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Mercedes-Benz GLA 250

Because not everyone parks in an abandoned airplane hangar

Compact SUVs are hot right now, and it couldn’t have happened soon enough for those of us with Great Depression-era garages.

Mercedes-Benz has jumped into the fray with the very attractive (in looks and price) GLA Class, which will not only slip easily into most garages, but owners will also find themselves actually fitting it between the lines of the local shopping mall parking spaces.

Besides the GLA, M-B has a showroom full of crossovers and SUVs, from the still-not-huge but more plush GLK Class, to the more truck-like M and GL Classes (not to mention the dearly-priced G Class). Thankfully for the aestheticists out there, M-B retired the strangely-proportioned R Class wagon (minivan? SUV? No one really knew) a few years back.

The GLA seats five comfortably, with space behind the folding back seat for their stuff. It drives more like a car than an SUV (which is not a bad thing), and even the seating position is more car-like, although with greater ground clearance you do sit a bit higher in the GLA. The interior, easily gotten into despite its short-roofed appearance, is as comfortable as you’d expect an M-B to be. It’s not on a par with the above-mentioned M-B SUVs, but neither is its sticker, coming in at a starting price of just $31,300. My biggest complaint about the interior was the placement of the freestanding 5.8 inch central display screen. It seems to be the latest trend to simply plop these things on top of the dash, but to me they look like afterthoughts. There’s an optional seven inch screen which I can’t imagine looks much better. To add insult to injury, the screen on my test car froze when the low fuel warning came on.

Driving the GLA, courtesy of Mercedes-Benz of Buffalo, was a treat (thanks Chelsea Lohr!). Its compact size means no lumbering around corners or curves. All GLA 250s are powered by a 2.0L turbocharged inline four which puts out 208 hp. It is connected to a seven-speed automatic transmission which comes with (what I imagine are rarely-used) shift paddles behind the steering wheel. The test car was also equipped with the optional ($2,000) 4Matic all wheel drive system (front wheel drive is standard), which added to the vehicle’s grip even on dry pavement.

If this isn’t enough for you, you can move up to the GLA 45 AMG. AMG, if you’re not familiar with them, is M-B’s high performance division. What this’ll get you is a meaner-looking GLA: wheels, tires, body kit, better interior...and under the hood you’ll find a 2.0L turbocharged engine rated at 355 hp. M-B claims it has more power than any four cylinder currently in production. Which all comes at a price: the AMG starts at $48,300. Compared to the GLA 250’s opening bid you have quite a gap. I could easily live with one of the “base” cars parked in my garage.

It’s hardly “base,” though. As you’d expect, there’s a slew of standard equipment: HD radio, 14-way power driver’s seat w/memory, power liftgate, rain-sensing wipers, ECO start/stop system (which went totally unnoticeable during the test drive), M-B’s Collision Prevention Assist Plus (which monitors your speed and the distance between you and the vehicle in front of you, warning you when a collision is likely — a feature I didn’t realize I had until it activated as I approached the car in front of me at a stop light)—it also kicks in the Adaptive Brake Assist which will help you stop quicker and safer. All this is among other features, of course.

I’m glad the trend is toward more reasonably-sized vehicles. It’s frustrating to watch some people trying to maneuver their chrome-laden behemoths through narrow streets and parking lots. I see the GLA becoming the normal-sized vehicle of the not-too-distant future.

Yet you can be a trendsetter and put one in your garage today.

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