As with so many other people that will buy this vehicle, this is actually the first time I've driven a Mercedes-Benz for a full week, as all other Mercedes-Benz tests I have performed were on one-day events, so I'm going to spend some quality time with this little crossover to reacquaint myself with the brand.
So what exactly is it that I have in my driveway this week? The all-new 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4Matic, this is Mercedes-Benz's answer to the growing B-class compact crossover market. These are small crossovers, not any larger than compact hatchbacks, but for the most part they offer all-wheel drive as standard equipment, something lacking in the compact hatchback class of vehicles.
I'm not a huge fan of the class of vehicle if I'm honest. Most are too small to be useful yet get worst fuel economy than their "lower" counterparts. But this is what consumers want, the image of driving a crossover and in many cases the perceived safety of sitting higher from the ground.
I have to say though the brands have been quick to adapt. Typically they are the slowest to adapt to a new class of vehicle, but in this class all the major players are here -- which tells me the demand is even larger than I may think.
My GLA tester is equipped with a good amount of technology and features -- certainly not lacking much in that regard and the price (just north of $45k) reflects that. Not an inexpensive small vehicle that is for sure, despite the size the price is large.
Pricing: 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4MATIC
Base Price: $37,200
Options: Premium Package - $3,800, Premium Plus Package - $2,000, Sirius satellite radio - $475
A/C Tax: $100
Price as tested: $45,650
Because I haven't had a Mercedes-Benz product in my hands for a long time, I spent extra time investigating the interior of this GLA in the past couple of days. The first thing I would like to remark on is the smell – yup, every new car has its own smell and if you double-blindfolded me I could probably tell you what brand vehicle I am sitting in purely based on that smell.
So I took a big whiff in this Merc so I could distinguish it and I think it would trick me. This Mercedes smells very much like a Porsche – they must share a leather or plastics supplier. Okay, perhaps this is not all that relevant, but i found it interesting nonetheless.
On to the interior itself. I've read and heard from colleagues a lot of complaints about the GLA not being a "real" Mercedes-Benz product, in that it isn't as high end and feels less "upscale." This may or may not be the case but the GLA on its own certainly is no economy car prison. The buttons and switchgear all feel premium, the leather stitching on the door panels looks high quality and the ergonomics are good.
Everything but the tacked-on navigation screen in the centre of the dash looks like it belongs in a high-end luxury vehicle. The steering wheel–mounted gear selector allows for more storage in the centre console in the form of a third cupholder and the lighting effects at night certainly transform the vehicle.
Although it results in a tiny interior space with minimal headroom, the GLA looks excellent. I was miffed again this morning when my curling broom didn't fit – couldn't we make the vehicle just slightly wider or longer? There is a pass-through, which was easy to access so I used that, but a curling broom fits in most every compact sedan I've driven so it certainly speaks volumes on the size of this thing.
Against the grain of everyone else I, for the most part, praise the interior of the GLA250 for what it is. But again I may go against the grain on the driving experience, while most seem to feel the GLA offers good power and driveability my opinion differs slightly.
The 2.0L direct-injection turbocharged engine delivers a good amount of horsepower at 208 and a very healthy amount of torque at 258 lb-ft from just 1,250 rpm, but like an older diesel engine it needs that turbocharged boost. The result is a huge amount of turbo lag when starting from a stop, press the accelerator down and it seems nothing happens for 1..2..3..4 seconds then BAM you shoot forward. I've found it disconcerting when trying to skirt through traffic at a left turn.
Once moving the seven-speed transmission is ultra quick to upshift and get you into that next higher gear. The result, it seems, is that the engine is constantly lugging around at low RPM. Good for fuel economy, but it does drone and rumble a little as a result and it means any slight incline requires that extra downshift. Switching between sport and eco mode didn't seem to make a difference at all, you can use the paddles to shift manually but that thrill wears off fast.
In the city the GLA250 is quiet and rides surprisingly well for its short wheelbase, never harsh or bouncy. On the highway though the road noise (for this class and price of vehicle) is high and intrusive, although that could be partially attributed to the winter tires on my tester.
It's pretty rare that many people comment on my test vehicle, but I have to say that I had a lot this week. Most of the comments were from women – they seem to love this vehicle and I guess it proves that Mercedes has done something right. Personally I am not a huge fan of the styling but I had so many comments about how good it looks, I must be a little wrong.
In terms of fuel economy, the GLA 250 did okay for its power to weight ratio, especially considering the cold, snow and all-wheel-drive factors. But considering the size of the vehicle, it did poorly, you certainly could drive a much larger crossover and achieve similar fuel consumption numbers. I averaged 9.8 L/100 km over the week, which is exactly the Natural Resources Canada city rating – too bad most of my driving was highway.
I am happy to report that the GLA does provide great stability and fun in the snow as well; a little snow provided an excellent opportunity to give the stability control a little workout on Thursday.
Overall the GLA 250 actually proved to be a good drive, despite some of its shortcomings. This category is heating up with the introduction of the Audi Q3 and Lexus NX, so be sure to drive them all if you are in the market for a small luxury hatchback.