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2018 Mercedes-Benz GLA
New Car Test Drive

Introduction

The 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLA SUV gets a moderate reworking, led by a fresh front-end appearance and more prominent bumpers. Slight aerodynamic touch-ups have been applied, to help smooth the body contours. Several new safety and convenience features have been added, including a rearview camera as standard. A new GLA250 Ice Edition is available.

Also new for the 2018 AMG GLA45 is an optional AMG Performance Studio Package, LED headlights as standard and a new front air dam and air intakes.

A year after launching the CLA four-door coupe, Mercedes-Benz followed with a GLA crossover as a 2015 model. For the first time in a generation, the German automaker had a pair of small cars on sale. They were also the first front-wheel-drive models offered to American buyers.

The 2018 lineup continues with the GLA250 with front- or all-wheel drive and the performance-oriented AMG GLA45 with all-wheel drive.

The GLA250 holds a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Sole transmission is a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic. With front-wheel drive, the GLA250 can reach 0-60 mph in 7.2 seconds. All-wheel drive is an option for the GLA250.

In the AMG GLA45, a retuned variant of the 2.0-liter turbo whips up a boisterous 375 horsepower and 350 pound-feet. That’s enough to slash the 0-60 mph acceleration time to a rapid 4.3 seconds. All-wheel drive is standard. Dynamic Select can alter several settings, include engine sound.

With either powertrain, the compact GLA promises the practical virtues of both a crossover and a hatchback, combined with appealing gas mileage. Counteracting its merits is a relatively stiff ride.

Plenty of options are available, which translates to standard-equipment lists that aren’t quite as extensive as those on some competitors. Available extra-cost features include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, a panoramic sunroof, hands-free tailgate, and leather upholstery.

In addition to start/stop technology to shut off the engine at stoplights, each GLA has forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, along with a rearview camera. A surround-view camera is newly optional, joining lane keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and an automatic parking assistant.

Model Lineup

GLA250 ($33,400) comes with a rearview camera, power liftgate, power front seats, keyless start, an 8.0-inch infotainment screen, Bluetooth, MB-Tex synthetic leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth, HD radio, adaptive braking, and 18-inch wheels. GLA250 is front-wheel drive with a 2.0-liter turbo inline-4.

The GLA 250 4MATIC SUV ($35,400) includes all-wheel drive.

AMG GLA45 ($50,600) substitutes the 375-horsepower engine and 19-inch wheels, adding standard LED headlights and revised gear ratios. Options include Recaro seats, a panoramic sunroof, and 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio. (All prices are MSRP and do not include $995 destination charge.)

Walkaround

Closely related to the Mercedes-Benz CLA sedan, the GLA has a taller hatchback body and sits higher off the ground. Emphasizing its practical nature, the German automaker’s smallest utility vehicle looks relatively stubby, below a short roofline with sharply angled pillars.

Boldly sculpted, the GLA relies on prominent detail work to attract notice. LED headlights and taillights are standard on the AMG GLA45, but optional for the GLA250. Sitting 3 inches lower than its mate, the performance-focused AMG GLA45 gets additional front-end trim elements and rolls on 19-inch wheels.

Interior

Basically, the GLA ranks as more snug hatchback than spacious crossover SUV. Abundantly bolstered front seats, augmented by firm seat cushions, promise fine support for the driver and passenger. Power adjustments help each rider attain a comfortable seating position.

Rear seats, in contrast, fall short on leg space, especially for adults who exceed average size.

Compared to its CLA sedan sibling, which features a dramatically low roofline, the GLA provides greater rear headroom. Even so, the compact profile translates to constricted comfort when carrying more than front-seat occupants. Folding down the back seat yields a sizable cargo area out back, expanding from 17 cubic feet of storage space to a useful 43.6 cubic feet.

Soft-touch plastic covers the dashboard, which retains an appealing, aero-inspired design. For a premium-level small crossover, the GLA seems to have quite a few plastic elements. Some trim panels feel harder than expected, including a large portion of the dashboard. MB-Tex synthetic leather is standard, and leather seat upholstery costs extra. So do trim components made of wood, aluminum, or carbon-fiber.

Driving Impressions

Quick turbo-engine responses are the rule in a GLA, whether it’s the GLA250 base model or the fiery AMG GLA45. In terms of performance, practically nothing about either GLA resembles a typical crossover or SUV. When the dual-clutch transmission is in Sport mode, reactions are especially brisk.

Even in base GLA250 form, this compact crossover rides quite stiffly with the standard firm suspension. Larger optional tires make the ride harsher yet, unless the optional adaptive suspension is ordered. Handling talents are more satisfying. Despite an 8-inch ground clearance, a GLA doesn’t feel like an SUV.

All-wheel-drive models have an off-road mode that can help provide controlled traction, but are best limited to gravel roads and milder trails. On the highway, the GLA is solid and quiet, with little engine noise heard and transmission shifts effectively isolated. Optional tires, however, produce considerable road noise.

Although its price is considerably higher, the AMG GLA45 is the choice for tenacious, forceful driving. In addition to a stronger suspension and 19-inch tires, the GLA45 engine emits a stirring exhaust note. An AMG GLA45 breezes through curves and corners with little fuss but abundant energy. A limited-slip front differential and sport suspension with Race mode can be added.

Fuel economy is comparable to other compact crossovers and hatchbacks, and the gas-mileage penalty for the 375-horsepower version isn’t startling. With front-drive, the GLA250 is EPA-rated at 24/33 mpg City/Highway, or 27 mpg Combined. All-wheel drive drops the EPA estimated to 23/31 mpg City/Highway, or 26 mpg Combined. The AMG GLA45 earns an estimate of 22/28/25 mpg: not great, but hardly horrific considering its performance potential.

Summary

The Mercedes-Benz GLA feels refined, but it is undeniably a compact crossover based on front-wheel drive made for a particular price level. Features expected in a luxury vehicle, even a compact one, are absent from the GLA250. The GLA tends to ride roughly for a vehicle in this class, unless the adaptive suspension is optioned. Although the potent GLA45 adds some luxury touches, its option list is extensive.

Driving impressions by Marty Padgett, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.


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MSRP - MSRP is the base Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price at the time of introduction, including standard equipment only and excludes taxes, transportation and destination.

Invoice - Invoice Price|The dealership's cost for a vehicle from the manufacturer including holdback and advertising costs. Invoice price does not include dealer installed equipment and destination charges.