Several years ago, Mercedes-Benz ran an advertising campaign asking a target segment of the population a simple question. “Isn’t it about time,” Mercedes asked, that they considered parking one of the company’s luxurious, exclusive status symbols in their driveway?
If I remember correctly, at that time it still cost a major chunk to buy a Benz, but there was some middle-class affluence to work with, and attractive leasing options that made it possible to, you know, maybe make the jump.
Up, that is.
Mercedes-Benz becomes aspirational no more. You are there!
These days it’s easier to ride behind the three-pointed star with a range of Mercedes-Benz models that are stickered close to mainstream money. So you get the luxury brand, but without the daunting dollars with which it was formerly associated.
The 2015 GLA 250 4MATIC is one example. All new this model year, it arrives with a starting price of $37,200 plus $2,075 Freight/PDI (though this varies by store), and for that you get a compact all-wheel-drive SUV that’s very well equipped, features eye-catching design and of course, the credibility of a venerable luxury nameplate. Mercedes-Benz becomes aspirational no more. You are there!
Our test vehicle added a few dollars (what’s new?) but not extreme. As-tested price was $45,650 which included the $3,800 Premium Package (automatic climate control, panoramic sunroof, blind spot assist, rear-view camera and navigation) and the $2,000 Premium Plus Package (power tailgate, exterior power folding mirrors, auto-dimming mirrors, bi-xenon headlights and media interface). There was also a $475 charge for Sirius satellite radio, which seems a bit excessive. But you do get various other packages standard (Enhanced Off-Road, Urban, Memory seating (power steering column is not included, contrary to the Mercedes-Benz consumer website’s information), Light and Sight, and Seat Comfort). You also get leatherette upholstery in three colour choices, I‘m happy to report, as standard equipment.
Additional options are a $1,000 Logic7 Harman/Kardon sound system and $900 automatic park assist (the GLA will park itself for you) with which our vehicle was not equipped. Items like ventilated seats and active headlights are not offered in the GLA 250, although intelligent cruise control (Distronic Plus) is as an unpublished standalone $1,200 option, as is a rear entertainment package at $1,292.
The GLA platform is shared with the entry-level CLA Coupe (it’s actually a sedan) but it has more ground clearance and a hatchback. Under the hood is the same 2.0L four-cylinder turbocharged and direct-injected engine making 208 hp at 5,500 rpm and 258 lb-ft of torque at 1,250–4,000 rpm.
The transmission is a dual-clutch, seven-speed automatic with electronic gear selection via a small lever on the steering column. Shift paddles on the steering wheel let you select “manually” if desired. The GLA 250 4MATIC will scoot from 0–100 km/h in a shade below seven seconds and will return 9.8/7.4/8.7 L/100 km city/highway/combined (I got 11.0 L/100 in cold weather, mainly city driving). Auto start/stop technology is standard (saving fuel at intersections) but may be disabled by the driver if desired.
Personally, I think Mercedes has done a fine job with the overall lines of the GLA. The outsized Mercedes-Benz grille badge is not shy about letting people know what you’re driving, and it echoes the face of Mercedes found on the company’s other models. The rear lights are likewise oversized, but they’re very visible at night. The GLA presents a sporty character; more sleek and low compared with the boxier BMW X1 in whose segment it competes.
Open the door and you find the current corporate interior dominated by prominent round air vents that grab your attention right away. You even find these in the top-of-the-line S-Class and I must say I don’t find them attractive there either. It’s an aesthetic that baffles me, but they appear well crafted and are definitely distinctive (in the smallish front cabin perhaps they just seem bigger than they need to be). Don’t get me wrong, though, the breathtaking quality that is immediately evident when you enter an S-Class is not found in GLA. But they’ve done a good job at the price point, nonetheless.
The so-important HMI (Human Machine Interface), called COMAND by Mercedes, consists of a rotary knob in the centre console that you jog fore, aft and sideways, spin and push to activate the vehicle’s various features. There are redundant buttons (often hard to identify) that overpopulate the centre stack and the high-definition screen that displays your navigation, entertainment and communications data is not touch activated. That’s no loss, in my view.
The system’s kind of clunky to use, but less so than some others (Cadillac’s CUE, for instance). Pretty much everything’s voice activated, so you can bypass a lot of button pushing and knob twirling by learning that.
I must say I’ve been spoiled by all the keyless start vehicles I’ve driven lately (and that includes some that cost half the price of this Benz), a feature you quickly get used to. Our GLA used a conventional key fob, its buttons small and poorly identified; hopeless at night. Just guesswork, really, as you inadvertently relock the vehicle or open the hatch. Eventually you remember, but it’s fussy to use. Keyless proximity entry with push-button start is not available on the GLA 250.
Inside, the GLA has comfortable seats and good headroom, and apart from the distinctive gearshift and prominent air vents, it’s quite conventional. The shifter, as I said, is a small stalk that you tap up or down to select Drive or Reverse. Park is selected by pressing a button on the end of the stalk. It’s not very sporty but there are paddle shifters and the column-mount location opens space on the centre console for storage containers.
Many manufacturers are now replacing big, clunky gearshifters with electronic alternatives, and the Mercedes approach is a sensible evolution. I would think that the next things that could get dumped are analog speedometers and tachometers, both of which are hard to read in this vehicle. A digital speedometer can be selected in the GLA that is far superior, and the tachometer… well, few people would miss it.
The 2.0L engine is quiet, smooth and peppy, especially off the line. You’ve got good torque underfoot at low engine speeds, so the GLA can get up and go with little effort. Ease up on the gas, though, and the transmission reaches for higher gears quickly, causing the engine speed to dive. Now it lugs along, even to the point that a mild vibration can be felt throughout the vehicle (70 km/h at 1,050 rpm will do that). Our personal Volkswagen Tiguan does the same thing, as do many other vehicles so it’s not uncommon. Just annoying.
It’s a fuel saving strategy, of course; drop the engine speed, and you use less gas. To counter this, if desired, you can select a Sport mode, which may keep the rpm’s up (but didn’t make much of a difference), or simply use the paddle shifter to select a lower gear when required. The driver knows best in this situation, don’t you think? There is a Manual option, but (or “and,” depending on your point of view) it holds the gear until you change it. Regardless, the GLA defaults to its normal setting whenever you start it.
The front cabin is roomy enough, but you know you’re in a compact vehicle, and rear seating is plenty comfortable for two adults. Dropping the rear seats to open up its cargo area nicely augments the GLA’s utility. There’s also a ski pass-through, easily reached from the outside that handles two pairs of skis. The power liftgate can be opened from outside with the keyfob or inside via a button on the door. A power liftgate is another feature I’ve come to appreciate.
Outward visibility is good to the front, but obstructed by huge B pillars to the side and a small rear window flanked by wide C pillars challenges the view behind. So, thank goodness for the blind spot monitors which are very effective and the excellent rear-view camera that is unaffected by snow, rain and other debris, giving you a clear, bright view of the space behind your vehicle (it pivots on a small motor when required, hidden above the licence plate). These don’t replace eyesight, but they are very useful supplements.
The standard rain-sensing wipers can be capricious, but the system itself, along with the heated washer nozzles, is first rate. And the high-definition display offers crisp graphics and text that are a cut above displays from other manufacturers.
We drove the GLA in challenging winter conditions, finding it stable and predictable on the slippery surfaces. The 4MATIC system is excellent when starting from standstill and the vehicle felt stable in all conditions. If you do slide (on ice; even at slow speeds this can happen) the GLA is easily corrected, responsive to throttle, brakes and steering input. The Sport Mode, as I say, is supposed to tighten the steering and hold the gears a bit longer when accelerating, but overall the GLA’s happy place is in a relaxed mode, quick to exert minimum effort once its reached normal driving speeds.
As such, it’s not a highly-strung vehicle that enthusiasts would find particularly entertaining. For that, Mercedes-Benz offers a 355-hp GLA 45 AMG 4MATIC. That, my friends, is some kind of fun.
4 years/80,000 km; 4 years/80,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance 24-hour roadside assistance
|Model Tested||2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4MATIC||Destination Fee||$2,075|
|Base Price||$37,200||Price as Tested||$45,650|
Premium Package - $3,800, Premium Plus Package - $2,000, Sirius satellite radio - $475