Automakers, as many businesses do, try to catch buyers at an early age because satisfied customers can be loyal for life. Buying a new Mercedes-Benz and getting the image that comes with it was not an option when I got my first real job. Choosing to work in the media ' that's my fault.
Mercedes's strategy to snag first-time buyers has been quite successful with the CLA coupe-like sedan that starts at $32,429. Its newest temptation is the GLA250.
Wide and squat, GLA is built on the same front-drive platform as CLA. Five inches shorter and lower than a Honda CR-V, the hatchback has a silhouette unlike the tall, boxy GLK Class.
A base GLA250 retails for $32,225. There's a pot o' gold at the end of every rainbow, too. Good luck finding either. Desirable features like a backup camera and all-wheel drive rapidly push the price skyward. While the car can top out at a lofty $53,000, my test car (without keyless ignition) had a sticker price of $45,505. A new Nissan Versa can be bought for the price of the option packages.
The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine makes 208 horsepower and 258- pound-feet of torque low in the power band. Still, throttle response is sluggish off the line. Sport mode eliminates some of the initial lag, but gears are sustained noticeably longer, a dynamic not everyone will like. GLA250 ultimately redeems itself with sprints from 0 to 60 miles an hour in approximately seven seconds.
A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission fires off snappy shifts. Spring for the $2,000 all-wheel drive and GLA will deliver owners to hiking trailheads and Starbucks on snowy days. Even with eight inches of ground clearance, this Mercedes won't challenge Land Rover Discovery Sport.
A good size for urban chores, GLA is agile. Steering is lighter than expected from a Stuttgart machine. At highway speeds, GLA is moderately quiet, the firm suspension generally comfortable. Sharp impacts are felt and there's a hint of bounce after bumps. Windows are narrow, so the optional blind-spot warning is $550 well spent.
Fuel economy is rated by the government at 24 miles per gallon in the city, 32 on the highway using specified premium fuel. I saw 27 in mixed driving. An aggressive start-stop mode shuts the engine down at standstill. I turned the system off.
The cabin, with its raised dashboard, does not have the style and quality found in the C-Class sedan, but it is an upgrade from nonluxury brands. Seats are comfortable and supportive, and cup holders are plentiful, but owners will yearn for a more comprehensible user interface.
For a smaller vehicle, GLA's back seat is not half bad for two average-size adults. There are no pockets on the seat backs, and cup holders that emerge from the armrest are actively user-hostile.
The cargo hold is nearly the same size as a midsize sedan, and dropping the seats creates the same cave-of-a-space as VW Golf, a car that feels every bit as German as GLA. Maybe more so.
Small premium crossover shoppers will look at Audi Q3 and BMW X1. Frugal buyers can choose a fully loaded Honda CR-V, Ford Escape or Mazda CX-5 and save an easy $10,000. None of those have the Mercedes star, though. Loyalty to it, even at the bottom rung, comes at a price.