With the GLA, Mercedes-Benz blends practical hatchback dimensions with crossover functionality, joined by suitably luxurious fittings.
Since its debut as a 2015 model, the compact GLA crossover SUV has earned only a few refinements, largely made for the 2018 season. Not much has changed for the 2019 model year, except for two new paint colors, including Denim Blue. Premium and Convenience packages for the AMG GLA 45 model have been revised. That high-performance version also gains new 20-inch wheels.
Powertrains and other structural elements are closely related to those offered in Mercedes-Benz’s CLA sedan (which is billed by the company as a “four-door coupe”). Once again, Mercedes-Benz offers the GLA 250 with either front-drive or 4Matic all-wheel drive. The 4Matic system is standard on the Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 model.
Beneath the GLA 250 hood, a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine makes 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, teamed with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. While the GLA 250 is clearly the more common of the duo, enthusiasts are far more likely to gravitate toward the Mercedes-AMG GLA 45. Its amply-modified, handcrafted version of the turbo 4-cylinder engine whips up 375 horsepower and 350 pound-feet. Mercedes-AMG also has modified the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission for use in the CLA 45.
On the safety front, each 2019 GLA comes with forward-collision warnings and automatic emergency braking. Additional safety features are optional, including adaptive cruise control and active lane control. A helpful surround-view camera system also is available. Automatic parking assistance, also optional, can help the GLA driver slip into a tight parking spot, with minimal driver input.
Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has crash-tested a Mercedes-Benz GLA.
Compact dimensions limit the GLA to providing full comfort for two passengers, but two more can squeeze in when necessary.
GLA 250 options include leather-upholstered seats and a panoramic sunroof, as well as a hands-free liftgate and LED headlights. An available Premium package adds blind-spot monitoring and heated front seats. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility also is an option, within a smartphone package.
Prices do not include $995 destination charge.
GLA 250 ($33,950) comes with the 208-horsepower 2.0-liter engine, a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, front-wheel drive, and 18-inch wheels. Standard features include a power tailgate, power front seats, and synthetic leather upholstery, as well as Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity.
GLA 250 4Matic ($35,950) is similar to the front-drive model, but with 4Matic all-wheel drive.
Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 4Matic ($53,350), the high-performance model, makes most otherwise-optional features standard. Included are a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, panoramic sunroof and 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system. Also standard are 20-inch wheels, AMG sport suspension, active brake assist, and blind-spot monitors.
Bold styling of the GLA might suggest the toughness of a typical SUV; but being realistic, this crossover comes closer to the compact hatchback league. A taller suspension than the one employed in the CLA sedan boosts ride height a bit, and the hatchback body is a tad taller as well.
Overall, though, the GLA is more businesslike than burly. Proportions actually echo those of the Infiniti QX30, which shares a platform with the Mercedes-Benz GLA.
Sizable (18-inch) wheels help give the GLA some eye appeal. Below its relatively short roofline, steeply-angled roof pillars and a sculpted body helps enhance the visual attraction. Up front, the huge Mercedes-Benz three-pointed star emblem occupies almost one-third of the grille.
LED taillights also help boost its presence. LED headlights are optional for the GLA 250 but standard on the GLA 45.
Impressive as the GLA’s exterior might be, its cabin falls short, with more plastic and thinner fabric than Mercedes owners will recognize. Leather upholstery is optional. So are trim pieces made of wood, aluminum, or carbon fiber.
Front seats are effectively supportive as well as comfortable. Despite being a trifle snug, they hold occupants securely, atop firm cushions, helped by thick side bolsters.
Back seats are bigger than those in the related Mercedes-Benz CLA sedan, but still cramped even for average-size passengers. Legroom is a larger concern than head clearance. The rear seats fold flat to create a bountiful cargo hold, expanding from 17 to 43.6 cubic feet.
Recaro sport seats in the AMG GLA 45 are simply marvelous, not only suited for spirited driving but comfortable during long-distance journeys.
Taut, nimble handling and snappy responses are offset by a rather stiff ride in the 2019 GLA, especially when the road grows lumpy. Stiff springs and large-diameter wheels are the prominent culprits.
Otherwise, the GLA provides a sufficiently luxurious experience, at a tempting price. Only if optional summer tires are installed does the ride become noisy. Despite its tall body and 8-inch ground clearance, the GLA handles competently.
Performance ranks as competent with the GLA 250, rocketing to blazing levels behind the wheel of a GLA 45. The base model needs just over 7 seconds to reach 60 mph, while the AMG edition needs a mere 4.3 seconds to accomplish that feat â€“ helped by its sport-tuned transmission, while emitting a delightful exhaust sound.
In Sport mode, the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission responds briskly. With Sport off, shifts are less prompt. Mercedes-Benz’s 4Matic all-wheel drive not only copes with loose surfaces, but makes mild off-roading possible. Hill-descent control can be installed.
With 4Matic, the engine sends most of its torque to front wheels, but output can be split evenly, front/rear, to yield greater traction.
Even in AMG trim, fuel economy compares to other compact hatchbacks. With front-drive, the GLA 250 is EPA-rated at 24/33 mpg City/Highway, or 27 mpg Combined. With all-wheel drive, estimates drop to 23/31/26 mpg. The Mercedes-AMG GLA45 is EPA-rated at 22/28 mpg City/Highway, or 25 mpg Combined.
The GLA is a tidy hatchback that gives Mercedes its most affordable vehicle, and its most efficient one as well. It has a very firm ride and a snug rear seat, but performance should satisfy most drivers, while the AMG edition aims at harder-edged enthusiasts.
Driving impressions by The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.