2018 Mercedes GLA 250

PHOENIX — The small, compact luxury crossover segment is growing rapidly, with numerous manufacturers flooding the market with a vast choice of vehicles and trim levels. Audi Q3, BMW X1, Infiniti QX30 are just a few, with Jaguar’s new E Pace going on sale in 2018. We last drove the Mercedes-Benz GLA 250, the German automaker’s first compact crossover utility vehicle, shortly after it was introduced back in 2015. It’s actually more of a hatchback than an SUV and is smaller than the company’s GLC compact crossover.

Since then, there have been few substantial changes but quite a number of minor feature and option upgrades. For 2018, front and rear bumpers have been redesigned, there’s a restyled grille and revised LED taillights. The power rear liftgate can be now opened or closed with the wave of your foot under the bumper.

There are new wheel designs, a rearview camera is now standard and the instrument cluster has a new design. Android Auto has been added to the Smartphone Integration Package along with an 8-inch infotainment screen that replaces last year’s 7-inch; a black ash matte wood trim replaces the burl walnut.

For 2018, GLA is offered in three trim levels: the base GLA 250 tested here, the performance-oriented AMG GLA 45 with 375 horsepower, and a special Ice Edition that’s mostly an appearance package and is limited to just 400 units.

Based on the same platform as the Mercedes-Benz CLA compact sedan, GLA comes standard with front wheel drive, but all-wheel drive (4Matic, in Mercedes-speak) is an option in the GLA  250, standard in the GLA 45 AMG.

Slip behind the steering wheel and you’ll discover an elevated driving position favored by many drivers. All cabin materials seem well-made and high quality, with meticulous craftsmanship. Even the MB-Tex (the company’s given name for faux leather) is actually somewhat convincing and quite nice. The center-mounted touchscreen information display screen that operates most vehicle controls and functions mimics an iPad and looks detachable, but is, in fact, fixed.

At 6-6 I’m extremely tall, but found plenty of legroom and comfortable space. Not so with the diminutive rear seat where even two average-sized adults will struggle to remain comfortable and content for even a jaunt across town.

Under the hood is the same turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine as before with 208-horsepower and 258-lb-ft of torque attached to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. A manual transmission is not offered.

Acceleration felt quick enough for the small crossover and should satisfy most drivers, but we did experience turbo lag. For those not familiar with the term, turbo lag is the gap from the time you mash the accelerator pedal until the boost from the turbocharger revs and catches up to the engine’s demand and exhaust gas speed. In other words, you step on the gas pedal and there
is a slight yet annoying delay (lag) before the turbocharger spools up and the engine engages to propel the car forward.

Although not a sports coupe, our GLA handled crisply. But the suspension is on the firm side and not so welcome on rough roads with uneven pavement. While we don’t expect many will take their all-wheel drive versions of the GLA off road, it is a surprisingly capable system and will serve owners well on snowy roads and on rougher gravel tracks. This is thanks to the optional off-road comfort suspension, which raises the body by 30 millimeters for improved capabilities.

The GLA is equipped with eight standard airbags and “Active Brake Assist” that warns the driver if there is not sufficient distance to the vehicle in front and, if required, delivers situation-appropriate braking. If the system detects that the driver isn’t reacting or reacting too late, it initiates autonomous braking in order to prevent the collision or mitigate the consequences. Also standard is  “Attention Assist,” that can detect typical signs of drowsiness via the steering wheel behavior and warn the driver. The GLA has not been crash tested by either the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

Consistent with all Mercedes-Benz vehicles, the GLA has an extensive menu of options that will boost the bottom line substantially, even when selecting a few of the more popular options like a panoramic sunroof, an upgraded Harman Kardon premium audio system or the media package with navigation, smartphone integration, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and SiriusXM or any exterior color other than black, red or white.

Overall, the Mercedes-Benz is the best-looking vehicle in the segment, and the interior is a standout as well. There’s room enough for four, even if the rear seat isn’t as roomy as we would like. And, there’s room for cargo behind the rear seats. But for all its attractive good looks, the ride might be too firm. And for those who seek a real crossover rather than a tall hatchback, GLA may not fill the bill.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $33,400 - $50,600
Price as Tested: $50,000
Seating: 4
Engine: 2.0-Liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 208
Transmission: 7-Speed dual clutch automatic
Fuel Economy: 23-MPG City – 31-MPG Highway (4Matic)

Competes With:
Audi Q3
Infiniti QX30
Jaguar E Pace

Fab Features:
Standout good looks
Agile, easy to drive
Superb safety technology

— Jim Ptueter