Can't beat the Benz

by Graeme Fletcher . Dec 09 2016
2017 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4Matic

2017 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4Matic

The hot compact-crossover segment continues to grow at an incredible rate. The Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class arrived last year, but it has a new twin called the Infiniti QX30. The two share much, but after driving both back-to-back it’s clear that the differences are meaningful, which made picking the smarter purchase much easier.

The cabins share a lot in terms of content: the door panel switches, cruise and wiper/turn signal stalks, climate-control buttons and the smart key. The differences include the infotainment system and seats; while the Infiniti gets a touch-sensitive screen, Mercedes has a sharper-looking unit screen and simpler controls. To get the best, a prospective owner needs to add the Premium pack (automatic climate control, blind-spot monitoring, rear-view camera and the eight-inch media display screen), which adds $1,600 to the base GLA. The COMAND infotainment system with navigation adds another $1,100, though the Premium Plus package proved more than necessary. Do you really need a power tailgate, garage door opener and bi-xenon headlights, among other things, for $2,400?

The seats differ mainly because of the material that wraps them. Infiniti uses very nice Nappa leather; Mercedes-Benz uses Artico upholstery. The latter is nothing more than a posh name for vinyl, so the QX30 easily wins that contest.

Where the GLA 250 scored big points was in the fact you can tailor the door locks. Not only can you set the key fob to unlock all doors with one push or first the driver’s door and then the rest with a second push, the auto-locking system can be defeated. This seemingly small trick made a world of difference in terms of convenience — it meant I no longer needed to use the interior door lock button every time I wanted out of the crossover.

The storage capacity story is one of give and take. The GLA is rated at 421 litres with the seats up and 1,235 with the 60/40-split folding seats down. That is less than the QX30 with the seats up, but considerably more with them folded flat (+ 272L). The floor is reasonably flat; it slopes uphill slightly beyond the fold, but is functional right down to the tie-downs and privacy cover.

The GLA 250 features the same 2.0-L turbocharged four-cylinder with 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The tuning is slightly different, but it worked nicely with the seven-speed twin-clutch transmission — both coming from Mercedes. While the initial launch is a tad soft, the power builds strongly once moving. The GLA’s 4Matic standard all-wheel-drive system — optional on the QX — then does a good job of minimizing wheelspin and putting the power down, even on loose gravel. The GLA 250 runs to 100 km/h hour in 6.6 seconds.

One of the biggest differences is found in the ability to tweak the powertrain and, in the GLA’s case, the steering. It features Off-road, Eco, Comfort, Individual and Sport modes. Each alters the driving characteristics, so there is a setting for most eventualities. The steering is firmer in Sport and can be set likewise through Individual mode. The best solution is to pick Comfort for city and Sport when a twisty road beckons. The latter sharpens the throttle so there is no lack of zip. It almost (almost!) made me wonder why one would option up to the GLA45 AMG and its 375 hp, but then my saner brain kicked in — who was I kidding?

The Infiniti QX30 offers only Manual, Eco and Sport. Unfortunately, Eco is too soft and Sport is too aggressive for urban driving and going Manual all the time is a pain. In short, it lacks the GLA’s mode diversity.

Both the GLA 250 and QX30 handle adroitly. While the former’s overall tuning is slightly softer than the latter, the road manners proved equal. The suspension keeps body roll to a minimum without sacrificing ride quality. The feel and feedback from the steering is good in Comfort and sharp when in Sport. One option worth considering is the GLA’s Sport package ($1,700), which brings 19-inch AMG wheels and the P235/45 tires that accompany the upsizing. They add to the lateral grip and fill the wheel arches with more authority.

The GLA 250 is a sorted crossover that donates its platform and most of its mechanicals to the Infiniti QX30. There are subtle and not-so-subtle differences that work for and against both. Even the pricing between the two is competitive. So do you take the German or Japanese version of this compact near-luxury crossover? For me, there was no question at the end of the test. The GLA 250 is the better overall deal.

— Postmedia Network Inc. 2016

Photos by Graeme Fletcher / Postmedia Network Inc. When compared to the Infiniti QX30, the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class (above) beats out the competition with its safety features and adaptable steering.

Photos by Graeme Fletcher / Postmedia Network Inc.

When compared to the Infiniti QX30, the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class (above) beats out the competition with its safety features and adaptable steering.