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2017 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class Overview
Part of the German automaker's ambitious lineup expansion program that's kicked into high gear over the past decade or so, the fairly new Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class compact SUV enters its third year in production with only minimal updates. Since its introduction, the GLA has proved popular with buyers, especially younger ones, so there was no need for a more extensive refresh at this time. Expect that to happen in the next year or two. For now, Mercedes makes some tweaks to the headlights and taillights, but other than that, the 2017 GLA remains unchanged, continuing to display dashing good looks enhanced by a competent blend of features, performance, and luxury.
Developed by the German automaker as its answer to such competitive vehicles as the BMW X1, Audi Q3, and Volkswagen Tiguan, the GLA in some ways resembles an upscale version of Subaru's Outback. It has the same raised stance, the same muscular and aggressive nature, and the same long, low roofline tapering to the rear hatch. In fact, in another era, the GLA might have been called a souped-up wagon, although it thoroughly updates that concept with a futuristic design, contemporary proportions, and a sleek profile. Consider it, if you will, a 21st-century wagon, although Mercedes prefers the terms crossover vehicle or compact SUV. No matter what you call it, the GLA works as an overall package, with just enough power, luxury, ruggedness, and versatility to fill a number of needs for upscale buyers on a budget.
The GLA shares its underpinnings with the CLA Coupe, which provides it with its performance cred, nimble handling, and overall stability. The GLA also shares its nomenclature with the CLA, which designates both as part of the automaker's A Class. As such, the GLA occupies the entry-level position in its SUV model category, which includes the larger, more powerful GLC, GLE, GLS, and G (the original Gelandewagen, the basis for all the Mercedes SUVs that followed). In addition, like the CLA, the GLA sits on a small footprint, which doesn't allow for a spacious interior, especially when compared to its competitors. But it does offer a luxury-oriented cabin with plenty of high-tech features, a turbocharged powerplant, decent fuel economy, and available all-wheel drive.
Part of the GLA's attractiveness remains its sleek exterior design, including its prominent nose, large wheel wells, and low cabin, as well as the aerodynamic swoops and contours up front and along the sides. The stylish design gives the GLA a windswept look, as if it can cut easily through the air. The automaker's updates to the headlights and taillights for 2017 should enhance that look in a subtle way. Standard exterior features remain the same for 2017 and include the dynamic twin-louver grille, front foglights, chrome roof rails, roof spoiler, and 18-inch wheels.
As in previous years, the 5-door GLA comes in three trims. The base GLA250 combines a relatively affordable price point with a strong list of standard features, including a 14-way power-adjustable driver's seat, leatherette upholstery, anthracite interior trim, dual-zone climate control, ambient lighting, a split/folding rear seat, and a power liftgate. All GLAs also come equipped with a dual-level dashboard with five air vents, a three-spoke sport steering wheel, and push-button start. Options include leather upholstery and heated front seats.
The front-wheel-drive GLA250 derives its power from a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine delivering 208 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. That's good enough to drive the GLA250 from 0-60 mph in about 7.2 seconds. The engine links to a 7-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode and shift paddles mounted on the steering wheel. The powerplant includes an ECO start/stop system, which helps improve efficiency. Fuel-economy numbers for the base GLA check in at fairly respectable 25 mpg city/35 highway/29 combined. Premium gas is required.
Stepping up a notch, the GLA250 4Matic adds the automaker's permanent all-wheel-drive (AWD) system, which features variable torque distribution between the front and rear axles and helps improve grip and agility by sending up to 50% of torque to the rear wheels when needed. Powered by the same turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and 7-speed transmission, it makes the sprint to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds and posts fuel economy numbers of 23/29/25. The GLA250 4Matic also adds Downhill Speed Regulation (DSR) as a standard feature for off-roading. Activated by a control button on the center console, it assists the driver in maintaining a safe pace on steep downhill slopes by making adjustments to the engine, transmission, and braking when necessary.
Both the GLA250 and GLA250 4Matic come standard with the automaker's COMAND infotainment system, as well as its Driver Select system. Updated in 2016, the COMAND system includes a 7-inch color display, a rotary controller, Bluetooth, dual USB audio ports, a CD player, and a rear-view camera, as well as the new Driver Select system, which enables drivers to choose from various driving modes and driver-assistance functions. On the GLA250 4Matic, the system also includes an off-road display, which indicates the steering angle, roll angle, gradient percent, and other information. Options include navigation with a larger 8-inch display, satellite radio, in-car WiFi hotspot capability, and a Harmon/Kardon Surround Sound audio system.
At the top of the lineup, the AMG GLA45 continues to impress, thanks to its upgraded AMG 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder powerplant, which pumps up hp to 375 and torque to 350 lb-ft, while reducing the 0-60 time to 4.3 seconds. Mercedes sweetens the deal with a wide range of AMG enhancements, including an AMG-tuned SpeedShift 7-speed automatic transmission, AMG performance 4Matic AWD, and an AMG sport suspension, sport exhaust system, and high-performance braking system. It also features the ECO start/stop system and steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Fuel-economy numbers for the AMG GLA45 check in at 23/29/25.
Outside, the GLA45 receives a number of AMG-designed upgrades, including unique body styling, a unique double-crosswing grille, and a restyled front apron. It rides on 19-inch AMG wheels. Inside, it includes upgraded heated front sport seats and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.
Although it offers seating for five in two rows and pampers with its luxury-oriented cabin, the GLA can become cramped at times, especially for large families, when car pooling, or when hauling around sports equipment, furniture, or even numerous shopping bags. Rear-seat passengers, especially taller ones, will find tight legroom and headroom, although those in the front have a little more space. Cargo area behind the rear seat measures 17.2 cubic feet, which expands to 43.6 cubic feet with the flat-folding rear seats folded down. The front passenger seat also folds flat to add flexibility.
While AWD-equipped GLAs aren't hard-core off-roaders, they manage fairly well when traveling off paved surfaces. A driver-selectable off-road transmission mode makes adjustments to shift points and engine characteristics for light off-road duty. In addition, all GLAs come equipped with a wide range of safety and driver assistance functions, including Collision Prevention Assist, Attention Assist, Active Brake Assist, and a 4-wheel Electronic Traction system. Ten airbags also come standard.
Despite its relatively small cabin, the GLA has a lot going for it, including its athletic profile and entry-level luxury price point. Overall, the GLA represents a solid value and gives daily commuters a handsome and luxury-oriented ride that won't break the bank account.
Rob has been a contributor to CarGurus since 2007, and an automotive test-driver and writer since the early ’90s. He’s test-driven everything from BMWs and Jags to Bentleys and Saabs, with an occasional Range Rover, Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini thrown in. He also created the annual Car of the Year and Exotic Car of the Year awards for Robb Report magazine. He currently resides in Florida.
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