Today I sat across the parking lot divider from a Mercedes GLA XXX (where the XXX now comes from a random number generator housed on a server in Johann de Nysschen’s basement, which I imagine Johann likes to equate to the Batcave, but in reality resembles Harvey Weinstein’s basement more closely, but with cars). I felt like my brain was broken. It wasn’t that I hadn’t seen one of these before. I see them almost every day. I see a lot of cars every day. But after a year or so, I came to the conclusion that this may be the first vehicle I simply can’t defend, support, or make sense of. The GLA – and its Infiniti twin – are that car.
As a car enthusiast, I like to believe that we can find at least one positive thing to say about almost any vehicle. How about my previously-declared Worst Car Ever, the early 2000s Chevy Malibu? At least they’re cheap to buy and easy to work on. Both of those refer to the used market, so I still maintain that you had to be pretty confused to buy one new. The GLA, on the other hand…they’re almost all new or very lightly used. That means people today – coming off the tail end of the Great Recession, amid wake-up calls like stagnating wages and employment, skyrocketing tuition and healthcare expenses, with the widest variety of vehicles the world has ever seen, and with a newfound collective sense of financial pragmatism that allegedly came from the financial crisis – are willingly choosing to hand over their government- and deity-backed fiat money for this vehicle over all others. Even Fiats.
The obvious reaction to my comment would be “Why do you care?” or “People are going to buy what they want” or “It’s a style choice.” All valid. Style is subjective and people’s needs vary widely, there is no disputing that. But there comes a point where style takes over to such a degree that, without some commensurate form-based performance or utility to make up for it, it’s no longer valid as a reason. However, as long as people hide behind subjectivity, they never have to acknowledge their error. It’s like Harvey Weinstein’s version of moral relativism, but for cars.
Yes, I know there’s an AMG version. More power is like the vinyl siding of the car world – it hides a lot of flaws. But at the end of the day, you’re still in a fake hatchback and you still live in a double-wide trailer, regardless of what the marketing brochures told you about trendy compact crossovers and efficient tiny houses.
The bottom line is you have a car that does nothing well. Every other car in the Mercedes lineup does everything this does, and most of them do it better – to say nothing of all the competing brands offering similar cars. As much flak as I’ve given to the current trend of compact CUVs like the Honda HR-V, at least you’re getting an unpretentious brand and Honda had a reasonable excuse to slot something under the growing CR-V. And a fresh start to market a vehicle to millennials, even if (just like with the CR-V and Element) it’s mostly purchased by empty nesters for its practicality and resale value. And they like to sit up high because going 65mph in the left lane warrants a commanding view of the road.
If something like the GLA came as a first effort from an upstart carmaker or new-to-the-market Chinese firm, I would probably excuse it (mostly). But when it shows up with the venerable tri-star badge on it – something that is supposed to come with a lot of prestige, history, and expertise – it arrives with so much baggage you wouldn’t be able to fit it all in the GLA without folding the rear seats down. And, to paraphrase the Harvey Weinstein film Mallrats, that’s a really uncomfortable place to do anything.