There’s no mistaking this new premium crossover for anything but a Mercedes product: the grille and distinctive prominent hood see nicely to that. That’s a good thing for the GLA 250, because the premium compact crossover market is getting kind of crowded.

I’ve always liked compact SUVs, and the cars that evolved over the years into compact crossover vehicles. Cars like the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Suzuki Sidekick/Vitara developed a blend of multi-purpose usefulness, reasonably entertaining driving dynamics and just a touch of bad-weather confidence that made them excellent all-around companions. The past few years have seen BMW, Audi, Lincoln, Buick and others send new offerings into the segment, and Mercedes introduced the GLA-Class just over a year ago to answer that challenge.

There’s a fairly specific approach that Mercedes takes to its vehicles, with reasonably consistent results. I spent a week with the 2015 Mercedes GLA 250 to see if it lived up to the high expectations invoked by the three-pointed star on the grille.

Continue reading for the full story.

  • 2015 Mercedes GLA 250 - Driven
  • Year:
    2015
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • 0-60 time:
    6 sec. (Est.)
  • Top Speed:
    155 mph (Est.)
  • Price:
    45180
  • car segment:
  • body style:

Exterior

2015 Mercedes GLA 250 - Driven Exterior Test drive
- image 633944
2015 Mercedes GLA 250 - Driven Exterior Test drive
- image 633951
2015 Mercedes GLA 250 - Driven Exterior Test drive
- image 633947
It’s got a sleek, urban, ready-for-action look, in contrast to the more demure competition from Audi and BMW.

It may be one of the junior members of the fleet, but Mercedes has made the GLA-Class an eye-catching vehicle. It’s got a sleek, urban, ready-for-action look, in contrast to the more demure competition from Audi and BMW.

Big wheels and flares and lower-body detailing give the GLA 250 a planted, solid stance, as well as a hint of big-pawed puppy. Style influence from the CLA-Class and other Mercedes products makes the GLA 250 look larger than it is; the car has high shoulders, a high body, large wheels and a comparatively low roof with a strong fastback line.

The hood bulges, and a wide two-bar grille grins with confidence.Tough touches include faux skid plates and scratch-resistant rocker panels. The roof features a set of dark glass panels framed by chrome roof rails.

Interior

2015 Mercedes GLA 250 - Driven Interior Test drive
- image 633954
2015 Mercedes GLA 250 - Driven Interior Test drive
- image 633956
2015 Mercedes GLA 250 - Driven Interior Test drive
- image 633957

Mercedes has gone similarly all-out on the interior. There’s a big swath of decorative trim across the dash and a free-standing (ish) information display, similar to Mercedes’ larger cars, and a choice of six interior environments, including an incredibly handsome black on brown leather layout. The trim can be aluminum, burl walnut or poplar wood. Round air vents are mounted in the wood, handsomely retro, and the two-dial instrument panel strikes a fantastic balance between sport and luxury.

The final touch on the interior mood is some excellent sound-deadening; the cabin is as quiet as any Mercedes sedan.

The final touch on the interior mood is some excellent sound-deadening; the cabin is as quiet as any Mercedes sedan. The rotary knob for the COMAND infotainment system is located off-center on the front of the console, a concession to the limited real estate inside the smallish GLA 250, and it takes some getting used to, but like many Mercedes ergonomic decisions it only took me a day or so to acclimate.

The GLA 250 is the junior member of Mercedes’ crossover lineup, but it is available with driver assist and luxury features borrowed from the E-Class and others, including the Attention Assist drowsy-driver detection system, a radar-based collision-avoidance system with autonomous braking, a blind-spot warning system and automated parking assist. The GLA 250 has no problem acting like a proper Mercedes luxury car.

The GLA 250 barely holds enough cargo to be called a crossover. The GLA’s best carrying four people rather than a lot of stuff. The power tailgate opens up to reveal a modest amount of cargo space. It’s got a low cargo floor, but in general I found it best suited to carrying smallish loads, even with the rear seats folded. Tailgate or not, big stuff’s not going to fit in here.

I didn’t care for the electronic shifter stalk, but that’s a matter of taste. It becomes intuitive easily enough, so the learning curve is short, but it’s a very flimsy-feeling part. BMW and Mercedes have both embraced (or, "insisted upon") the soft-touch electronic gear selectors, for better or for worse. It’s arguably a benefit in the compact GLA 250.

Drivetrain

2015 Mercedes GLA 250 - Driven Exterior Test drive
- image 633948

Mercedes offers the GLA-Class in two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive flavors. I sampled the GLA 250 4MATIC, whose 2.0 liter direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder produces two hundred and eight horsepower and is just enough for the 3,400-pound curb weight. I had a hard time determining how powerful it was at first, as the electronic throttle is one of the most numb I’ve driven in a while.

Eco mode helps to nudge fuel economy to 32 on the freeway but does so at the expense of respectable acceleration.

A hard push on the gas is required to get its attention, especially in the default “Eco” mode, which helps to nudge fuel economy to 32 on the freeway but does so at the expense of respectable acceleration. In other words, the GLA 250 sometimes has trouble getting out of its own way. It’s even more noticeable if the stop-start has shut it down at a traffic light. Switching to Sport mode brings those two hundred-plus horses to life and makes the GLA 250 less languid, slicing 0 to 60 times to just over seven seconds—but also takes a noticeable bite out of fuel economy. Smooth shifts are delivered by a seven-speed automatic that’s as seamless as a CVT.

The GLA 250 features the newest version of Mercedes’ 4MATIC all-wheel drive system, which under most circumstances is notable for its invisibility. Fully variable torque distribution means that the GLA 250 will shift power front to rear and side to side to combat slippage, and it never makes a big deal out of doing so.

Believe it or not, Mercedes intends for the GLA 250 to be off-road capable. The M-Class always offered a surprising measure of actual skill in the dirt, and the GLA 250 is similarly equipped. 4MATIC-equipped models come with Downhill Speed Regulation, Mercedes’ version of hill descent control.

The transmission has an off-road mode as well. Shift points and throttle regulation are tweaked to improve control on loose surfaces. The central information screen also has an off-road information display. Mercedes says the GLA 250 will climb a reasonable grade, though the approach and departure angles are hardly Jeep-like.

During my week with the GLA 250, I didn’t get to test it off-road. Around town, the big wheels and slightly underpowered engine contributed to a sluggish and clumsy feeling that was a bit misleading; the GLA actually handles really well. Kicked into Sport mode, the GLA comes alive in more ways than one. Emergency maneuvers are dispatched easily, and the fully independent suspension is quite willing to communicate what it’s up to…if you listen very closely.

The GLA 250 features three control arms at each wheel, a setup that provides dynamic control in all directions. The electronic power steering doesn’t impart quite enough feel for it to be sporty, but the GLA 250 does a good job of not driving like a truck. In fact, the steering includes active safety measures as well; it can react to oversteer, and keep the car straight when braking on slick surfaces.

Prices

2015 Mercedes GLA 250 - Driven Exterior Test drive
- image 633952

Oh, pricing. That’s always the hard part with Mercedes, isn’t it? On one hand, the company has a long history of making cars that are worth it and feel that way — even when the quality wobbled a bit in the late ’90s, the cars still felt special. On the other hand…everything comes at a cost. The GLA 250 starts at a relatively reasonable $31,300 for two-wheel drive and $33,300 with all-wheel drive. That’s within a few bills of the BMW X1 and Audi Q3. But things quickly take a turn for the…well, for the Mercedes. After the addition of a $2,300 Premium Package, a $2,100 Multi-Media Package, a $2,200 Sport Package and other options, the window sticker on my tester easily hit $45,180.

Competition

2013 BMW X1

2013 BMW X1 High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
- image 452597

The X1 seems like a slightly taller 3-Series station wagon, which might be a good thing since there’s currently no 3-Series wagon offered in the U.S. The X1 handles like a sports sedan and is available with a choice of four- or six-cylinder power. It’s small, but makes up for lost practicality with performance gear.

Read our full review here.

2016 Audi Q3

2016 Audi Q3 High Resolution Exterior
- image 576588

Audi’s junior crossover is a careful distillation of the larger Q5 and Q7, and rides and drives like a scaled-down version of those cars. It’s a solid and confident driver, with a 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder and six-speed automatic transmission. Audi’s range of amenities and infotainment is also along for the ride.

Read our full review here.

2015 Lincoln MKC

2015 - 2017 Lincoln MKC High Resolution Exterior
- image 532099

The handsome MKC represents a new direction for Lincoln, and one that bodes well for the brand. The MKC is an elegant luxury crossover that takes full advantage of its kinship with the Ford Escape to offer economical engines and entertaining handling.

Read our full review here.

Conclusion

2015 Mercedes GLA 250 - Driven Exterior Test drive
- image 633946

The GLA 250 strikes an interesting pose, with styling for the hip, gentrified side of town and the promise of a dash of actual off-road capability beneath. I’d be surprised to ever actually see a GLA 250 out in the dirt, of course, but having the ability counts for something. Though it’s unlikely to get The Nod from Jeep and Land Rover guys any time soon, this little crossover doesn’t disappoint when it comes to being a jack of all (suburban) trades, just like the vehicles that founded this class were. At the same time, it’s also a Mercedes through and through, with all of the good stuff that makes Mercedes-Benz products desirable.

  • Leave it
    • * Aggressively slow acceleration with ECO mode on
    • * Electronic gearshift lever
What do you think?
Show Comments
Car Finder: