Sitting in stop-and-go rush hour traffic, I looked around at all the other poor slobs and thought, how do people deal with this day after day? I was given the luxury of contemplating the other drivers on the road due to the fact that the 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA250's adaptive cruise control was handling all my braking and accelerating. I had set what Mercedes-Benz calls Distronic Plus for 65 mph, and it seemed perfectly content to mull along at 15 mph.
If I had been driving one of Mercedes-Benz's larger cars, like the, I might have been able to let go of the steering wheel, as well. However, the entry-level GLA250, a compact SUV, doesn't get the more advanced Traffic Jam Assistant found higher up in the model line.
As a compact SUV, the GLA250 offers seating for five, a high driver position and an ample cargo space measuring 42 cubic feet with the rear seats down. And more than the practicality, I liked the looks of the thing. The hood curves down toward the two-bar grille while the roof rails form a graceful line, rolling up from the A-pillars then back down at the rear. The back end slants forward, which may eat into cargo space, but it gives the whole car a sporty look.
Base price in the US for the 2015 GLA250 comes in at $33,300, making it one of the less expensive Mercedes-Benz models. That model includes the Mercedes-Benz 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. The same model begins at £29,480 in the UK and AU$58,600 in Australia. In those two markets, you can bring the base price down further by opting for a front-wheel-drive diesel version, lower in power but greater in fuel economy.
The GLA250 model actually delivers decent fuel economy, its turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder engine rated in EPA tests at 24 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. In my driving I managed to remain in the high 20s, coming in with 28.3 mpg.
Getting 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque from this little engine, the GLA250 may not be the fastest thing on the road, but it is no slouch. I found enough get-up-and-go for quick passing maneuvers on two-lane roads, short freeway merges and generally getting ahead of the pack from a stop light.
Eco, Sport and Manual
Helping both the acceleration and fuel economy is a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. This type of transmission does away with sloppy torque converter shifting in favor of two computer-controlled clutches for quick and direct gear changes. The GLA250's transmission includes three modes: Eco, Sport and Manual. Eco reaches for the highest gears, letting the engine run slower, while Sport holds lower gears longer, especially in response to aggressive driving. When I really wanted to get aggressive, paddles on the steering wheel let me choose my gear in manual mode.
In Eco mode, the GLA250's transmission shifted smoothly and quietly, keeping itself below my threshold of awareness.
Pushing the GLA250 through the turns with the transmission in Sport mode, the electric power steering delivered satisfying precision and the stiff suspension kept the car nice and flat. However, the all-wheel-drive system contributed little to the handling as I felt the back end sliding around similar to a front-wheel-drive car. This 4Matic system is front-wheel biased, and Mercedes-Benz notes in the GLA250's specs that it can shift up to 50 percent torque to the rear wheels. Rather than supporting handling, this system seems more focused on providing icy road traction.
While I liked the general driving character of the GLA250 and enjoyed the aggressive automatic shifting from the transmission's Sport mode, the suspension did not deliver the comfort I would expect from a premium car. Whenever the road got rough I could feel harsh jolts in the cabin accompanied by the odd rattle. I found similar poor ride quality in the, suggesting to me that Mercedes-Benz hasn't refined its small-car suspensions. Small cars from BMW and Audi show much more pliant rides.
The adaptive cruise control system, optioned into the car as part of the Driver Assistance package, worked wonders in heavy traffic. The only time I had to touch the pedals was when traffic started moving after coming to a complete stop. A quick stab at the gas pedal got the car rolling again. A blind-spot monitor system, also part of the Driver Assistance package, proved useful, warning me of cars trailing off my rear quarters with lights in the side mirrors.