On paper, the new 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 looks like a great idea. Take the new small-car platform that underpins the stylish and affordable CLA, and use it to make a small crossover for the suburbanites of America. It’s one of the cheapest machines you can with a three-pointed star on the nose, so will this new machine hold up to the level of quality, technological superiority, and performance we expect from a Benz?

From a visual standpoint, it nails it out of the park. The same squat, bulldog nose and swoopy hind-quarters that looked so good on the CLA move over to the crossover shape handsomely. Touches like the satin metal roof bars and chrome window trim add that extra touch of class and visual refinement. Our car comes with a visual package that adds a lot of goodies from the faster and more expensive AMG model. It adds a more aggressive nose with jutting lower lip, side skirts, a new rear bumper, and some very big and aggressive looking 19-inch alloy wheels. When it all gets tied together with that deep black paint, the car simultaneously oozes luxury and anger.

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Inside things become more of a mixed game. Things like the sport leather bucket seats with their fixed headrests look and feel amazing, and the thick rimmed steering wheel is one of the best I’ve held since the Cadillac ATS Coupe a few months back. The dash is a mix of soft touch materials and high quality plastics with interesting visual textures and design. It looks very upper class Mercedes. Overhead the, headliner is well padded, covered in a tight-knit cloth, and a humongous panoramic sunroof dominates the roof.

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Despite all these great luxury features, the cabin of the GLA 250 also leaves a lot to be desired. The door locking system is a classic large and bulbous 1950’s style pull pin that is made of the cheapest and nastiest plastic I have felt in car since the Pontiac Grand Prix existed. The door panels also squeaked and rattled under the power of the cars stereo. While the stereo sounded great, I couldn’t turn it up as loud as I wanted thanks to the incessant buzz and rattles. The equipment list is also lacking. Despite having the large screen on the dash, and a button that reads “NAVI,” there is no navigation installed. We have complained about this practice in products from the various Toyota nameplates, but it feels even more unacceptable in a Mercedes. Our car also had no satellite radio, no backup camera, and no auxiliary port that I could find. It does come with a USB port and a power rear liftgate though.

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It’s not like it’s a cheap car either. The base price of a GLA 250 4MATIC is a very reasonable $33,000. But then you start piling on the options. Our gorgeous Cosmos Black paint; $720. Illuminated door sills with AMG logos; 350. That gigantic sunroof was $1,480, the bi-xenon headlights were an extra $850 and the heated front seats added $580. Then we get to the really big options. The leather sport seats are part of the $1,700 interior package, the 19-icnh alloys and body kit come as part of the $2,200 Sport Package, and the Driver Asistance Package that adds the fancy blind-spot monitor system, radar cruise control and lane keep assist all come with a price tag of $2,500. After the $925.00 destination charge and all the various options, our $33,000 crossover ballooned to $44,605.

So it’s a little expensive, all Mercedes-Benz cars are, but all Mercedes cars are also solid performers. So how does the GLA 250 stand up when you skip the equipment and go straight to the greasy bits? Well under the hood you will find a tiny 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that has been enhanced with turbocharging to push horsepower up to 210 ponies, with torque coming in at a very healthy 258 pound-feet. Our cars also comes with Mercedes’ 7-speed automatic transmission and the 4MATIC all-wheel drive system. Simple performance numbers are decent, but not mind-blowing. The zero to 60 mph sprint is dispatched in around the 6 second mark with top speed coming in at a tested 130 mph.

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During standard cruising, the car is competent but not excellent. Every time you start the car it defaults to an Eco mode setting that makes throttle response sluggish, and the transmission feels lazy. Flip it over to Sport every time you start it up and things feel much better. Even in sport mode you can catch the transmission napping, or confuse it for just a second as it searches for the right gear, but in general it’s a willing partner for your commute; be that city or highway. Where the GLA 250 really starts to make sense is on a quiet and tight mountain road. I took the little Mercedes down to the Tail of the Dragon with some Miata friends of mine, and set of chasing after the small and nimble sports cars. If we were to push things to 9/10s or so, the Miatas would easily outrun the GLA, but at a more common and entertaining 7/10s push, the little crossover was keeping up with the line of roadsters. The AWD system does a good job of killing understeer, and the little engine loves to rev. With seven different ratios on the transmission, it’s easy to keep the engine in its sweet spot, and with all that torque, the machine just claws its way up the mountain road.

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On the way back down things got a bit more interesting and a little scarier. While the way up proved to be no issue for the crossover, on the way back down I had to rely more heavily on the brakes, and with each turn I had to stab the pedal harder and a little easier. Thankfully the fade was less than I expected from a car that weighs nearly 2 tons, and the loss of braking power was a slow and steady process that was easy to feel and adjust for. There was sudden loss of braking like you get in some cars when you cook the pads.

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Overall I enjoyed my time with the little Mercedes, but the thought of that $45k price tag kept nagging at me. For just a few grand more, you can have the much faster and nicer equipped GLA 45 AMG. My suggestion for anyone looking at the GLA would be this: skip some of the options and save some cash on the bottom line, or step it up and just grab the AMG version. The GLA is a solid little platform, and that 2.0-liter engine is a peach, but AMG is faster, tauter, more aggressive and even more fun to drive. Save up a few more pennies and grab that one instead of the 250.

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