I've been trying to get a Mercedes-Benz into my family's fleet for some time, but the luxury brand's offerings usually come in a little higher than our budget allows. I tested the 2014 CLA-Class with the hopes that this sub-$30,000 sedan could work for my family of three, but quickly determined the four-door "coupe" was not intended for families, even small ones. My scheming started again with the 2015 GLA-Class. I wondered if the three of us would fare better in the subcompact crossover, which starts at $32,225 including a destination charge, than in the CLA-Class.
On paper, the GLA250 offers more passenger room and cargo space than the CLA250 thanks to its crossover body style. It's no surprise that the GLA250's cargo area is larger at 17.2 cubic feet behind the backseat compared to the CLA250's 13.1 cubic feet. My stroller fit in the GLA250's cargo area easily, but in the CLA250 I had to remove one of the stroller's wheels to fit it. When the GLA250's 60/40-split rear seats are folded, there's 43.6 cubic feet of cargo space. The GLA250 also boasts an additional 6 inches of rear legroom (33.9 inches) over the CLA250, which is impressive considering both cars have the same 106.3-inch wheelbase.
The GLA250 is fun to drive, but it doesn't have the same heft and solidity on the road as others in the Mercedes lineup. At times, the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission shifted harshly and hunted for the right gear. Coupled with the engine's jarring stop-start technology, the drive experience was much less refined than other Mercedes-Benz models I've driven in the past.
My family noticed the GLA250's roominess during our test drive. One of the biggest differences is in the backseat: The GLA250 has 35.4 inches of rear headroom — a 3-inch increase over the CLA250 — thanks to its taller height of 60 inches. The additional headroom makes the crossover a lot less claustrophobic and helps when installing a child-safety seat.
However, my daughter had a difficult time getting out of the crossover because her car seat filled a large portion of the backseat — just as it did in the CLA-Class. When my husband rode with us and slid the front passenger seat back to a comfortable position, my daughter had only a narrow space to slink out of the car seat. To remedy this, my husband either had to slide the front seat forward before unstrapping her or she had to exit the car on the opposite side. When my husband stayed home, my daughter and I had no problems getting her in and out of her car seat. While I can't exactly call the GLA-Class spacious, its close quarters weren't a deal-breaker for me like they were in the CLA-Class.
However, I've decide the GLA250 doesn't work for my family because of two things: visibility and price. When in Reverse, I couldn't see a thing. My test car had the available blind spot warning system ($550), but it's almost a crime it doesn't come standard at this price point. I relied on the system heavily as well as the backup camera, and even then I still had a few close calls. The GLA250 starts at $32,225, but my all-wheel-drive test car, which had the creature comforts I enjoy as a parent — power liftgate, leather seats for easier clean up, Comand multimedia system with navigation and a backup camera — cost $45,935. That price tag doesn't justify the excuses I'd be making for the GLA250 on a daily basis while on family duty.
Cars.com photos by Carrie Kim