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Photos by Chris Blanchette and Adam Wood. Video by Chris Blanchette and Adam Wood.
Small crossovers continue to pop up like bunnies on an unregulated breeding farm.

Hotter than Soul Train in the 1970s, manufacturers continue to churn out high riding little five-doors, filling every possible niche. Priced high and low, if there’s a specific customer want, there’ll be a crossover waiting to fill that need.

Following the market demand for smaller, more attainable premium crossovers, both Lexus and Mercedes have added new offerings for 2015. Called the Lexus NX and Mercedes-Benz GLA, these two crossovers are smaller and lower priced than any other crossover or SUV offered by these luxury automakers. But are they any good?

Compact vs Sub-Compact
Let’s get to the elephant in the room right away: size. At first glance it might not look like these two vehicles are direct competitors. With nearly nine inches of extra length, the NX fits the mold of a compact crossover, while the GLA is more of a sub-compact crossover. Even if the NX is closer in size to the Mercedes-Benz GLK, the pricing, option packaging and target customer of the Lexus closer reflects that of the smaller GLA.

With that in mind, we gathered a 2015 Lexus NX200T F Sport and 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4Matic to see which is the better low-priced, premium crossover. As tested, these two vehicles come with similar levels of equipment and a price tag separated by less than $100; coming in at just over $45,000. If that seems like a lot of money, both crossovers can be had for substantially less.

Two-Liter Turbos Rule the Day
Two-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engines have quickly become the standard for small luxury crossovers. Audi, BMW and even Lincoln are using them. Well, add two more manufactures to that list – Lexus and Mercedes.

Producing 258 lb-ft of torque in both vehicles, the Lexus holds a distinct power advantage, making 235 hp compared to the Mercedes’ 208 hp. Despite the power difference, both vehicles are expected to run from 0 to 60 MPH in just over seven seconds. How? Weight and gearing, that’s how.

Real World Power vs. Real World Efficiency
The smaller 3,428-lb GLA has a 600-lb weight advantage over the NX and comes equipped with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission unlike the Lexus’ more conventional six-speed automatic. But even if the numbers say both vehicles are equally quick, the NX200T feels faster. Power delivery is smooth and robust, like there’s more power than numbers suggest. A quick stab of the accelerator pedal has the NX building speed effortlessly. The GLA on the other hand is always a bit delayed in its actions. Slow off the line thanks to a jerky dual-clutch transmission we’ve never been in love with, the Mercedes feels initially lethargic. But once you get underway, the transmission performs well and power isn’t an issue.

With less power and lighter weight, there’s no shock that the GLA 250 4Matic is more fuel efficient. Officially rated at 24 MPG city and 32 MPG highway, the GLA holds a three MPG advantage in the city and four MPG on the highway compared to the Lexus NX200T F Sport. During our real world testing, the Mercedes absolutely destroyed the Lexus by extending the gap further, with an observed average 29.4 MPG vs the GLA’s 24.3 MPG.

Handling vs. Comfort
When it comes to ride and handling, the two have dramatically different designs. As hard as it tries to be a crossover, the GLA is really a slightly taller hatchback. It’s more nimble than the NX and its smaller footprint and lighter curb weight are obvious in city driving.

In contrast, the NX drives like a crossover. It’s not some big unwieldy monster to drive, but the difference compared to the GLA is noticeable and it and feels more planted. It has a softer, more comfortable ride that adds a bit of refinement missing in the GLA. Both vehicles are acceptably quiet to suit the prestigious badges adorning their rear hatches.

A Matter of Space
We won’t dwell much on space because it’s a no-brainer that the larger NX200T offers more. Rear seat space in the NX is more than acceptable as adult passengers have ample head and legroom. The armrests are set at appropriate heights and are nicely padded. Best of all, the seat backs can recline for proper lounging. The GLA can fit rear passengers, but legroom is adequate at best and headroom is a bit of an issue. The seat cushions are set low and the seatback angle is a bit too upright.

We were surprised at how close cargo capacity is for these two crossovers. The larger NX only carries an extra half cubic foot of gear and has a higher load floor. The GLA may have a narrower opening, but the overall shape can be more usable.

Compare Specs
2015 Lexus NX 200t
2015 Lexus NX 200t

vs 2015 Mercedes GLA 250 4Matic
2015 Mercedes GLA 250 4Matic

Vehicle 2015 Lexus NX 200t Advantage 2015 Mercedes GLA 250 4Matic
Engine 2.0 L turbocharged four cylinder - 2.0 L turbocharged four cylinder
Horsepower 235 hp NX 208 hp
Max. Torque 258 lb-ft - 258 lb-ft
Fuel Economy (US) 21 MPG city / 28 MPG hwy GLA 24 MPG city / 32 MPG hwy
Fuel Economy (CDN) 10.8 L/100 km city, 8.8 L/100 km highway GLA 9.8 L/100 km city, 7.4 L/100 km highway
Observed MPG 24.3 MPG GLA 29.4 MPG
Weight 4,050 lbs. GLA 3,428 lbs.
Front Legroom 42.8” NX 41.9”
Rear Legroom 36.1” NX 33.9”
Cargo Capacity Rear Seats Up 17.7 cu. ft. NX 17.2 cu. ft.
Cargo Capacity Rear Seats Down 54.6 cu. ft. NX 42.0 cu. ft.
Starting Price (US) $38,905 GLA $34,225
Starting Price (CDN) $42,945 - $39,295
As Tested Price (US) $45,245 - $45,345
As Tested Price (CDN) $52,345 GLA $47,265
Old School vs. Frustration

The one area where the GLA really shines in comparison to the Lexus is usability. Sure, the interior looks outdated because there’s a mess of buttons on the dashboard and Mercedes’ COMAND infotainment system isn’t the best on the market, but compared to Lexus’ Remote Touch Interface (RTI), it’s great.

The RTI system in the NX uses a touchpad in the center console similar to what you would find on a laptop computer. It’s as precise to use as a rocket launcher is for ice sculpting. In my opinion, RTI is one of the least user-friendly interfaces on the market. At least there are a few redundant controls in the NX like a volume and tuning dial so simple tasks, like changing a radio station, aren’t completely infuriating.

The Verdict
Mercedes did a good job shrinking down the Brand’s design elements in creating the GLA. But we find it’s lacking the refinement and quality expected from Mercedes-Benz. The interior and driving experience leave a bit to be desired and do not reflect Mercedes’ larger crossover offerings. A good first attempt at a more entry-level product for the North American market, the GLA comes up a bit short.

And we don’t mean that figuratively either. Even if these two vehicles were the same size, the Lexus still offers more for the money. The NX feels and acts like a proper Lexus. It has better fit and finish inside and drives a lot like a shrunken Lexus RX. For a long time now Lexus has been producing premium vehicles at an affordable price and the NX is no exception.

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