Test Drive Notes Library
- Much better. This is a much improved A-Class. The last GLA we drove was full of flaws. Mercedes has stepped up and corrected almost all of them in the redesigned GLA. This is still the smallest, and least expensive Mercedes, but it now feels like a real Mercedes. They want to bill it as a small SUV/Crossover. But it’s really a beefed up hatchback, and a good one.
- Interior. The cabin is first rate. If you’re inside the GLA, you know you’re in a Mercedes. There’s a solidity to the car, and the overall impression is "high tech upscale.” The materials — from seats to switchgear — feel like good, solid, high quality parts. The GLA has turbine-like air vents other manufacturers will be jealous of. They not only look great, but operate like an old craftsman named Helmut spent a week in his workshop perfecting the feel of the knobs. You sit in front of two large, bright, horizontal displays. One of them is the instrument cluster, and can be modified to suit your tastes and, to some extent, your information requirements. The center infotainment screen handles everything else. We’re happy to report it can be controlled as a touch screen, and not just via touchpad.
- Roomy enough. While this is the smallest car Mercedes sells in the US, it’s not tiny. The front doors open wide, and make it easy to get in and out. There were no complaints about lack of room up front. The back doors, while smaller, are squared off to provide easy access. It’s not roomy in back, but it’s adequate, even for most adults. Behind the rear seats is a surprisingly decent cargo area. The rear seats fold down flat to expand it when needed.
- Handling. The AMG GLA35 is a sporty version of the GLA. It features Mercedes adjustable “Ride Control” suspension. In normal “Comfort" mode, where we mostly left it, the car feels tight and solid, and corners with very little body lean. While not designed to be tossed around, it’s fun to drive and the roadholding inspires confidence. The 302 hp four cylinder turbo is plenty (you can get a GLA with more or less horsepower). It’s paired with an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that mostly works perfectly, although it does occasionally suffer from Dual Clutch Syndrome — a slight hesitation at very low speeds. Despite the 300 horses and sporty character, we saw nearly 27.5 mpg overall, with a bit more highway than city driving. That’s pretty good.
- Pretty good safety. The GLA comes standard with most of the basics: Forward Collision Warning, Automatic Emergency Braking, and Blind Spot Warning. Mercedes suggests you pay an additional $1,700 for the Driver Assistance Package, which upgrades those systems to “active” avoidance, and adds adaptive cruise control and some other niceties. We reluctantly agree. Pay the man for the upgrade.
Test Drive Notes Library
- Firm ride. The ride is not punishing, but if you’ve driven a higher-end Mercedes, you know how they practically man-handle road imperfections out of existence. The GLA doesn’t do that. It’s a sporty, firm comfort. Bigger bumps and expansion joints definitely come through. But to be fair, it’s much improved over the old GLA. We would have no trouble living with this ride.
- Screen interface. Mercedes keeps working on its MBUX infotainment system. That’s good, because its controls are still on the mystifying side. The screens are great, and it certainly looks high tech, but we didn’t find it particularly easy to use. We found ourselves digging through various sub-sections to find what we were looking for. And while the touch screen option is blood pressure lowering, Mercedes is sticking with its optional touch pads, which are just difficult to master. Perhaps if you have the dexterous fingers of person under 35 who grew up operating his pacifier with his iPhone, you’ll take right to it. We didn’t. There’s a voice command option, too, triggered by the words “Hey, Mercedes.” Or sometimes triggered by other words. Sometimes it understood us, sometimes it didn’t. “Damn it, I said lower the window glass, Mercedes, not exploit the working class!”
- Rear visibility. We like the styling of the GLA. But the small rear windows that give it cool styling also detract from visibility. So looking out the rear windows or the backlight doesn’t reveal much. There’s a $1,100 Parking Assistance package with sonar sensors and a birds-eye view camera that you’ll want, so you don’t back your new Mercedes into your neighbor’s Altima.
- Price of the star. Face it, you’re paying a premium for that big, three pointed star on the grill. You want a Mercedes in the driveway? Prepare to pay $53,630 for our nicely equipped AMG GLA35 test car. And that’s without the Driver Assistance Package or Parking Assistance. You’ll be getting a very nice, very well made, small car. But you’ll pay a premium for the prestige.
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