2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 & GLA45 AMG – First Drive Review

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2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 & GLA45 AMG Highlights

Fine blend of talents in the GLA250
Excellent steering feel
Power lift gate is standard
Charming styling
The AMG version is quick

Mercedes benz GLA class dashboard 02 Photo 2/10 | 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 & GLA45 AMG – First Drive Review

Mercedes-Benz vehicles exhibit many virtues. Build quality, intense attention to the tiniest details, engineering depth, and great design among them. In the 2015 GLA250 compact crossover, there’s an accumulation of subtle pleasures that makes it a perfect vehicle to own, from handling the grind of the commute to setting off on a road trip.

It’s not a car that tries to overstate its case and is all the more agreeable because of it. There are times when we might not want to be super-involved in driving, in which case we can enjoy the Mercedes-Benz GLA’s tranquil yet stylish cabin, the comfortable but supportive seats, and take for granted the easy ride quality, the engine’s more-than-adequate punch, and the brakes’ reassuring abilities.
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For other occasions when devilish moods and interesting roads coincide, drivers can recalibrate their senses to tune in more to the GLA’s well-sorted chassis, put the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission into sport mode, and have a little tarmac-based adventure.

Believe or not, steering feel is excellent. This might just be the fortunate upshot of optional 19-inch wheels wearing 235/40 tires in the Edition 1 package, but the balance of weight and precision ties in with a satisfying directness. There’s no need for constant correction. Turn the wheel the desired amount and the GLA responds accordingly. Even rough road surfaces can’t deflect it from its course.
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Built on the same platform as the CLA compact sedan that offers front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, the GLA brings an elevated driving position so beloved by a large section of the motoring public along with rear passenger space that will accommodate an average-sized adult, plus cargo capacity that goes from 11.8 cubic feet with the rear seats up (they split and fold in 60/40 fashion) to 42 cubes with them folded down flat. For comparison’s sake, BMW’s X1 runs to 14.8/47.7 cubic feet. The GLA’s power lift gate is standard, by the way.

Factor in standard safety equipment like eight airbags, attention assist, and collision prevention assist with autonomous braking, and that all adds up to a lot of attributes delivered with typical Mercedes-Benz efficiency and style. From a relatively affordable starting price, the GLA250 is a well-rounded package.

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So it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that the high-performance variant, the ’15 Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG 4Matic, is just as good, only firmer and faster. Well, yes. And no.

Yes because of its engine. In the usual AMG way, this is hand-assembled by one technician who affixes a personalized plaque as a final task. Although it’s an aluminum, twin-scroll turbo, 2.0L four-potter like its regular counterpart, Mercedes-Benz says this is essentially one half of the new V-8 going into AMG’s second sports car, the ’16 GT and the upcoming C63.
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The company claims it’s the most powerful series-production turbocharged four-cylinder engine in the world. It makes 355 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque, propels the GLA45 from standstill to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds, and runs through the quarter-mile in just 12.7 seconds at 108.3 mph.

Also yes because all-wheel drive is standard in the 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA45 and can put that power to the pavement without any kind of slip. The electronic stability program (ESP) has been tweaked to enhance dynamics. Its torque vectoring function brakes single wheels to help rotate the car through quick corners, with an emphasis on handling before letting the safety aspect take over.
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Ride height has been dropped by 1.8 inches compared with the regular model. The front seats are more bucket-like with plenty of lateral support, and the almost-obligatory flat-bottomed steering wheel has sections of Alcantara wrap at the quarter-to-three position for extra sportiness.

And maybe no because that delicate balance of complementary talents is now upset by the drumming of the tires on the road. It might seem odd, even heretical, to criticize something with more power and greater agility, but the GLA stops being a multitasker and becomes a fast car with a hatchback, stiff suspension, larger antiroll bars, and a noisier cabin. It’s like taking a Willie Nelson tune and giving it the AC/DC treatment. Sure, it rocks, but a degree of charm has been lost in the process. Even more so with the gruff-sounding performance exhaust option.

A sporty machine feels right when it has optimum aerodynamics and a low center of gravity, like the CLA45 AMG, which is undoubtedly the driver’s choice in that range. But in this case, the AMG formula is compromised. Mercedes has the wonderful A-Class in other markets but has determined the only way to be successful selling a hot-hatch to Americans is under the pretense of a crossover. It’s good, but not as great as it could be. If (or, more probably, when) BMW decides to make an M version of its X1 compact crossover, it would be fascinating to see how the two compare.

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