Luxury car sales have been a huge bright spot for automakers, as premium car buyers worldwide have been gobbling up the latest offerings. China’s new car market, larger than even the USA, is often a focal point for luxury car makers, but European and American buyers have been coming to dealerships in record numbers for over four years.
This sales surge has led to more expressive designs of late, as well as great model proliferation as the automakers expand their lineups to capture every available product niche — some that were not even imagined a few years ago.
Currently, Mercedes-Benz is making big product pushes in both the entry-level end of the segment — the new CLA sedan and this week’s GLA crossover as prime examples — plus the top end of the luxury segment with more expensive and luxurious S-class sedans, GL-crossovers, as well as the reintroduced Maybach S-class luxury liner.
The GLA crossover is essentially a taller five-door car based on the front-drive CLA compact car platform. Slightly smaller than an Audi Q3 or BMW X1 or Mercedes’ own GLK crossover, the GLA is almost exactly the same size as Subaru’s Crosstrek XV. The GLA, however, carries more features, more power and swoopier styling.
Power comes from a turbocharged 2.0-liter in-line four-cylinder engine that spins out 208-hp and a robust 258 pound/feet of torque. Acceleration is not an issue in the GLA with strong low-end and mid-range grunt aided by the traction of the 4MATIC all-wheel drive hardware. Mercedes drivers accustomed to rear-drive handling will not be disappointed with the GLA’s grip under throttle.
GLA buyers will also be surprised by the car’s fuel economy. Over the course of three fill-ups during the Mercedes’ visit, our fuel economy averaged a solid 30 mpg — well ahead of the EPA estimates of 24/32/27 mpg. One stint, a rural road ride from Farmingdale back to Ellsworth via Belfast, rendered a credible 33.6 mpg. Power and economy; attributes that premium car buyers admire.
The GLA’s chassis did not, however, earn as much praise. I will attribute much of this to the larger 19-inch wheels fitted to the GLA in place of the standard 18s. Ride characteristics tended to be firm, while the steering feel did not match the car’s handling prowess. Worn highway surfaces — truck grooves — also produced tramlining, the effect where the car feels stuck in the grooves and wonders, forcing the driver to make steering corrections on a straight path. Otherwise, the GLA’s small dimensions let the car handle, like, a small car, with a tight low-speed turning radius and nimble manners at less than super-highway speeds.
The GLA’s eye-catching styling also constrains outward visibility from inside. The roof feels low and the glass portals small as the coziness of the sleek GLA can be either a virtue or a complaint — depending upon your outlook, and physical size. Larger “B” and “C” roof pillars necessitated by the styling (and new rollover regulations) constrain visibility further. Thankfully, a rear-view camera is standard.
Front occupants enjoy a premium-adorned cabin with good content and complementing surfaces. The Mercedes emphasis for one stalk for wiper and turn signals, with a smaller stalk below for cruise control, takes some adapting to, while the electric shift lever is another stalk on the right side of the column — with reverse up and drive down. Paddle shifters on the wheel let you explore the turbo-engine’s potential, while redundant audio controls augment already simple stereo selections on the dash.
Our Universal Blue GLA, a metallic green/blue hue, came with Mercedes’ ($2,480) COMAND system, a 7-inch screen atop the center dash that displays navigation, Sirius audio selections, as well as the rear view. Mariner fans will also enjoy weather band radio, which reported the very chilly daily buoy temperatures from the Gulf of Maine.
In the back, two adults will easily fit, yet there is not an abundance of space. It feels like the cabin was sculpted for two people, with the front seatback carved out for your knees and the headliner strategically stretched for your noggin. It works, but don’t wear your Easter hat here. The seatback splits to fold for the cargo hold, greatly expanding your cargo options over the CLA sedan.
If you are keeping score so far, the GLA earns accolades for its powertrain output and efficiency, plus its upscale styling and features. 4MATIC is a bonus for Snowbelt drivers, plus the extensive options list as well as the sportier AMG version with its 355-hp engine provide buyers the ability to better tailor their five-door hatch to their liking.
On the flip side, the GLA only earns a mid-pack rating on handling, ride and drivability. I wish the car were a little quieter at highway speeds too. The GLA’s cozy cabin will be loved by smaller stature individuals, perhaps a nod to the prospective buyers that the car is targeted toward.
Pricing begins at $33,300. As shown, $41,625. The AMG model is $48,300. With crossover sales exploding in all segments in this market, Mercedes is already selling almost 2,000 GLAs each month.
Mercedes is currently expanding its own Alabama assembly plant to build more midsize and full-size crossover models for the U.S. market. With one in five of all Mercedes cars built worldwide being sold in the USA, the Germans are committed to bringing more models here, as well as building more models here. Like the new GLA, it is a strategy that works for many Americans.