Compact crossovers continue to populate the automotive landscape. These scaled-down utility vehicles are primed for urban use because they are small enough to slip easily through congestion, haul various kinds of cargo and do so while returning good gas mileage.
The Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic is one of the newest and it’s powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine with 208 horsepower. The base price of $33,300 puts it squarely in the sight of young buyers. The all-wheel-drive GLA is related to the CLA sedan. A front-wheel-drive GLA will be available next spring for about $2,000 less.
Styling makes the new crop of compact crossovers appealing, and the little Benz is one of the best looking of its kind. It has a bold nose and a low, sleek roof that ends in a large tailgate.
The GLA, at 173 inches long, 60 inches tall and 71 inches wide, is the smallest crossover Mercedes offers. It is roughly 5 inches shorter and 8 inches lower than the larger GLK crossover whose base price is about $8,000 more.
Even though all-wheel drive is standard, and the car sits further off the ground (for that very occasional off-road trek), the GLA feels and drives like a sedan. The test car’s optional 19-inch wheels filled the fenders nicely and added a beefy look but the ride was often rather thumpy over expansion strips or sharp bumps. There was a fair amount of road or tire noise through the cabin at highway speeds as well.
When I pushed the GLA hard into a turn the tires felt a bit mushy.
The 2.0-liter engine is rated at 24 miles per gallon in the city and 32 on the highway. I only drove the car for a little more than a day, and the onboard computer read 21.4 mpg in city driving.
The twin-scroll turbo delivers decent torque, but I found that off-the-mark acceleration was a bit soft, due in part to the seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic’s tendency to shift into as high a gear as possible for optimum mileage. Mercedes says the base GLA hits 60 miles per hour in 7.1 seconds and has a top track speed of 130 mph. Switching from Eco to Sport mode brought noticeable life to the car although mileage would suffer some. The engine seemed a bit noisy at full throttle.
Performance buffs will be pleased to know that a GLA45 AMG is also available. Mercedes says it is the most powerful series-produced four-cylinder turbo in the world. It has 355 horsepower, and that’s a power output of 178 horsepower per liter. The base price for that jewel is $48,300.
The transmission has a mode for light off-road use. The DSR (Downhill Speed Regulation) mode enables the car to control itself on steep descents. The LCD screen has an off-road display that shows percent of gradient, a compass, the roll angle and DSR activation.
The GLA’s interior reflects the youthful audience for which the car is intended. Five round air vents dominate the instrument panel. A wood grain or metallic trim panel arcs across the dash behind the vents, creating a feeling of open space and style.
Mbrace2 is an infotainment system that provides emergency notification as well as on-the-go access to the Internet. Owners are able to use their smartphone to lock or unlock the car from a distance and instantly find it in a parking lot.
A 5.8-inch LCD screen (7 inches if you choose the multimedia option) sits in the center of the instrument panel. Navigation has a three-dimensional map option and a rearview camera. A mouse-like knob on the console can be used for navigation, telephone and audio settings but separate controls are also located on the instrument panel. Climate-control knobs and buttons are housed near the front of the console. Voice commands are also possible.
The front seats were nicely sculpted and comfortable for daily as well as sporty driving. Back-seat legroom was adequate, but those taller than six feet will be crowded.
The back seat folds flat and there is a central pass-through to accommodate long items such as skis without having to fold the seat. The test car had a power tailgate.
Price: The base price of the test vehicle was $33,300. Options included a panoramic sunroof, blind-spot assist, Xenon headlamps, 19-inch wheels, the premium package (Sirius satellite radio with 6 months service, heated front seats, Harman/Kardon surround sound, dual-zone climate control, garage door opener) and the multimedia package (navigation, rearview camera, 7-inch LCD screen and 10GB of music storage). The sticker price was $43,105.
Warranty: Four years or 50,000 miles.