It is a charming idea.
Until the arrival of the CLA-Class, Mercedes-Benz had a tough time convincing consumers in the USA that they could sell small cars. Case in point: the 190E. Though it was successful, it still did not convince a huge number of Mercedes-Benz customers that smaller was better. It did convince it was indeed a Mercedes-Benz. The 190E's lineage continues as the C-Class.
The front-drive CLA is somewhat of a tough sell. You could advertise the price, but the consumer does not see the part about the "four-door coupe" body. All they see is the price. The idea of a relatively inexpensive Mercedes-Benz is attractive, if the car exudes the brand's luxury tenets and provide enough room for those of us coming out of larger models.
There are two alternatives. You could get the B-Class Electric Drive, which is a front-drive small wagon powered only by an electric motor. Or, you could settle for Mercedes-Benz's small crossover, the GLA.
The chance to drive the GLA came in conjunction with a "street team" type of an event for consumers in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. My curiosity was driven by many factors – one being how much Mercedes-Benz has promoted this car for months without informing us when they will arrive at dealerships. Good news: They are arriving in a couple of weeks. Here is what to expect…
From the outside, the GLA is a cross between a CLA, a GLK and the B-Class. At least that was my impression of it. It is surprisingly short on height, though there is ground clearance of around eight inches off the ground. The squatness is fine, but it just seems there are two vehicles attached to one – a CLA-type nose and the crossover/wagon rear. There are plenty of the latest Mercedes-Benz design elements present, but you might see some Asian influence. Good things the front doors open wide and the liftgate is substantial.
There is more of the CLA's influence inside of this car. The upright COMAND screen – though not exactly called as such – is tacked onto the fascia, while a basic set of instrumentation and a TFT screen are positioned in front of the driver. Switches are standard for most Mercedes-Benzes on the GLA, which has its own logic and quality touch.
There is seating for at least four normal-sized adults. Leg room is quite good at all window seats, but the panoramic moonroof restricts headroom for anyone over six-feet tall. A tall driver could recline to compensate for space. Seating up front is a high-back bucket with good bolstering and plenty of power adjustments. Rear seats are also comfortable and bolstered, as well. Cargo space is expandable from the basic 17.2 cubic feet behind the second row.
Under the hood of the GLA250 driven here is the new 2.0liter turbocharged four cylinder engine that is found on the CLA. With 208 horsepower, there is enough power to deal with this 3,384-pound small crossover. A seven-speed dual clutch transmission makes unobtrusive shifts towards lag free starts. Mercedes-Benz's 4Matic all-wheel drive system is the only final driveline available on the GLA.
When you drive it, you can feel its Mercedes-ness. Yet, it also might fell like any other premium small crossover. It is quiet, smooth and ride with minimal pitching through the turns. Steering reacts very well to sharp corners, while offering a tight on-center feel. Brakes are strong with sharp reaction from the pedals.
Actual fuel economy figures were not available at the time of the drive. However, the GLA will start at $33,300. If you want more performance, there is an AMG version – the GLA45 – with a 355 horsepower turbocharged engine. If you want one, that will set you back starting at $48,300.
Mercedes-Benz arrives into a new field where urbanites and other folks needing a small crossover are being given some good choices. The GLA will find a few homes based not solely on the badge. However, I am very concerned that the new "small" models would distract mainstream brand consumers who are used to the C-, E- and S-Class offerings or the larger crossover/SUV models. Tough call, but I understand what Mercedes-Benz is trying to do. I have seen this before to mixed results. One would hope the GLA will work for the brand this time.
For those who believe the GLA will fit their lifestyle, this is indeed a charming idea for you.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle and event logistics provided by Mercedes-Benz USA