both trims to bring the sparsely appointed GLA up to par with other similar SUVs. The Premium Package ($1,800) adds blind-spot assist, keyless-go, heated front seats, and Sirius XM. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto can be added with the Smartphone Integration Package ($350), while lane-keep assist and active distance assist come with the Driver Assistance Package ($1,500). The Parking Assistance Package ($1,550) offers a surround-view system, active parking assist, power-folding side mirrors and auto-dimming driver and inside rearview mirrors. Advanced voice control, COMAND navigation, SiriusXM Traffic, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay comprise the Multimedia Package ($2,300).
With only $2,000 separating the 250 4Matic from the base model, it only makes sense to go for the more premium option; after all, this is a premium SUV. The upper trim offers all the same features as the GLA 250, but the added four-wheel-drive gives it slightly better performance and handling, even around town. The 4Matic is also compatible with every package available to the GLA. We'd opt for the Multimedia Package as well as the Driver Assist Package for an all-inclusive GLA at a still relatively affordable price.
The GLC is the big brother to the GLA, so it is naturally going to be a bit better in just about every regard. The larger SUV's engine produces 47 hp more than the GLA, which gives it that little bit extra punch despite its larger dimensions. These larger dimensions also mean that the GLC is more spacious inside, with a larger trunk supplying an impressive 19.4 cubic feet. With the higher starting price of $40,550, the GLC also offers superior build-quality and more comfortable seating appointments. The only way in which the larger SUV falls short is in its size. Some people may prefer the better maneuverability of a smaller car, or it may simply be too inconvenient to drive anything bigger in their area. But in every other way, the GLC is the better choice.
In many ways, the X1 is very much akin to the GLA. It offers excellent performance and handling, as well as great tech features and daily-driver characteristics. However, the Mercedes ranks a bit higher in terms of the former by being more nimble, and lower when it comes to the latter. If you're looking for a small SUV that offers good performance while still providing sufficient cargo space, interior comfort, and a list of useful safety and infotainment features, then it will be hard to beat the BMW X1.