Sitting in stop-and-go rush hour traffic, I looked around at all the other poor slobs and thought, how do people deal with this day after day? I was given the luxury of contemplating the other drivers on the road due to the fact that the 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250's adaptive cruise control was handling all my braking and accelerating. I had set what Mercedes-Benz calls Distronic Plus for 65 mph, and it seemed perfectly content to mull along at 15 mph.
If I had been driving one of Mercedes-Benz's larger cars, like the E-class, I might have been able to let go of the steering wheel, as well. However, the entry-level GLA250, a compact SUV, doesn't get the more advanced Traffic Jam Assistant found higher up in the model line.
As a compact SUV, the GLA250 offers seating for five, a high driver position and an ample cargo space measuring 42 cubic feet with the rear seats down. And more than the practicality, I liked the looks of the thing. The hood curves down toward the two-bar grille while the roof rails form a graceful line, rolling up from the A-pillars then back down at the rear. The back end slants forward, which may eat into cargo space, but it gives the whole car a sporty look.
Base price in the US for the 2015 GLA250 comes in at $33,300, making it one of the less expensive Mercedes-Benz models. That model includes the Mercedes-Benz 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. The same model begins at ?29,480 in the UK and AU$58,600 in Australia. In those two markets, you can bring the base price down further by opting for a front-wheel-drive diesel version, lower in power but greater in fuel economy.
The GLA250 model actually delivers decent fuel economy, its turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder engine rated in EPA tests at 24 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. In my driving I managed to remain in the high 20s, coming in with 28.3 mpg.
Getting 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque from this little engine, the GLA250 may not be the fastest thing on the road, but it is no slouch. I found enough get-up-and-go for quick passing maneuvers on two-lane roads, short freeway merges and generally getting ahead of the pack from a stop light.
Helping both the acceleration and fuel economy is a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. This type of transmission does away with sloppy torque converter shifting in favor of two computer-controlled clutches for quick and direct gear changes. The GLA250's transmission includes three modes: Eco, Sport and Manual. Eco reaches for the highest gears, letting the engine run slower, while Sport holds lower gears longer, especially in response to aggressive driving. When I really wanted to get aggressive, paddles on the steering wheel let me choose my gear in manual mode.
In Eco mode, the GLA250's transmission shifted smoothly and quietly, keeping itself below my threshold of awareness.
Pushing the GLA250 through the turns with the transmission in Sport mode, the electric power steering delivered satisfying precision and the stiff suspension kept the car nice and flat. However, the all-wheel-drive system contributed little to the handling as I felt the back end sliding around similar to a front-wheel-drive car. This 4Matic system is front-wheel biased, and Mercedes-Benz notes in the GLA250's specs that it can shift up to 50 percent torque to the rear wheels. Rather than supporting handling, this system seems more focused on providing icy road traction.
While I liked the general driving character of the GLA250 and enjoyed the aggressive automatic shifting from the transmission's Sport mode, the suspension did not deliver the comfort I would expect from a premium car. Whenever the road got rough I could feel harsh jolts in the cabin accompanied by the odd rattle. I found similar poor ride quality in the Mercedes-Benz CLA250, suggesting to me that Mercedes-Benz hasn't refined its small-car suspensions. Small cars from BMW and Audi show much more pliant rides.
The adaptive cruise control system, optioned into the car as part of the Driver Assistance package, worked wonders in heavy traffic. The only time I had to touch the pedals was when traffic started moving after coming to a complete stop. A quick stab at the gas pedal got the car rolling again. A blind-spot monitor system, also part of the Driver Assistance package, proved useful, warning me of cars trailing off my rear quarters with lights in the side mirrors.
Putting the car into reverse to parallel park, I was annoyed to find that this GLA250 lacked a rear-view camera, a separate option. However, a message on the instrument cluster informed me that the car could handle the parking. While I controlled the brake and accelerator, the GLA250 turned its own wheel, perfectly steering itself next to the curb and even advising me when to put it in Drive so it could straighten out. Automated parking has its novelty value, but it can be very convenient, especially if you are tired from a long day.
The display on which I was expecting to see the rear camera view was mounted up on the center of the dashboard, a smaller LCD than I have seen in Mercedes-Benz vehicles. The smaller size of the screen was due to the fact that this GLA250 did not include the navigation option, with just the bare-bones cabin tech that comes standard with the car. On the car's console, a jog dial and back button let me control all of the onscreen content, which mostly had to do with the audio and phone systems.
HD Radio comes standard in the GLA250, but I did not have satellite radio as an audio source, as that comes with the Premium package, not selected for this car. Likewise, plugging my iPhone into the car's USB port resulted in a "Device not recognized" message. I could play music from a USB drive in that port, but the car's interface only showed a folder structure, rather than the more sophisticated album, artist, genre and song categories of a full music library. While I can appreciate that some of this tech is optional, many automakers offer much less expensive cars with full iOS integration through the USB port, and a complete music library interface for a USB drive, so it seems a little chintzy of Mercedes-Benz to leave out what is essentially software.
The standard audio system sounded very good, with particularly impressive bass response. However, opting for the Premium package would have brought in a Harman Kardon Logic7 audio system.
I could stream music from my iPhone through the Bluetooth system, which also supported a full-featured hands-free phone system. That system synced with my phone's contact list, letting me search entries on the screen or use voice command to initiate calls.
Navigation, and all the other tech goodies that come as part of that package, is an expensive proposition in the GLA250. Before you can even think about adding navigation, you need to option in the Premium package at $2,300. That package then lets you add the Technology package, which costs an additional $2,480, adding almost $5,000 to the car's base price. Considering that, I was happy to use my phone for navigation, with its voice prompts read through the car's stereo via Bluetooth.
The compact SUV is an emerging class of which a few are offered by premium or luxury automakers. The Audi Q3 is a prime example, while the BMW X1 verges more on wagon territory. The 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 hits this segment with excellent looks and an appropriately powerful yet efficient driveline. Its standard all-wheel-drive system should help its appeal to those living in northern latitudes.
Cabin appointments live up to the Mercedes-Benz brand but the ride quality does not. Rough asphalt will make it rattle and bounce uncomfortably. At the same time, it feels solid and in control going through turns.
Although our GLA250 did not come with all the cabin tech available, Mercedes-Benz offers a formidable array of features, anchored by a graphically rich and capable navigation system. However, Mercedes-Benz app integration may look good on paper, but in other models I have found the system so slow as to be unusable. Optioning up the cabin tech in the GLA250 will also cost quite a bit.
One area where the GLA250 really stands out for tech, a strength of Mercedes-Benz, is in its driver assistance systems. Although the GLA250 doesn't come with the Traffic Jam Assistant available on the larger cars, the adaptive cruise control is very good, and can easily handle the long, boring stretches of road.
- Model: 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA-class
- Trim: GLA250
- Power train: Turbocharged direct injection 2-liter four-cylinder engine, seven-speed dual-clutch transmission
- EPA fuel economy: 24 mpg city/32 mpg highway
- Observed fuel economy: 28.3 mpg
- Navigation: Optional with live traffic
- Bluetooth phone support: Standard
- Digital audio sources: Bluetooth streaming, USB drive, HD Radio
- Audio system: 10-speaker system
- Driver aids: Adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitor, lane-keeping assist, automated parallel parking
- Base price: $33,300
- Price as tested: $41,200
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