When BMW launched the BMW X1 SAV (BMW speak for Sport Activity Vehicle) a few years back, it not only offered buyers a cheaper alternative to the mainstream X3 and X5 but also a smaller package that was capable of doing battle with rivals such as the Audi Q3, Lexus NX, MINI Countryman, as well as the hot selling Buick Encore in the quest for a bigger slice of the compact luxury CUV segment. Notably absent from the party were the folks at Mercedes Benz which did not have an entry prior to the GLA classes arrival. With the compact GLA250 now hitting dealer lots, does the compact Benz have what it takes to deliver a knockout blow to the BMW X1 while still offering buyers an excellent value? Read on to find out.
The exterior styling of the GLA is a solid effort for the most part, looking purely Benz while also adding a modern touch at the same time thanks to features such as sweptback headlights, a blunt upright prow, as well as the prominent Mercedes badge in the center of the two bar grille. The side profile is also aggressive though it can look awkward from some angles in certain lighting conditions. The rear styling in contrast obviously did not get the same memo about embracing modern fluidity as the front, and while the shape is typical hatchback, the over-sized tail lamps look like giant blotches, and the chrome bar tying them together (borrowed from the B-Class) looks like a tacked on afterthought which is a shame considering the cohesive yet beautiful styling found in recent offerings such as the redesigned C-Class, E-Class, and the GL SUV. Thankfully the GLA45 AMG and its performance inspired styling tweaks eliminate some of our complaints though that particular model will not arrive until sometime next year. The GLA (regardless of trim) also looks much smaller than in photographs thanks to its 60 inch height which makes it 1.5 inches shorter than the MINI Countryman, while its smaller length allows the tiny Benz to be 4.4 inches shorter than a Range Rover Evoque.
The interior of the GLA is also a mixed bag (thanks in part to its CLA based roots) but unlike the reviled and imbalanced exterior styling, the cabin does offer some welcome design elements and is a warm and comfortable place to spend time in. The seats are very comfortable with decent amounts of leg and headroom though more side bolstering is needed to match the level of support offered by the X1’s thrones. Rear seat room is also quite generous for a vehicle of its size, though it can be tight for tall adults and is best suited for children and anyone under 6’0 ft tall on long journeys.
Our lone complaint for the interior is that some of the cheapness that has come to define the CLA’s cabin has also trickled its way into the GLA with plastics and some trim elements feeling low budget and cheap (an interior upgrade package is available and is highly recommended). The infotainment screen is also borrowed from the CLA and just like in that model, we wish it would be integrated into the dashboard since it looks slightly awkward in its current position above the slick looking air vents. That said, the interior is certainly more appealing than the button happy Buick Encore, and it even trumps the X1 in overall refinement and feel with many controls ergonomically placed for ease of use.
Performance for the GLA comes from a 2.0 liter four cylinder engine that is borrowed from the CLA sedan. Good for a healthy 208 horsepower and a stout 258 lb-ft of torque, the engine makes more muscle than the 138 horsepower offered by the Buick Encore’s 1.4 liter four cylinder turbo, and also allows the GLA to make the sprint to 60 mph in a commendable 6.4 seconds. While we look forward to a more detailed drive of the GLA in the near future to see whether it can match the stellar handling behavior offered by it’s key rival the BMW X1, the seven speed dual clutch automatic transmission should allow the GLA to achieve a balanced mixture of performance and fuel economy which should please efficiency minded buyers and is a cog higher than the units offered in the Buick Encore, Lexus NX and the Audi Q3.
Pricing for the GLA begins at $34,225 which is on par with others in the segment but optional equipment and other packages quickly increase the price of admission with the GLA pictured ringing in at a hefty $45,490. While the GLA does need some tweaking before it is truly ready to deliver a decisive blow to segment mainstay’s, it does show how serious Mercedes is in taking a slice of the compact luxury CUV segment. In addition, with the bigger GLK moving upmarket, the GLA has a golden opportunity to establish its own legacy among young buyers, and we look forward to seeing what the future holds for Stuttgart’s newest and smallest CUV entry in the years to come.
A special thank you to the folks at Mercedes Benz of Bloomfield Hills for allowing me the opportunity to see the GLA up close at their annual Open Haus event, and stay tuned for our first look at another new Benz the 2015 Mercedes Benz S Class Coupe.