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2018 Mercedes-Benz GLA Class Review

2018 Mercedes-Benz GLA Class Review
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The 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class blends hatchback with crossover, with better than mixed results.

The Mercedes-Benz GLA is the foot in the door for many luxury buyers. Its low price and three-pointed star will tempt many shoppers into the showroom, and it's Mercedes' first real small car in a generation.


The GLA arrived in the 2015 model year, and for 2018 gets a light revamp. All models—the front-drive GLA250, the all-wheel-drive Mercedes GLA250 4Matic, and the run-and-gun Mercedes-AMG GLA45 4Matic—wear new front ends, and top off their cabins with new convenience and safety features.

We give the GLA a 6.2 out of 10. It earns great fuel economy, but it rides stiffly, though back-seat space is better than its CLA sedan cousin.

Its taut hatchback profile all but unchanged, the GLA gets a new front-end treatment with optional LED headlights and standard LED taillights. Small aero tweaks in front, in back, and underneath give it a smoother shape. The hot GLA45 wears new air intakes and a new front air dam, and standard LED headlights. Almost nothing changes in the cockpit.

Power carries over, too. Base cars have a 208-hp 2.0-liter turbo-4 and a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic. The GLA45 AMG blasts out 375 hp from a retuned version of the same engine, to hugely entertaining effect. The GLA handles well, but it has a very firm ride that gets more brittle with the bigger optional tires. AWD models can tackle slick roads and even some gravel trails, and have an off-road transmission mode.

Inside, the GLA’s bolstered front seats give great support, but the rear seats are skimpy on leg room. Head room is better, compared to the cramped CLA sedan. The rear seat folds down to create a big cargo hold.

All GLAs have forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking. A surround-view camera is new to the options list. Frustratingly, neither the IIHS nor federal testers have crashed a GLA, despite being on sale for a few years.

Also standard are power features, including a power tailgate; power front seats; a rearview camera; and 18-inch wheels. Options include an infotainment system and a panoramic sunroof. Prices start from $34,325 for a GLA 250; AWD GLA 250s start from $36,325, while the GLA45 carries a base price of $51,525.

Styling
With the GLA, Mercedes' smallest utility vehicle has more hatchback panache than brute cues.

The 2018 Mercedes GLA sits higher and sports a taller hatchback body than the related CLA sedan. It’s closer in proportion—but not in details—to the Infiniti QX30. It’s businesslike and a bit stubby in a way that works.

The roof is short and it’s compact in size, but the GLA stuffs in exaggerated details where it can. They anchor its steeply angled roof pillars and its deeply sculpted body. Big 18-inch wheels push it off the ground, and a big three-pointed star takes up the middle third of its grille.

This year, the GLA wears more pronounced front and rear bumpers, and LED taillights light up all models. LED headlights factor into AMG models; they’re an option on the GLA250. Other small tweaks smooth out airflow around the windows, mirrors, and hatch.

The GLA45 adopts some of the same touches. It also adds more metallic front-end trim, and sits 3 inches lower than other versions despite its tall 19-inch wheels.

The GLA’s cockpit carries over almost unchanged. The dash wears big circular vents and soft-touch plastics. The aero-inspired design still looks handsome, but some dash and door trim panels feel hard to the touch. The GLA’s dash-mounted display sits atop the dash, hotel-television style. Leather costs extra, as do finer trim pieces in carbon-fiber, wood, and aluminum.

Performance
Whether mildly rugged or wildly entertaining, the Mercedes GLA performs nothing like any SUV we’ve driven.

With the GLA, Mercedes massages a 2.0-liter turbo-4 into two states of tune, for two very different outcomes.

We give the model line a 5 out of 10 for performance. The banshee GLA45 AMG’s rocketship appeal dilutes considerably in the stiff-riding GLA250.

In the GLA250, turbos spin and compress air to the tune of 208 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Coupled to a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, the engine pushes the GLA250 to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds and to a 130-mph top speed. The duo responds briskly when the transmission’s dialed to Sport mode; otherwise it chuffs along in more efficient gears to conserve fuel, behind well-insulated shifts and relatively quiet 4-cylinder noises.
All-wheel-drive models split power mostly to the front wheels, though up to 50 percent can be shifted to the rears when traction drops.

The engine’s boosted to an extraordinary 375 hp and 350 lb-ft in the GLA45 AMG, and 0-60 mph times fall to 4.3 seconds. You might be expecting a riot, and you'd be right: the potent engine is hugely entertaining, and all-wheel drive is standard.

No GLA owner should pretend to Jeep status with the GLA, but the AWD system can dole out controlled traction on gravel roads and moderately difficult trails through an off-road transmission mode. Hill descent control shifts the burden of low-speed hills to the anti-lock brakes; they grip and release to modulate low-speed trips down an incline.

GLAs handle well though they have tall bodies. The CLA plants better in corners, but the GLA doesn’t feel at all like an SUV despite its 8 inches of ground clearance. The GLA’s main downfall is rough ride quality, even on the standard 18-inch wheels and all-season tires. A set of adaptive shocks can be fitted, but we’ve yet to compare them with the standard setup.

For tenacity there’s no match for the GLA45 AMG. Stronger suspension and transmission bits and 19-inch hardcore tires conspire with a delightful exhaust note to make it the best Golf R or WRX ever. It’s entertaining and faultlessly fast as it drops 4.3-second 0-60 mph times and slides through corners with neutral abandon. Add on a limited-slip front-end differential, sport suspension, and Race mode, and the GLA45 AMG may twitch its tail out of line, but only after the driver exhausts all common sense.

Comfort & Quality
The 2018 GLA sports better rear-seat space than the CLA, but it’s more a hatchback than a roomy crossover SUV.

The Mercedes GLA cuts a compact profile, which means it’s most comfortable for two passengers and their gear.

The front seats snugly grip passengers with lots of bolsters and firm cushions, and tailor seating position with power adjustment. GLA45 AMG hatchbacks have spectacular Recaro sport seats, rare for their long-distance comfort. In both cases, synthetic leather covers the seats; the real stuff’s an option.

The rear seats in the GLA constrict anyone on the far side of an average build. Leg room suffers more than head room in the back. When taller front-seat passengers push their seats back, rear leg room goes away entirely. It confines passengers, so make the trips short.

Fold down the back seats and the GLA’s 17 cubic feet of storage space transforms into 43.6 cubes, enough for a few roll-aboard bags. Mercedes molds in some small-item storage where a shift lever might sit on another console, and in the armrest.

In some ways the GLA feels refined, but in others it’s clearly a compact car built to a price. It’s solid and quiet on the highway, but optional summer tires throw off lots of road noise. The sunroof has a thin fabric shade, and the hard plastic on most of the dash feels like it’s from a universe separate from the lush trim in an S-Class.

Safety
The GLA hasn’t been crash-tested yet.

Neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS has crash-tested the GLA yet, even though it’s been on sale for three model years. We’ve left its safety score absent until we see data.

All models have standard forward-collision warnings and automatic emergency braking, which can prevent accidents or limit the speed of impact. All-wheel drive can be fitted, and so can a surround-view camera system.

Active lane control and adaptive cruise control sit on the options list, along with automatic parking assistance. A rearview camera was made standard for 2018.

Features
The GLA misses out on some key luxury features, but rolls them all in on the AMG edition.

The GLA lineup has ample luxury features, but leather and active lane control are optional.

Every GLA250 has power features, a power tailgate, power front seats, keyless ignition, and 18-inch wheels, as well as Bluetooth audio streaming, and synthetic leather upholstery.

All-wheel drive is an option, as are an infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a panoramic sunroof, a hands-free tailgate, and LED headlights. A surround-view camera system, leather, and safety features such as active lane control and adaptive cruise control are all optional.

The GLA45 AMG folds most of those features in its standard equipment list, along with a panoramic sunroof and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system. A GLA45 AMG in top spec can approach $70,000, ever so close to the blazing C63 AMG.

Fuel Economy
The GLA sips fuel like other compact hatchbacks, and the AMG edition doesn’t exact a big penalty.

This year, the 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 earned 24 mpg city, 33 highway, 27 combined, according to the EPA. With all-wheel drive, those numbers fell to 23/31/26 mpg.

The GLA45 AMG checks in at 22/28/25 mpg, not terrible at all for a vehicle of its prodigious power.

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