We’re looking at the Mercedes GLA 250 but it doesn’t have enough room inside – and I hate the steering-wheel-mounted shifter. Is there anything comparable that has an actual gear shifter in the centre? Looking for something that’s all-wheel drive with power, style and room – preferably for around $35,000. – Bev, Victoria
In newer cars these days, just getting from Drive to Park can require a shift of thinking.
Electronic shifting means the gear shifter doesn’t have to mechanically link to the transmission, letting car makers use joysticks, toggles, knobs and buttons instead.
For Mercedes, that means a lever on the steering wheel (with a button that you push to shift it into park).
But, at least for now, there are compact luxury SUVs that still have old-school shifters. The BMW X1 has one, even though the larger X3 and X5 have a joystick-like paddle.
And so does the Audi Q3 (which has a Canadian Black Book average asking price of $28,758 for a 2015) and the Infiniti QX30 ($31,075 for a base 2017, its first year).
The QX30 is the GLA’s fraternal twin – that gear shifter and the styling are the biggest differences – and it’s worth checking out.
But for interior space and a satisfying drive, consider the X1.
2016 BMW X1 xDrive28i
- Second generation: 2016-present
- Average asking price: $33,529 (Canadian Black Book)
- Original MSRP for base: $40,600
- Engine: 228-hp, 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
- Transmission/Drive: Eight-speed automatic /All-wheel
- Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 10.7 city, 7.4 highway; premium gas
It might be the first front-wheel-drive BMW for sale here, but X still marks the sport.
“The X1 is agile and athletic by any standards, never mind for a ‘utility’ vehicle,” Globe Drive said. “The straight-line performance won’t mollify owners of the Gen-1 35i version with its 300-hp, 3.0-litre six-pot, but the 2016 should be more than a match for base-engined rivals.
The new-for-2016 X1 is technically all-wheel drive. But, unlike the first X1 (2012-15), which was based on the 3-series, it uses the same FWD architecture as the Mini Clubman and Countryman.
You wouldn’t mistake it for the M3, but it still handled wet, winding roads with oomph and confidence.
Inside, the X1 had more room than most rivals. There’s a touch screen but, even without it, BMW’s iDrive controller is more intuitive than it used to be. Extra options – such as heads-up display, automatic lift-gate and parking sensors – drove up the price. Blind-spot warning wasn’t available. Consumer Reports liked the X1’s practical-sized interior, decent rear seat and cargo space and high tech ambiance. It griped that the X1 had a stiff ride and was “surprisingly loud, especially at this price, with apparent engine and road noise.”
Consumer Reports gave it three out of five for reliability, based on reports from subscribers. That went up to five out of five for 2017.
There was a recall to fix trim covering the passenger-side air bag.
2016 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4Matic
- First generation: 2015-present (facelift in 2017)
- Average asking price: $34,434 (Canadian Black Book)
- Original base MSRP: $38,500
- Engine: 208-hp, 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
- Transmission/drive: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic/All-wheel
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.8 city, 7.4 highway; premium gas
The GLA 250 is cheap for a Mercedes SUV – but a little pricey for what you actually get.
“Aside from the obvious appeal (to some drivers) of the Mercedes-Benz name, the GLA mostly looks and feels good enough to justify the price,” Globe Drive said. “But take that touchy-feely stuff out of the equation, and this car is nothing like a good value for the money.”
Park the GLA 250 next to a Mazda3 or Subaru Impreza, and you might wonder where the money went, Consumer Reports said.
“The GLA’s premium does pay for a nicely finished interior and nimble handling, with compact dimensions adding to maneuverability,” it said. “Fuel economy isn’t too shabby either.”
The GLA came with standard leatherette seats and a display screen that isn’t a touch screen – it used a joystick-like controller instead.
Consumer Reports liked the “envious looks” the GLA 250 got – and the standard forward-collision warning system. But it wasn’t thrilled with the stiff ride, loud cabin, snug interior, small cargo area and lousy visibility. It also said the transmission didn’t shift smoothly and the car was sluggish on the road.
Consumer Reports gave the 2016 GLA 250 four out of five for reliability.
There were two recalls, including a fix to prevent the air bag from potentially deploying during normal driving.
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