2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic, GLA45 AMG First Test
Hot Hatch on Stilts
Stop us if you've heard this before: Americans don't buy hatchbacks or wagons – we buy SUVs. So if you're a foreign automaker looking to expand your model lineup without spending a ton of dough, what are you to do? If you're Mercedes, you start with your Euro-spec A-Class hatchback, stretch it out a bit, give it 7.1 inches of ground clearance, some pseudo body cladding, and call it the new 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA crossover. While not all will be convinced that the pocket-sized 2015 GLA250 4Matic or the pocket rocket GLA45 AMG are SUVs, a few days driving both GLAs on- and off-road has me sold.
A companion piece of sorts to the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class sedan that launched last year, the GLA-Class is designed to broaden Mercedes' appeal among younger generations – you know, those damn smartphone-touting, Snapchatting millennials about whom baby boomers love to moan. Unlike the CLA, which only has a handful of attractive angles, the GLA is a proper looker, especially in GLA45 form with the black-painted (and optional) front apron and rear spoiler. Like the CLA, the front-drive-based GLA is powered by a choice of two turbocharged four-cylinder engines. The GLA250 4Matic – which will be joined by a front-drive version early next year – gets a 2.0-liter turbo I-4 making 208 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The GLA45 AMG gets a hand-built 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 making an incredible 355 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are mated to a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic transmission.
The Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class is a 2015 Motor Trend SUV of the Year contender - find out whether the luxury crossover has what it takes to win later this month.
Even in base GLA250 trim, the GLA is quite the performer. A true driver's CUV, the GLA250 accelerates from 0-60 mph in 6.9 seconds, and it'll go through the quarter mile in 15.3 seconds at 89.8 mph. Stopping from 60 mph takes just 110 feet. While the GLA250's straight-line speed isn't exactly blistering, it completed our figure eight in a not-too-shabby 27 seconds flat at 0.66 g average.
Not surprisingly given the extra oomph on tap, the GLA45 AMG is quicker still (view 30 photos of the GLA45 on the second page of this review). With a launch control-assisted start, the GLA45 AMG rockets to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds and finishes the quarter mile in a Porsche Macan Turbo-beating 12.8 seconds at 107.9 mph. The GLA45 also sticks with the Macan Turbo through the figure eight, zipping around in just 25 seconds at a 0.78 g average. Coming to a stop from 60 mph takes just 103 feet.
Outside the confines of our test track, both GLAs were quite fun to drive. In Sport mode, the GLA250 takes on the personality of a Golf GTI with some ground clearance. It's got tight, accurate steering and minimal body roll, and it whips around corners at velocities no SUV has the right to.
The AMG model is better still. It makes all the right noises, rides well for a hot hatch, and is a hydraulic handbrake away from perfection. Said senior features editor Jonny Lieberman, "Weee! Fun! Fun! Fun! This is the Subaru STI wagon replacement we've all been waiting for!" The GLA45 AMG is a riot on wheels; it's fast as stink and begs the driver to wring the four-banger out for all it's worth. Without a doubt, the GLA45 is most at home being throttled mercilessly on winding back-country two-tracks. "The GLA45 is as good as anything I've ever driven down Palmer Road," said Lieberman after his run down our road loop. "And I've driven an SLS Black Series, a Corvette ZR1, and an SRT Viper down Palmer."
Though both GLAs are remarkably fun to drive, there are a few flaws with the little Mercs. For starters, the 250's default Eco drive mode completely neuters the car. In Eco mode, which the GLA reverts to every time you start the car, it feels as if the throttle doesn't actually do anything until about halfway through its travel range, before it and the transmission finally get the message that it's time to hustle. Both AMG and non-AMG models also had more road and wind noise in the cabin then we're used to seeing from Mercedes-Benz – and more hard plastics.
While hard plastics and wind noise will be easy for most GLA250 buyers to forgive, given its $34,225 starting price, GLA45 buyers will likely be less than enthused about seeing rental-grade plastics in their $49,225 sports SUV – before options, of course. Our GLA45 AMG tester was close to fully loaded, with its $65,985 as-tested price including love-it-or-leave-it options such as the aggressive spoiler and apron in the Black Series AMG Aerodynamics package (love it), and the AMG Redcut Exclusive Package (leave it). The GLA250 4Matic's $48,705 as-tested price was slightly easier to stomach. Among its options were the AMG-inspired Sport Package and the almost-autonomous Driver Assistance Package.
Intellectually, I'm not convinced the new 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class is any more than a tall-ish hatchback. That being said, I don't care. The GLA looks good, and drives well. For buyers looking to get into the fold of a luxury automaker, and who want something more fun and as practical as a Golf GTI, the hot hatch on stilts that is the GLA is ready and waiting.
|2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic||2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$48,705||$65,985|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||2.0L/208-hp/258-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4||2.0L/355-hp/332-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed twin-clutch auto.||7-speed twin-clutch auto.|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3550 lb (60/40%)||3646 lb (60/40%)|
|WHEELBASE||106.3 in||106.3 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||173.9 x 71.0 x 60.0 in||175.0 x 70.2 x 58.2 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.9 sec||4.3 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.3 sec @ 89.8 mph||12.8 sec @ 107.9 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||110 ft||103 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.84 g (avg)||0.93 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.0 sec @ 0.66 g (avg)||25.0 sec @ 0.78 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||24/32/27 mpg||23/29/25 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||140/105 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)||147/116 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.72 lb/mile (est)||0.76 lb/mile (est)|