Emma Jayne Williams

Mercedes adds compact crossover with introduction of 2015 GLA

Mercedes-Benz has an all-new five-passenger SUV model for 2015, the GLA-Class compact crossover, which offers three trim levels – 250, 250 4Matic, and 45AMG 4Matic, with prices from $31,300 to $48,300. Mixing attributes of a hatchback and a small crossover, GLA offers a sporty ride, a luxurious, well-finished cabin and a higher drive height.

For this review I drove a GLA250 4Matic for $33,300 before options. My tester had a 2.0-liter inline-four turbo engine, producing 208 horsepower, paired with a seven-speed DCT transmission with paddle shifters on the steering wheel and a column-mounted gear selector. 4Matic is Mercedes’ fully integrated full-time all-wheel drive system, working with many other safety and driving-assistance systems to empower each wheel to function individually according to road conditions for maximum traction and handling.

The AMG model has a wild side, with a 355-horsepower handcrafted 2.0-liter turbo inline four-cylinder racing-inspired engine with a plaque engraved with the craftsman’s signature affixed to the engine cover.

My tester was Cosmos Black Metallic ($720 extra) with Black Leather interior and Anthracite metallic trim on the dash. Anthracite trim has a unique texture and cool tone, which highlighted the low-sheen metallic trim of the five circular dashboard air vents and the circular displays of the instrument cluster.

The standard 18-inch wheels were replaced by lightweight, highly rigid 19-inch AMG twin five-spoke wheels (ultrathin spokes with a crisp machined finish inlaid in dark metallic gray – striking!) with low-profile all-season extended-mobility run-flat tires included in a $2,200 Sport Package. The package included perforated front disc brakes with M-B logo, and AMG body styling with an aggressive front apron featuring vertical side grilles and matte silver insert. It also comes with a deep rear valance with a matching silver insert surrounding twin chrome tailpipes.

Chrome trimmed the iconic grille’s signature M-B star badge and subtly angled twin crosswings, the lower window surround, the liftgate break and M-B badge, the cargo sill, and the roof rails. The aggressive lower air dam emphasized the "twin power dome" of the hood and the sculpted fenders.

Standard equipment included an audio system with HD radio, a single-disc CD player, and a USB connection; Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity; and mbrace telematics. Mbrace hardware connects your car, your computer and/or your smartphone and uses advanced cloud-based GPS technology, with 24-hour support.

It’s designed to make everyday life easier or help in an emergency with the industry’s most-comprehensive range of features, including automatic collision notification, an emergency-response button, stolen-vehicle locator, remote car alarm and remote door lock/unlock, and offers three optional subscription packages.

Bi-xenon headlights, an $850 option, provided greater visibility thanks to their brighter, whiter light which is closer to natural daylight. The package also included LED front turn signals and Daytime Running Lights.

Distinctive rear lights also featured fast-acting LED brake and turn lights with LED fiber-optic taillights. An AMG illuminated Door Sill Package added $350.

An Interior Package for $1,700 included the leather seating, top-stitched M-B Tex premium vinyl on the dash, and sport seats with integrated headrests. Contrasting borders enhanced the plush floor mats. And an additional 12-volt power outlet was added for the rear cabin.

The power front seats had standard lumbar support and memory, with position controls on the upper door panel. A $580 package heated the front seats. The Sport front seats with deep contours and racing-inspired integrated head restraints were comfortable, though firm, and ambient lighting added a pleasant detail beneath each head restraint. Strategically placed LEDs also cast a soothing glow in all four footwells, door handles and the front cupholders.

A panorama roof, a $1,480 option, had a power fabric shade and could be tilted for ventilation or slid to the rear panel for an open-air feel. Deep-tinted windows on the liftgate and rear doors offered privacy and protection from the heat of the sun.

Split-folding rear seatbacks increased the cargo area from 17.2 cubic feet to 43.6 cubic feet. We were able to haul lots of gardening supplies, including long items such as a rake and several tomato cages, though the liftover was quite high.

GLA’s cabin was ultramodern, with a freestanding 5.8-inch color screen on top of the hooded dash, a central controller on the console, five prominent "eyeball" vents with stylized "X" positioning grips, and a center console flowing from the dash to the sliding padded armrest between the front seats.

The driver and front passenger had lots of head and legroom – 40 inches/41.9 inches – but the rear passengers were slightly claustrophobic with 38.4 inches of headroom and 33.9 inches of legroom. The seat cushions were also short and low. Visibility out the back was compromised slightly by the shallow angle of the tailgate and the thick rear pillars.

Audio, video, hands-free calling were conveniently displayed and controlled within easy reach and line of sight. Some functions were also accessed using integrated steering wheel controls. My tester didn’t have navigation or satellite radio. The radio dial, however, was a digital representation of an analog tuner displayed on the color screen.

A 4.5-inch color display in the instrument cluster, controlled via the multifunction steering wheel, included screens for a trip computer, programmable vehicle settings, audio system status and much more.

My tester had lots of impressive safety equipment and technology, including Collision Prevention Assist Plus, Attention Assist, automatic headlights with twilight sensor and locator lighting, Brake Assist System, and Adaptive Brake technology.

Locator lighting is a handy feature for those of us who can’t remember exactly where our car is parked, especially at night. The headlights and exterior lights turn on when the doors are unlocked using the remote, and turn off when the driver’s door is opened, or after a pre-set interval. When the doors are locked upon exiting, the lights stay on for specified amount of time.

Collision Prevention identifies potential collision situations, warns the driver with visual and audio alerts and brakes accordingly. New for 2015, the system is active for moving vehicles up to 65 mph and for stationary objects/stopped vehicles up to 40 mph. If emergency braking is applied, adaptive Brake Assist provides maximum brake force to help prevent or reduce the severity of a rear-end collision.

Attention Assist uses over 70 measured variables to create an individual driver profile, detects when the driver is becoming tired or inattentive, and prompts him/her to take a rest. The warning comes through a vibration in the steering wheel when the car crosses the centerline.

My GLA had an advanced system of eight air bags, offering 10-way passenger protection. Dual two-stage front air bags, front side-impact head and torso air bags, dual front knee air bags and side-curtain air bags for both rows are standard.

With the superior performance, exquisite style, and cutting-edge technology we expect from Mercedes-Benz, my GLA was fun to drive and an eye-catcher. Total delivered price was $44,605, including $925 destination charges.

The automotive columns of Emma Jayne Williams have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 2007. Contact her at emmajayne1948@gmail.com.