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First drive: 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic [Review]

by Mark Elias

Mercedes is book-ending its popular CLA sedan with the new GLA compact crossover.

If the CLA sport sedan is Mercedes-Benz's entry into the passenger side of the equation, the 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 is the portal into the brand's SUV ranks, which now numbers five vehicles including the GLA, GLK, ML, GL and G class models. The fact that the GLA and CLA share the same platform makes them even more intertwined.

The CLA is already an undisputed success, with more than 30,000 units sold to date and a call in for as many more as possible to meet additional demand. And with the compact SUV market outpacing midsize cars for the first time, Mercedes is hoping that with the GLA, lightning strikes twice.

On sale now, the company chose the Burlington, Vermont, area as the perfect place to put the new SUV through its paces. With autumn leaves approaching full-roar, read on as we describe this new compact SUV.

Fully Capable

As a daily driver, the GLA will handle everything from runs to school, the Super Target, and pickups of arriving out-of-towners followed by the inevitable and highly anticipated return of same, back to the airport. But the GLA is more than just an around-town go-getter. According to Mercedes, it is capable of off-road excursions into the great beyond. But realities have shown that this is rarely how the vehicles are used. Still, the abilities are built-in to satisfy the Walter Mitty in all of us. M-B thinks that those would-be Mittys (a redundancy, perhaps) will, in most cases be in the 30+ range, and would generally buy a CLA except for the fact they need the added utility that a compact SUV brings.

By the numbers

Sized for the city, the 2015 GLA measures 173.9-inches from nose-to-tail, with a 106.3-inch wheelbase and is 71-inches wide by 60-inches tall. Equipped with a singular 2.0-liter four cylinder direct-injection engine that makes 208-horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, it is powered by a front-wheel-drive (available Quarter 1 of 2015), or in the case of our sampler, a new-generation all-wheel-drive 4Matic version with a power-take-off (PTO) to the rear axle utilizing an electro-hydraulically controlled multi-disc clutch and a collapsible driveshaft for accident protection. The system supplies fully variable front-to-rear torque distribution down to a 50:50 split.

The 4Matic version is mated to a seven-speed DCT (dual-clutch) automatic gearbox, equipped with paddle shift levers. Corner cutting was enhanced by brake-induced Torque Vectoring that incorporates inside rear wheel braking to artificially shorten the length of the vehicle through the turns. All 4Matics are equipped with Downhill Speed Regulation, which helps the GLA to creep down an incline through a combination of gearing, engine speed and braking. Controls are also present on the center console, which enable the GLA to adapt easily to varying sorts of terrain. When using such features, the center display can be configured to display steering angles, a compass and transmission modes.

The GLA rides on Mercedes' sport suspension consisting of MacPherson struts with spring struts and wishbones in front and a multilink kit that includes coil springs, MacPherson struts and anti-dive geometry at the rear. Steering comes from a rack and pinion speed sensitive electromechanical steering system, which also serves to countersteer in the case of oversteer. ECO start/stop is standard on this small SUV that tips the scales at 3,384-pounds. Regardless of preliminary fuel economy ratings of 24 City / 32 Highway / with a 27 mpg average, the GLA can still go zero-to-60 in less than eight seconds and top out at 130 mph.

The GLA is not just about performance. Safety manages a few hits as well, including

Collision Prevention Assist with autonomous braking that can bring the vehicle to a complete stop and eight standard airbags. Lane departure warning and blind-spot detection are optional extras.

The CLA transformed

The GLA adopts many of the same design cues as seen in the CLA, including the "dropping lines” contours along the flanks of the vehicle. An upright star-styled grille leaves no doubt as to the SUV's heritage and in the case of our high-line 4Matic tester, was accented with available Bi-Xenon headlamps and LED running lights. Simulated skid plates are front and rear, to at-least hint at the GLA's off-road abilities. From the rear, in addition to the GLA's sexy hips, we note a hint of the bulbous look found on the Porsche Macan. As for design influences, that's definitely not a bad thing.

Our tester was enhanced with the available Sport Package ($2,200), which included AMG Wheels, bodystyling and AMG brakes with M-B logos and drilled rotors. Chrome roof rails are included as standard to finish off the visual excitement.

Cue the CLA interior

If you liked the interior of the CLA compact sedan, so too will the GLA strike your fancy. With a design language similar to that found in the sedan, the SUV carries forth with well-executed materials that clearly label this as a Mercedes-Benz. Soft-touch materials abound with single-needle tailoring. A spartan, no-nonsense gauge binnacle offers driver information, including a central TFT screen that can be changed to display navigation, audio, trip and performance information. The freestanding seven-inch display holds sway atop the center console and to us is one of the least desirable features of this interior.

On the other hand, we like the brushed galvanized appearance on metallic pieces throughout, and the details presented through the five metal climate control vents. Matte-finished wood trim is another design option to further personalize an owner's GLA.

The GLA's fourteen-way power seats offered hours of comfort on the twisty turns of backroad Vermont. Combined with the tilt and telescoping three-spoke steering wheel, virtually anyone can find a good seating position.…as long as you can stay out of the rear seat. Since this is a compact SUV, chances are, most will find the rear seat legroom um, rather challenging. On the other hand, they do fold down in a 60-40 split.

Our tester included the Multimedia Package ($2,480), which included a rearview camera, M-B Comand with Navigation and Voice Control, 10GB music register, seven-inch display, Sirius XM radio Traffic and Weather, and DVD player.

Further back, the GLA has approximately 17-cubic feet of storage with the rear seats in the upright position. Fold them forward for an increase to 43.5-cubic feet, which is accessed through the standard M-B automatic liftgate function.

Driving impressions

The GLA accelerated well on roads including rolling hills, with more than adequate power. Zero to 60 comes on in around 7.1-seconds. Although we found the steering to be a bit touchy, almost to the point of being overly boosted, it still offered very quick response. Quick corrections revealed a bit of side-to-side wallow, that while not exactly unpleasant, didn't provide the firm ride that some drivers may expect. The eight-inches of ground clearance could probably take the blame for that. For those enthusiast drivers, there is the GLA 45 AMG 4Matic, and its 4.5-inches of ground clearance.

The three drive modes (Eco, Sport and Manual) allowed us to mix it up a bit on the back roads with each of their own particular characteristics. E mode featured a tall tip-in, and a cancellable ECO start/stop mode, which by design, helps to boost fuel economy, while the Sport mode does exactly the opposite, holding gears inside the stellar seven-speed automatic just a bit longer. We enjoyed shifting the steering wheel-mounted paddles in Sport mode which then reverted back to fully automatic functions a few seconds later. The Manual mode allowed us to bang through the gears and hold them as long as we wanted.

At speed on most road surfaces we thought the interior kept road noises, for the most part, at bay. It was only on the coarsest of pavements that the 19-inch high-performance tires started to chatter. It was also at that point we noticed the central TFT readout saying we were averaging 26 mpg.

Leftlane's Bottom Line

Mercedes-Benz bolsters its entry-level portfolio with the 2015 GLA250 4Matic. Now stabled alongside the CLA, the GLA may prove to be as popular, if not more so, than its compact sedan counterpart. Priced rightly, starting at $33,300, it is a total reinterpretation of the compact SUV segment.

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic base price: $33,300. As tested: $45,175.

Mountain grey paint, $720; Aluminum trim, $150; Premium Package, $2,300; Sport Package, $2,200; Interior Package, $1,700; Multimedia Package, $2,480; Blindspot assist, $550; Bi-Xenon headlamps, $850; Destination, $925.

Photos by Mark Elias.

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