Downsized compact crossovers and the luxury market have been courting for some time. And now Mercedes-Benz has marrying them together in a vehicle of its own: the upcoming 2015 GLA-Class.
If you like the look of Mercedes-Benz utility vehicles such as the M-Class and GLK-Class but want something more compact and even a little more carlike, the GLA should meet that. With a curvy yet quite upright profile, the GLA looks like a midpoint between an upright sport wagon and a small SUV at first glance; and at just 174 inches long, for parking purposes it's subcompact-sized.
Mercedes-Benz describes the design philosophy as being an expression of clarity, and describes the exterior sheetmetal as having “clear contours and smooth surfaces that communicate both high-tech sophistication as well as emotional appeal.” And that’s really not far from what we’re seeing.
Aggressively sculpted side sheetmetal helps it look more youthful and dynamic than anything else currently on sale from the brand. Wheel arches are large, and the rakish nose and upright front end has the large Mercedes star. Fog lamps are integrated into the front bumper, and in this day where LEDs and projector beams are passe, piped lighting adds another level of detail to the front end. From any side angles, the creases and ripples, in the hood especially, look specially sculpted to catch the light and look a little more dramatic from a distance than they actually are up close. And in back, the tail lamps are split far apart to exaggerate the width of the vehicle, with a chrome handle that sweeps across; back there the SUV look is accented with a prominent skid plate and sill guard.
Taking a look inside, the GLA makes good use of the retro-style horizontal shelf layout combined with circular vents and more rounded details—a look that fits just as well here as it does in vehicles like the SLS AMG and the new S-Class. Materials and textures look different in the upper dash than down below, and materials like matte-satin wood stand apart from what’s currently offered in this class. We especially like how the infotainment system 'hovers' away from the instrument panel, not interrupting its design statement but popping up right where it should be, top and center.
The GLA250 4Matic will be available from the time of launch in fall of 2014, while a front-wheel-drive GLA250 will join the lineup in early 2015. Both models will be powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine making 208 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. With the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, the GLA250 can get to 60 mph in just 6.4 seconds, and to a top speed of 145 mph. Start/stop will be standard, and we wouldn't be surprised if EPA highway ratings approach the 35-mpg mark.
While we can't say the GLA will be an off-roader, it should provide plenty of ruggedness to get you away to the outdoor activity of your choice—or through deep winter snowfall. A next-generation 4Matic permanent all-wheel drive system will be offered in the GLA (arriving first in the U.S., with a front-wheel-drive model to follow). As with the systems in most recent M-B vehicles, includes the power take-off in the transmission to help save weight and aid efficiency. These models get Downhill Speed Regulation, as well as an off-road transmission mode, and with 4Matic, the rear axle carrier gets special rubber bushings for ride comfort.
With a multi-link arrangement in back and MacPherson struts in front, the GLA-Class doesn’t stray from passenger-car and crossover convention. Steering is provided by a new electromechanical system that’s designed to pair with stability-control intervention, to aid control.
Buyers will also have a choice between MB-Tex (vinyl) or leather upholstery, and with an Interior Package you can get sport seats with integrated head restraints. The interior should be especially quiet as Mercedes-Benz has paid so much attention to aerodynamics—optimizing mirror housings, fine-tuning airflow in back with a spoiler, and adding underbody paneling. As for seating, initial images point to tight back-seat space, although a low cargo floor and neat seat-folding should make this a package that works especially well for active couples or families with smaller kids.
Safety features in the GLA will include Attention Assist drowsy-driver detection, and a radar-based Collision Prevention Assist with Adaptive Brake Assist, which can curb collisions from 4 mph on up. With Distronic Plus active cruise control, the system is upgraded to Collision Prevention Assist Plus and can autonomously brake at up to 124 mph to help reduce the severity of a crash. Other safety extras include Blind Spot and Lane Keeping Assist, as well as Parktronic and Park Assist, for automatic parallel or perpendicular parking. We're eager to see if Mercedes-Benz can also provide good outward visibility in this kind of package, and we'll have to evaluate the seating position in person for that.
Features are the piece that’s largely missing at this point. Mercedes-Benz is installing its latest mbrace2 telematics system into the GLA-Class, and we see that it has an updated version of the automaker's COMAND interface. But with the market already including the BMW X1 and Range Rover Evoque, as well as the expected Lincoln MKC and Audi Q3, the GLA250 will have plenty of competition—so pricing and features may be especially crucial.
Check back for an update. We expect more details about features and pricing to be announced after the Frankfurt Auto Show, where the GLA will be formally introduced.
- Compact footprint good for urban spaces or forest trails
- Distinctive exterior, yet less-imposing look
- Quick yet fuel-efficient
- Loaded with safety technology
- Backseat space looks tight
- Outward visibility could be difficult
- Precludes a C-Class wagon?