2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 and GLA45 AMG First Drive

The 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 and GLA45 AMG enter the fastest growing segment in America, we get behind the wheel.

2015 Mercedes Benz GLA250 Side In Motion

What It Is
The 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 and GLA45 AMG are new luxury compact crossovers.
Best Thing
Value proposition of GLA250, addicting performance and fun of GLA45 AMG.
Worst Thing
Perceptible turbo lag on GLA250.
Snap Judgment
The 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 and GLA45 AMG prove even entry-level luxury crossovers can be alluring and offer an excellent value proposition.


Get used to that image above, the 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 and GLA45 AMG compact crossovers will arrive later this year, and when they do, you'll be seeing quite a lot of them. The GLA-Class will continue shaking up the automaker's demographics and enter one of the fastest growing segments. Mercedes, long known for craftsmanship and lavishness, had also until very recently become synonymous with staid luxury. And with rivals Audi and BMW deploying a host of models to capture younger buyers, the suits in Stuttgart decided to take action. Just last year, the automaker introduced the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class, a four-door compact sedan that offered dramatic styling and--most importantly--boasted the enticing starting price of $30,000. The GLA-Class is built on the same architecture as its sedan sibling, but offers the higher ride height, styling, and utility of a compact SUV. Conveniently, it also plays into two exploding segments: entry-level luxury, and the compact crossover, both of which are being flooded with new models.

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Mercedes hasn't released official pricing, but we're told it will be close to the CLA-Class, which means you can expect the GLA250 to start in the low-$30,000 range, and the performance-oriented GLA45 AMG to entice buyers sliding in just under $50k, if we had to guess. Fuel economy? Also close. Probably a sacrifice of a couple mpg for the compact SUV. The U.S. versions will be very close to the European-spec models we piloted, though 1.2-inches higher to get that SUV designation. Playing to economy of scale here, the GLA250 will be powered by the same 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine of the CLA, good for 208 horsepower, while (delightfully) the GLA45 AMG gets the most powerful turbocharged four-cylinder in a production vehicle, the same one as the 355 horsepower one shared by its sedan sibling. All GLAs are mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, and all will be all-wheel drive until the arrival of the front-wheel drive GLA250 a few months later.

Mercedes sent us to the chic Costa del Sol in the south of Spain--aptly named apparently, because even in February this Iberian coast was sunny and warm--where the GLA seemed sufficiently at home. And the 45 AMG? Through the Andalusian mountains, we made the 4Matic all-wheel drive earn its keep. So what exactly did we think?

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Walkaround

The 2015 GLA250 and GLA45 AMG are quite distinct from each other, but both share a low, muscular stance. The GLA-Class sports the newest "Sensual Purity" design language that we see on the CLA and 2015 C-Class, and--perhaps most importantly--looks fresh and new. There's a lot of muscle, but it's sculpted and flowing, which adds finesse. It's clearly a Mercedes, if the massive star emblem in the grille doesn't give it away, but it also has its own personality. Taking a quick glance at a key competitor like the Audi Q3, you see what is essentially a smaller scale version of the Q5, which mirrors the Q7. The same is apparent in the BMW X1, which shares similar styling to the X3 and X5. The GLA looks more refined and expensive than those two, but it's also playful, and unique in the Mercedes SUV lineup.

And while we're throwing that "SUV" word around, we should state that the GLA-Class has the goods to get dirty off-roading, but it's closer to a tall hatchback, and will get almost all of its action in town. Cruising down the coast from Malaga to Granda, people couldn't help but snap cell phone pics and give us thumbs up. Styling is objective, but in motion or at rest, we think the GLA looks fantastic. There are several options and packages, such as the Exterior Carbon Fiber Package, which turn up the styling dial further. 18-inch wheels are standard, and 19-inch wheels are an option.

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Sitting Down

Once seated inside, you're greeted by a surprisingly luxurious cabin, which one should expect from Mercedes-Benz, but doesn't always get from cars priced in the same range. Five circular air vents with metallic bezels add much of the visual style and sportiness, as does the instrument cluster, which lend an air of precision and character. The seats are comfortable and supportive, while AMG Performance Recaro seats add definite character to the cabin. A clean Anthracite Trim metallic finish is standard on the GLA250, while the GLA45 AMG gets an aluminum finish interior trim as standard, carbon fiber and wood accented trims add variety. And though the interior is decidedly sporty, it's even more so on the GLA45 AMG. You'll be pleased with the fit and finish of Benz's entry-level crossover, though there are more hard plastics than the pricier models. A 5.8-inch media screen is standard, but you'll want to opt for the high-resolution 7.0-inch LCD screen, which is as clear and striking as any we've seen.

Most surprising is how roomy the cabin is. My driving partner and I were both able to sit behind ourselves very comfortably, with plenty of head, leg, and knee room. Rear passengers, the tops of your feet will touch the bottom of the seat in front of you. You can fit three carry-on pieces of luggage with ease, and the seats fold if you need additional cargo. A power liftgate comes standard.

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Driving

The 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250, like its CLA sibling, is largely about style, but with that in mind, the 208 horsepower four-cylinder engine feels more powerful than you'd expect. There's excellent mid-range power, which means while you're cruising and want to pass that car in front of you, it'll be no sweat. But the relatively good fuel economy comes at an expense, as the GLA250 isn't quick off the line. The compact crossover will hit 60 mph from rest in 7.1 seconds says Mercedes, which is fast enough for everyday driving in the city. If speed and performance are a higher priority, the GLA45 AMG is simply one of the most fun, addictive crossovers you'll drive. Fitted with a 4Matic system that can send 100 percent of power to the front or rear wheels, plowing in and out of corners becomes an easy undertaking. And that 0-60 mph time? A sports car fast 4.8 seconds, with minimal turbo lag. Acceleration is delightful, shifting though the gears using the paddle shifters proves quick and pleasing, and the sonorous exhaust will keep you on the hunt for open road. The GLA250 seems appropriate for city skirting and daily drives, while the GLA45 AMG simply leaves us anxious to get ahold of the keys as soon as physically possible.

Summary

The 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 and GLA45 AMG will arrive this fall to continue shaking demographics up for the Stuttgart automaker, and will help it better compete against its German rivals in the entry-level luxury segment. Powered by 2.0-liter turbocharged engines, the compact SUVs are based on the same architecture of the CLA-Class sedan, but offer a higher ride height, and crossover styling and utility. While the GLA will slot below the GLK-class as Benz's entry-level SUV, you're still getting a sporty, strikingly designed ride packed with allure and appeal. The CLA-Class has taken the streets of Los Angeles, New York, and similar markets by storm, and we expect crossover-loving America with be equally taken by the GLA.

Basic Specs

2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission, AWD, FWD arriving in 2015, 208-hp/355-hp, price and fuel economy not yet available.

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