By Basem Wasef, Contributing Editor
Sometimes, it pays to wait. Mercedes-Benz could have jumped into the compact-SUV genre when competitors like the BMW X1 hit the market, but their patience produced the sleekly styled 2015 GLA-Class, which expands upon the sub-$30,000 Mercedes-Benz CLA's underpinnings and shares engines with that strong-selling sedan. Unlike the BMW X1, Range Rover Evoque, or Audi's soon-to-be released Q3, the all-new 2015 Mercedes GLA250 and its feral sibling, the GLA45 AMG, are slung low to the ground and more closely resemble bulbous wagons than high-riding SUVs. The result is an affordable, smallish SUV that's dialed in to appeal to driving enthusiasts, not just traditional sport ute fans – which gives this affordable hatchback huge potential for success.
Crave practicality and need four doors, but can't commit to a full-blown SUV? Slip into a GLA250. Feeling more extroverted about your driving? You will find satisfaction from the GLA45 AMG's more robust performance capabilities.
If you're looking for a bigger, more imposing SUV that towers over traffic and drives large, head towards the Mercedes M-Class or GL. The new GLA is all about providing just enough size (and in the case of the AMG version, more than enough performance) – which is not necessarily for everybody.
The 2015 Mercedes GLA is similar in size to the global A-Class vehicle, but is an all-new body style wrapped around the Mercedes-Benz CLA's chassis and engine configurations, which uses a front-drive or all-wheel-drive platform.
Driving Impressions If you're the type to fight for the driver's seat, the standard-issue Mercedes GLA250 has a lot to like, while the GLA45 AMG offers even more to love. The base-model...... SUV is powered by a 208-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder that delivers a respectable amount of grunt that's good for sprints to 60 mph in an estimated 7.1 seconds. Thanks to a low center of gravity, handling feels nimble and the GLA tracks nicely through corners, with a predictable amount of understeer as the adhesion limits are approached. The 355-horsepower GLA45 AMG is livelier, louder, and more fun to launch from a standstill, though its behavior is more measured (and less explosive) than those of other, pricier AMG models. Though its estimated 4.8 second 0-to-60-mph time is slower than its CLA45 sedan counterpart, this AMG nonetheless offers an entertaining and rewarding experience behind the wheel.
DOWNHILL SPEED REGULATION
Hill descent control isn't something you would typically associate with this class of SUV, but just knowing the new Mercedes GLA can manage its velocity on a steep downhill makes us like it more. After all, who doesn't love an overachiever?
Epic sunroofs are fine and dandy on larger vehicles, but where you really appreciate their airy touch is on smaller cars like the GLA. In this application, the big expanse of glass opens up the cabin and makes it a more pleasant space.
Though the 2015 GLA-Class feels somewhat coupe-like from the front seats (which is no accident – after all, it's essentially based on the so-called 4-door coupe format of the CLA), rear passengers are met with more generous headroom thanks to the GLA's 3.5-inch-taller SUV profile. As such, this bubble-like greenhouse is bestowed with poplar, burl walnut, or aluminum trim options which make it feel rather upscale in spite of its accessible price point. Those who won't spring for leather will get the faux – but convincing – MB-Tex upholstery instead.Exterior
You can tell a lot about a car by its available colors, and the new Mercedes GLA's available palette suggests a level of sophistication and maturity that you simply can't find in other accessible offerings. Early adopters can choose the Edition 1 version, of which 750 will be built, with its special combo of 10-spoke black wheels and white paint. AMG versions receive the obligatory aggressive body treatment, while an optional Aerodynamics Package goes to 11 with a larger front splitter, flics on the nose, and a big roof spoiler.
The GLA250 comes with an impressive list of safety items, including collision prevention with autonomous braking and attention assist. Other unexpected standard items include an off-road mode with hill-descent control and a graphical representation of suspension and steering settings with 4Matic versions. Engine stop/start and a power liftgate round out the list of off-the-shelf items you might not expect in a reasonably priced Mercedes-Benz.
If you're smitten with the AMG model's looks but are stuck with a standard-sized budget, the Sport Package adds meaner bodywork and 19-inch, 5-spoke AMG wheels. Available convenience items include blind-spot assistance, a rearview camera, adaptive cruise control, and park assist, which helps find a parking spot and takes the reigns by steering the GLA into the open space.
Both of the 2015 GLA's engine offerings are mated to 7-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmissions. The lineup's powerplants couldn't be more different in terms of spec, however – the GLA250's 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbo produces 208 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, while the GLA45 AMG's yields 355 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque (as well as a more aggressively programmed transmission). The new GLA250 is available in front-wheel-drive or in all-wheel-drive 4Matic trim.
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4
208 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm
258 lb-ft of torque @ 1,250-4,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 24/32 mpg
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4
355 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
332 lb-ft of torque @ 2,250-5,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 23/29 mpg
In front-drive form, pricing for the 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 compact crossover SUV starts just over $32,000, with the all-wheel-drive version taking off at about $2,000 above that. At that mark, the GLA represents a solid value considering its high-quality interior and generous list of standard equipment. Add the expected markup for optional luxury and convenience packages, and you'll climb into the realm of higher-end vehicles more typically associated with hefty list prices... but if you don't mind keeping it somewhat simple, you should be able to purchase a new GLA for less than you might think. The AMG version commands its requisite price boost, starting a little over $49,000, but the sportier model also delivers a fiercer, more mature driving experience. Resale value should also work in the new GLA's favor, as Mercedes vehicles tend to hold their value more than most.