It’ll come as no surprise that Sport Utility Vehicles have become big business at Mercedes-Benz, comprising about 60% of their total volume in the United States. While Mercedes has had various entries in the segment dating back to the original Geländewagen of 1979 (not officially sold here until 2002), the ML series of 1998 and the GL series starting in 2007 showed that Mercedes was taking this burgeoning market seriously. From those beginnings, there are now a total of six model ranges (G, GLS, GLE, GLC, GLB, GLA) in the lineup with various iterations of each and most are well into having multiple generations, including this completely revamped second generation GLA, the smallest and most affordable entry point.
Interestingly, Mercedes’ data shows that 55% of GLA purchasers are new to the brand, making it an important point of entry to draw them in and make a good first impression. However, what I found even more interesting wasn’t those 55% of first-timers, but rather the implied remaining 45% for whom the GLA is at least their second Mercedes. Since there isn’t a whole lot in the overall catalog with much lower prices, clearly “der kleiner” seems to be compelling.
For those not closely following every manufacturer’s naming conventions, deciphering the name plates at MB has gotten easier recently with all SUV models starting with “GL” (except for the original, which remains just the “G”), then a suffix showing where it aligns in the range as compared to the passenger cars – so this one is analogous to the A-Class, the GLE (formerly ML) lines up with the E-Class, and the GLS is the S-Class of the lineup.
The number at the end shows its ranking within its line but is not directly related to its engine size (and hasn’t been for some time now). In this case the 250 denotes a turbo-four of two liters displacement and a certain power level, whereas in other vehicles a 2.0 turbo with a lower power level might be labeled as a 220 for example.
Somewhat surprisingly this particular example isn’t even all wheel drive, which would have been denoted by a “4MATIC” badge on the back (all wheel drive is of course available though). It’s resolutely front wheel drive, contained a few options, and is most likely mainly marketed as a lease candidate, and then intended to be returned to the dealer in a few years to be resold as a certified pre-owned vehicle with some of the factory warranty remaining and a CPO one tacked on as well for peace of mind. Sell it twice and make money both times, seems like a winning model to me along with the obvious opportunity to sell yet another vehicle to the original owner (or lessee, as the case may be).
The first generation of GLA was introduced in 2014 and also was sold as an Infiniti-branded product with much of the same running gear but different exterior, it ended up looking much lower-slung with an almost sedan-like seating position. This time around the car’s not shared with anyone else and is produced in Rastatt, Germany, where most A-Classes have been built since 1997.
In overall size, it’s slightly shorter at 174″ in length than the BMW X1 (176″) and the Audi Q3 (177″), about the same width (72″ vs 72″ and 73, respectively) and one inch taller than the others (64″ vs 63″). However, it’s a blocky and fairly square design, not squished-looking as with the last generation, being several inches taller. Externally it’s also similarly sized (but taller) than the funky Lexus UX which we reviewed last year, although this Mercedes has vastly more interior room that that at a somewhat higher price.
That squareness does however look a little, uh, “abbreviated” is perhaps the best word and less well proportioned than some of the brand’s larger offerings. Still, for practicality and usability it’s had a lot of thought put into it, making the most of its tidy dimensions. It’s obviously a Mercedes as it’s hard to miss the large three-pointed stars on the front and rear, Night Black paint is properly elegant enough without an upcharge, and there’s just enough brightwork to provide an appropriate amount of accents.
The dimensions translate into a surprisingly roomy cabin. Having familiarity with the GLC (two sizes larger), I was surprised and had to actually look up the size differences as for me the GLA was plenty roomy with no sense of being confined in any area. The higher roofline (similar to what the GLC offers) likely helped tremendously as did the lesser tumblehome effect (the sides don’t seem as canted inward beyond a strong shoulder line).
Opening the door becomes an invitation to jump into the Macchiato Beige interior, a light bone-colored hue that’s refreshingly clean and airy and visually maximizes the space within the car. The seats are sized well (all too often smaller cars get correspondingly smaller seats). There’s a very welcome manually-extending thigh bolster for those longer of thigh but the seat is powered in all other dimensions, of course with MB’s still excellent door-mounted controls and featuring a programmable memory function for both front seats (not uncommon for drivers, very uncommon for passengers).
The headrests here are manual though, but non-intrusive and didn’t require adjustment. The seat material is not leather, and while I think of MB-Tex as having the stippled texture center portion as in older models, it seems to be the same, basically it’s a synthetic that feels great with excellent texture and appears to be of great durability while still providing elasticity and comfort day in and day out with virtually zero maintenance.
Opinions may vary, however I very much like Mercedes’ doublewidth screen panel instrumentation that here is presented as two separate 10.25″ screens seamlessly combined to have one piece of glass facing the driver with instrumentation that is customizable in front of the driver, a gap where the steering wheel rim falls within the field of vision, and then a second screen that ends up in the middle of the dashboard and can be controlled by either front seat occupant. The camera makes the actual screens visible behind the glass, in reality they aren’t and it feels like one large image without border delineation.
The system is known as MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) and various menus can be scrolled through from left to right either via the touchpad curser, swiping the screen, or using a few quick-menu buttons. Having sampled and reviewed this system previously in several other Mercedes reviews of both lower end and higher end models, this one functions the same, everything can also be controlled by voice, in this case using AI to interpret normal speech and syntax without the need for a specific way of issuing commands and acting as more of a conversation partner to get something done rather than a glorified Speak’N’Spell.
The larger screens are in fact options, and not standard features, having not experienced the more basic standard items I can’t pass judgment, (although MBUX is the standard software for even the 7″ standard screen with I believe conventional instrumentation) however as this car was equipped is the way I would want my own to be, given the choice and opportunity.
What’s also included is Augmented Reality for Navigation, which basically uses a front facing camera to display an image on the screen of what you are seeing through the windshield and then overlays the navigation instruction on top of the image, so there is no way to get confused about exactly which lane to be in or where and when to turn. This works brilliantly and is probably the only way to really get people sort of excited to still pay for navigation functionality when the standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto can provide the typical experience. (The picture above just had it in “Map” mode as opposed to navigating anywhere, thus not displaying the augmented option)
In this car the front seats were heated (but not the steering wheel), controls also located in the door panels, and another option was the Natural Grain Brown Walnut Trim, which consisted of several unlacquered expanses of wood. However they weren’t solid expanses, but rather 3/4″ or so strips joined together, which added significantly to the dimensionality and texture on the dashboard and door panels in a positive way. In addition there is accent lighting surrounding these panels that in this car was customizable as to hue.
Mercedes has generally been excellent at combining their different interior colors and materials to produce cohesive effects and as such the relatively simple application of wood here added significantly to the ambiance.
It was a very comfortable and inviting place to be while driving, especially after engaging the Kinetic Seat feature that moves the driver’s seat in minute back and forth increments (seat and back independently). This feature was scoffed at by some readers in the A-Class review of last year, however it really does much to make a driver more comfortable and reduced the amount of wiggling around in the seat to minutely adjust myself on a longer drive.
Below the screen are three large rotating vents with one more at each end, the HVAC controls below with toggles for some adjustments and simple switches for engage/disengage functions, then at the bottom a deep cubby in front with two cupholders behind and the touchpad, drive mode buttons, volume control and some quick menu buttons further to the rear but just in front of the armrest and bin underneath it.
Of course the engine is started and stopped via a button just to the left of the triple vents, the key remains in pocket and all four doors are controlled from the outside with touch lock/unlock capability – an easy way for manufacturers to save money is to only offer this on the front doors which isn’t always obvious in the showroom but gets annoying quickly in real life.
What wasn’t there (surprisingly) was a wireless charging pad made more inconvenient by the fact that the USB ports were exclusively of the new, smaller variety and I couldn’t locate the optional $25 USB-C cable that was reflected on the sticker (that isn’t the car’s fault but should have been standard as the industry is really still in transition with many cars coming with both versions at this time). This car also did not have any kind of hole in the roof, as such I had excellent headroom.
The back seat was also comfortable as well as roomy. No problem for my 6’1″ of height with 32″inseam, both front seatbacks offer netted pockets, and the center console had vent outlets, power ports as well as a 115V household plug which is rare in smaller cars in a foldout panel, however there were no cupholders back there beyond the areas in the door pockets.
The seat folded in a 40/20/40 split, and while this car was not so equipped, it is possible to option the rear seat with both a fore/aft sliding function as well as a 7-position recline function at extra cost of course. For me it all worked in the fixed position during the 30 seconds I spent back there.
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