The 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 stands out as more evidence of the race-to-the-bottom by luxury vehicle manufacturers. The conventional wisdom for many years was that luxury brands should avoid offering lower priced models, fearing they would cheapen the brand.

An often cited example was the Jaguar X-Type, a compact sedan that sold from 2001 to 2009, then was dropped. Jaguar aficionados and some critics derided the X-Type, arguing that it demeaned the famed British brand.

Ironically, Jaguar is now developing an all-aluminum compact crossover utility vehicle, the CX17, for its growing lineup. It is part of the trend that encompasses the Mercedes GLA250 as well as compact entries from BMW, Cadillac, Lincoln and Audi.

Small crossover utility vehicles, or CUVs, are the hottest vehicles on the market. At the introduction of the GLA, a Mercedes official noted that sales of compact CUVs had passed those of midsize sedans for the first time.

Increasing numbers of consumers appear to be willing to pay higher prices for luxury models. The Acura RDX, MINI Countryman, Buick Encore and Lincoln MKC are examples of newer luxury CUVs.

Crossovers are car-based, with unit-body construction, usually with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Essentially, they are tall hatchbacks or station wagons.

That describes the new Mercedes GLA250, a luxury CUV that is reasonably priced given its level of content and performance. As usual, Mercedes likes to add a halo to most of its cars by turning them over to its hot rod division, AMG. Sure enough, there's also the GLA45 AMG, with a 355-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive.

More of the attention will be focused on the GLA250, which starts out with the Mercedes 4Matic AWD system. A lower priced, FWD arrives soon.

The 4Matic version tested for this review had a base price of $34,225 and, with options that included a navigation system, rear-view camera, power liftgate, AMG 19-inch wheels and body cladding, blind spot assist, dual-zone climate control and SiriusXM satellite radio, checked in at $44,220.

Its turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine delivers 208 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque to all four wheels through a seven-speed dual clutch automated manual transmission. The combination is enough, Mercedes specifications assert, to accelerate the GLA250 to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds, with a top speed of 130 mph and city/highway/combined fuel economy of 24/32/27 mpg.

The engine and transmission combinations in both the GLA250 and GLA45 AMG are identical to the new entry-level Mercedes CLA sedan, which is on a pace to sell more than 23,500 copies in 2015.

Though the CLA has its own charm, the GLA would be a better choice for almost anyone. It looks Mercedes classy and seats four comfortably, with plenty of head and knee room in the back seat. The fifth passenger in the center rear suffers with a hard cushion, restricted head room and large floor hump.

The interior is practical and functional, with wood grain trim, easy-to-read instruments and, on the test car, a 7-inch color screen to display navigation and other functions. Like other German cars of late, the upholstery is an artificial material called MB-Tex, high quality but not breathable. Real leather costs an additional $1,500.

There's 22 cubic feet of space behind the rear seat for cargo and the seatbacks fold flat to increase the volume to 42 cu.-ft. The tailgate is conveniently motorized.

On the road, the GLA250 feels tight and composed, and exhibits flat cornering around curves as well as a supple suspension system that absorbs road irregularities. The ride is comfortable despite the run-flat tires that eliminate the spare wheel. Electric power steering has good feedback and tracks true in a straight line.

On price, practicality, performance, convenience and comfort, the new GLA250 gets multiple thumbs up.

SPECIFICATIONS
  • 2015 MERCEDES-BENZ GLA250
  • VEHICLE TYPE: 5-passenger compact AWD CUV
  • BASE PRICE: $34,225 (as tested: $44,220)
  • ENGINE TYPE: turbo 4-cyl. w/
  • DISPLACEMENT:2.0-liter
  • HORSEPOWER (net): 208 at 5500 rpm
  • TORQUE (lb.-ft.): 258 at 1250 rpm
  • TRANSMISSION: 7-speed automatic
  • OVERALL LENGTH: 173.9 in.
  • TURNING CIRCLE (curb-to-curb): 38.8 ft.
  • CURB WEIGHT: 3,428 lbs.
  • FUEL CAPACITY: 14.8 gal.
  • EPA MILEAGE RATING: 24 mpg city, 32 mpg highway