The 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLA Class is built off the platform of the CLA Class sedan, promising a bit more practicality than its cousin along with a higher ride height. The GLA is a solid competitor to other subcompact luxury hatchbacks like the Audi Q3, Buick Encore, BMW X1, and INFINITI QX30 while giving us Americans a slight taste of the broader Mercedes offerings over on the continent. The GLA is sold in two different variants, the base level GLA 250 and the insane AMG GLA 45, which makes use of one of the most powerful four-cylinder engines ever put into production.

Best Value

As much as we’d like an AMG GLA 45, we find it hard to justify its $51,595 starting price tag. Therefore, we’ll stick with a GLA 250 with all-wheel drive, which starts at a much more reasonable $36,395. The GLA 250 is pretty well equipped to start with a choice of leather and leatherette seating surfaces, and optional wood trims, along with standard automatic emergency braking.

There’s a ton of option packages and individual selections that you can add to your GLA 250, so you can get it almost exactly how you’d want it. We’d be sure to equip the Interior Package so we could get leather upholstery in our luxury SUV, along with the Premium Package and Driver Assistance Package for adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist. We’d also be sure to get the Panorama sunroof for that natural lighting. Here's how we'd build our GLA 250.

  • Model: 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4MATIC
  • Engine: 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline-four cylinder
  • Output: 202 hp / 258 lb-ft
  • Transmission:Seven-Speed Dual-Clutch Automatic
  • Drivetrain: All-Wheel Drive ($2,000)
  • MPG: 24 City / 33 Hwy
  • Options: Interior Package ($1,700, leather upholstery, multi-color ambient lighting, sport front seats), Premium Package ($1,800, blind-spot monitoring, keyless entry, hands-free tailgate, heated front seats, satellite radio), Driver Assistance Package ($1,500, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist), Panoramic sunroof ($1,480).
  • Base Price:$36,395 (including the $995 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price:$42,875

Performance

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class

The standard GLA 250 is a solid performer, with a 202-horsepower engine with 258 pound-feet of torque, which makes it good for a zero to 60 mph sprint in 7.1 seconds. The transmission is up to sporting snuff as well, as it keeps up well with dynamic driving conditions in Sport mode while becoming smooth and reserved in Eco mode. All-wheel drive increases traction in the corners and slippery conditions, and the suspension keeps the car well planted in a way you wouldn’t expect an SUV to behave, but it's also surprisingly harsh on rough roads.

The AMG GLA 45 is something entirely different – a true hot hatch rocket ship, albeit one on stilts. In the AMG variant, the 2.0-liter turbo four is boosted to 375 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque, which gets it to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds, with help from standard all-wheel drive. The engine noise has been cranked up to a raucous tune, and the suspension has been dialed in harder to allow for hardcore cornering. With the AMG Dynamic Plus Package, the GLA 45 has access to a limited slip front differential to maintain power to the front wheels, as well as adaptive sport suspension, a Race mode that increases powertrain response and minimizes traction control, and a higher top speed limiter of 167 mph.

Style

The GLA is a good looking car in both GLA 250 and AMG GLA 45 guise. The car is handsome, with a typical German style, with design cues that evoke the larger Mercedes SUVs. It has a significant amount of visual features that make it look interesting, without overdoing it like many other brands. This means the GLA has a formal appearance that's necessary for a luxury car, without making it seem too boring. Inside, the cabin is appropriately luxurious, with optional leather, wood trim, carbon fiber, and aluminum to finish it off the way you want it.

The AMG GLA 45 looks broadly similar to the GLA 250 on the outside, with the major difference being a more aggressive looking bumper, splitter and rear diffuser, but the interior is a bit more sports-car like, with Alcantara seats and trim (known in Mercedes as DINOMICA) and bright red seat belts inspired by racing harnesses. Several option packages can change the look of your AMG GLA 45, allowing you to choose a more luxurious flavor, or one that's a bit more sporty.

To really set your AMG GLA 45 apart from the standard GLA, Mercedes offers the AMG Performance Studio Package, which completely changes the visual flavor of the car. With this package, the GLA 45 gets a big rear spoiler, wheels, door mirrors and a unique interior all trimmed in yellow, performance front seats by Recaro, and a variety of aerodynamic and visual upgrades. It serves to complete the GLA’s transformation from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde.

The Best and Worst Things

The best and worst thing about the GLA Class is the price. For the base GLA 250, you can walk away with a luxury SUV that feels like a luxury SUV for less than $35,000, although options can quickly add to that number.

On the other hand, the AMG GLA 45 is incredible to drive, but you can easily option it out to $65,000 with just a few packages. At that point, you’re shelling out a pretty penny for what's essentially a hot hatchback on steroids.

Right For? Wrong For?

Mercedes-Benz GLA Class

The GLA 250 is perfect for someone who doesn’t need to haul kids, but wants a bit more ride height and a bit more practicality than a sedan can offer. The back seat is a bit too cramped for car seats, but that’s generally the case with most subcompact SUVs. People with kids won’t find much use for the GLA 250, and if you’ve got a bad back, you may want to look elsewhere due to the harsher ride quality.

The AMG GLA 45 is a perfect fit for someone who wants to feel like a kid again every time they get behind the wheel. It’s so childish with the rear wing and loud exhausts, but in a good way. That being said, it’s not very discrete, so those who want to avoid grabbing attention from the cops may want to look elsewhere.

The Bottom Line

The GLA Class is a competent subcompact SUV that offer an entry point into the luxury brand. Even at the base price, it can feel like a luxury car, but it can also be optioned heavily into the exact car you want it to be. They’re slightly too small for carrying kids or substantial amounts of stuff, but many people like the added ride height over a standard sedan or hatchback. The AMG GLA 45 is a rocket ship, but it can be surprisingly expensive, so be careful with the options.