The Mercedes GLA is a new compact SUV that will go head-to-head with the Audi Q3 and BMW X1 when it arrives in showrooms in late November.
It’s based on the same modular MFA platform as the A-Class, but at 4,417mm by 1,804mm by 1,494mm, it’s dimensions are 125mm longer, 24mm wider and 61mm taller respectively than the hatch.
Boot size is also up on the A-Class - 80 litres larger, at 421 litres - and its practicality can be enhanced by an optional Load compartment package. This adds moving rear seatbacks, providing extra space for rear passengers or luggage as required.
The GLA was first seen as a concept at the Shanghai Motor Show earlier this year. While that model’s proportions weren’t particularly outlandish – even for a concept – the production car is even more conservative in terms of design. That’s particularly true in the most basic, SE spec we saw at a studio in Sindelfingen, Germany, near Mercedes’ HQ. First impressions are that the GLA seems more like a pumped-up A-Class than a proper SUV.
It has a large, more rectangular grille than the hatch, with a big Mercedes logo flanked by a pair of matt grey wings. The grey trim continues on the lower half of the front bumper, encircling the air intake, and at the rear, where it helps give the car width and draws your attention to the chrome exhaust finishers.
There’s also rugged-looking grey plastic sill cladding to emphasise the extra ground clearance. Sporty detailing includes twin bonnet ridges similar to those on the SLK, while the tailgate opening runs through the LED lights rather than around them. This neat practical touch gives a wider boot opening than on the A-Class.
The A-Class's kicked-up side crease has been toned down on the GLA – this feature, designed to give a ‘ready to pounce’ look, is achieved with the kicked-up shoulderline instead.
One upshot of the relatively low-slung hatchback looks is that efficiency is improved. All GLAs also get underbody cladding to smooth the underside, which helps keep the drag coefficient down to only 0.29.
Inside, not much has changed between the GLA and the A-Class. You step over a wide sill and sit on seats that are 41mm higher, giving a more commanding driving position. The main difference is a new design for the five air vents, whose bezels mimic the chunky side sill cladding.
The GLA Class will come with DAB radio and Artico fake leather upholstery as standard, while the sports seats with integrated headrests shown in the car here are optional.
Full prices and specifications will be unveiled in November, with first deliveries taking place in early 2014.
However, Mercedes has confirmed that the car will come solely with the 7G-DCT twin-clutch auto gearbox and a choice of four engines, all with stop-start.
The front-wheel-drive GLA 200 and 200 CDI are powered by 154bhp 1.6-litre petrol and 134bhp 2.1 diesel engines respectively. The GLA 250 and 220 CDI come with a 208bhp 2.0 petrol or 168bhp 2.1-litre diesel, and can be had with either front-wheel drive or Mercedes’ latest 4MATIC four-wheel drive.
The 4MATIC system is front-wheel drive most of the time, but a clutch on the rear axle can send up to 50 per cent of power to the back wheels should they slip. This set-up is supplemented by Downhill Speed Regulation and a special off-road mode for the gearbox, both of which help maintain traction on steep or slippy surfaces.
Mercedes is also considering bringing a raised-suspension option to the UK. This should give the GLA a more rugged look and benefit the ride comfort, too – something for which the A-Class has been criticised.
Mercedes predicts that prices for the GLA will start at about £25,000 – similar money to the car’s main competitors; the Q3 starts at £25,270 and the X1 £23,930. Up to 75 per cent of GLAs will be diesel, with around three-quarters of buyers expected to opt for four-wheel drive.
Standard equipment will include attention assist, plus Mercedes’ collision prevention assist auto braking system.
The new Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control will be an option, as will lane keeping and adaptive high beam assist systems.
Later next year, the GLA line-up will be boosted by the arrival of a firebreathing GLA 45 AMG. Set to rival the Audi Q3 RS, this will use the same 355bhp 2.0-litre turbo, DCT gearbox and four-wheel-drive system as the A45 and CLA 45 AMGs. It will also have a unique suspension and brake set-up honed on the Nürburgring in Germany.