Advancing on its theory that smaller and less expensive offerings can attract a Gen Y demographic to its brand, Mercedes-Benz will add to its lower-end stable next year when it brings the compact GLA SUV to the U.S. market.
The 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA, the fifth (and smallest) model series in the company's SUV portfolio, arrives in the U.S. in the fall of 2014 as a four-wheel drive, or 4MATIC, vehicle, with an estimated price of about $35,000. A front-wheel-drive version is to come the following spring, Mercedes says. We're expecting this first model to be called the GLA250.
With its cargo capability, low greenhouse, and swoopy lines, this smallest Mercedes SUV borrows on the CLA250 four-door, that is to go on sale with coupe-like styling in September.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 will come with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine that generates 208 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds of torque a 7-speed dual clutch automatic transmission. Mercedes says the 4MATIC version will sprint to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds.
The GLA and CLA represent a radical platform shift by a company that has been wedded for decades to rear-wheel drive. By using front-wheel drive architecture, Mercedes can offer a range of cars that are smaller, lighter, and more fuel-efficient. (No fuel-economy figures are available yet, however.)
While the GLA isn't billed as Range Rover capable, it has some sporty, rugged chops, and Mercedes says it will have the juice for off-roading: It includes a hill descent program, which maintains a slower speed when negotiating downhill gradients. The GLA features 18-inch wheels as standard equipment, with 19-inch wheels available as an option.
The GLA will go up against the BMW X1 (starting at $30,800) and the upcoming Audi Q3, a compact SUV that will borrow components from the Volkswagen Tiguan.
The flowing lines of the GLA were crafted for optimal aerodynamic efficiency, a key factor for SUVs that normally have bulkier, taller bodies. The so-called dropping line styling, with light-catching, curvaceous architecture, is obviously aimed at a youthful, style-conscious audience, and it's clear, both with this model and the CLA250, which starts at $30,000, that Mercedes is seeking entry-level buyers it hopes will remain loyal as their fortunes, and family size, increase.
To that end, the GLA will arrive with ambient lighting and an electronics infotainment system. A central freestanding display provides multimedia and navigation capabilities supported by mbrace2 connectivity, which connects with a smartphone.
The GLA employs electromechanical power steering, which incorporates steering assistance functions that are initiated by the ESP electronic stability program control unit. These include countersteering when the vehicle gets into an oversteer condition, and steering corrections when braking on surfaces with different levels of grip.
Although the GLA is priced at entry-level, the vehicle will feature as standard a pair of warning systems, Attention Assist, and radar-based Collision Prevention Assist, which helps apply the brakes more forcefully if a collision seems imminent. Optional intelligent safety features include blind spot assist, and a lane-keeping program that bumps the car to help the driver steer back into his lane.
For buyers with speed dreams, Mercedes is expected to ramp up an AMG version that will likely borrow heavily from the upcoming CLA45 AMG. That car is rated as making 355 horsepower and scooting from zero to 60 in 4.5 seconds. The hot version of the GLA will likely be connected to a 7-speed AMG SPEEDSHIFT dual-clutch transmission and come standard with all-wheel drive.