BURLINGTON, VT – It’s too bad the photo has already given the game away.
Because if we were playing “Name that Car” based on just a few mentioned features, like say, a twin powerdome hood, a big wing spoiler, dub wheels with bright red calipers, red-stitched sport seats and, heck, even red-strapped seat belts, you’d probably guess that I was describing some boy-racer’s riced-out tuner car.
But no, we’re in an entirely different league here, as Mercedes-Benz Canada recently debuted the two models of its newest entry-level crossover, just starting to arrive now at dealers across the country.
Following up on the successful launch of the popular compact CLA sedan, Mercedes has added a crossover derivative – the 2015 GLA – mounted on a shared platform but with a sport utility emphasis designed to reinterpret the compact SUV segment. Competitors include the BMW X1, Audi Q3 and Infiniti QX50.
The 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA “sport-cute” lineup offers two distinctive flavours – the entry-level but well-equipped GLA 250 4MATIC ($37,200) and the GLA 45 AMG ($50,500), a top-of-the-line performance derivative.
The GLA lineup completes Mercedes, wide-ranging five-model SUV portfolio (GLA, GLK, ML, GL and G).
But this is not just another boxy Benz.
While maintaining some traditional Mercedes-Benz cues, the GLA shuns a good deal of the right-angled familial resemblances, blending the raised vehicle body architecture with a low greenhouse, muscular haunches, discrete body cladding and a large wheel stance for a unique look, different from the other M-B sport utes.
The rounded corners and sleek profile result in a slippery 0.29 cD of drag. Aerodynamic touches range from radiator shutters to rear side spoilers, sealed gaps and special mirror designs. Extensive underbody panelling, even a shape-optimized muffler, contributes to the overall aerodynamic package, reducing NVH and improving fuel economy.
Inside, the 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA is adequately spacious and comfortable for its size. Compared to its CLA sedan sibling, the GLA’s higher ceiling and roomier interior dimensions really make this model a viable compact alternative worth considering.
Second-row seating is actually do-able. The hatchback rear access and improved cabin size enhances the GLA’s passenger seating and luggage storage capabilities. Cargo space is rated at 421 litres, expanding to 1235 litres with the rear seats folded flat.
The GLA’s muscular exterior appearance is also reflected inside by a combination of matte wood or metallic “cool-touch” trim pieces, strong contrasts and high quality materials.
Five (jet engine) air vents dominate the twin-sectioned dashboard. A three-spoke steering wheel with 12 function keys and a freestanding display screen anchor a long list of standard and available equipment.
But we can’t get into too many interior or exterior trim specifics here because while both GLA models vehicles share the same dimensions and both also feature 2.0-litre DOHC turbo-powered inline four-cylinder engines mated to seven-speed DCT automatic transmissions and latest generation 4MATIC permanent all-wheel drive systems, there are just as many differences as there are similarities between the two.
The 2015 GLA 250 4MATIC is powered by the M270 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine, producing 208 hp and 258 lb/ft of torque. With this engine, the GLA 250 4MATIC will accelerate from 0-100 km/h in 7.1 seconds and will return a fuel economy rating of 9.8/7.4/8.7L/100km (city/hwy/comb).
You might expect me to skim past this model quickly to get to the AMG version but the GLA 250 4MATIC is no slouch, offering decent power, acceleration and handling for everyday driving demands. Taut steering and a smooth ride won me over.
The 7G-DCT automatic dual clutch transmission offers seamless power transition through the 4MATIC permanent all-wheel drive system with fully variable torque distribution between front and rear axles. And the power delivery is complemented by a McPherson front axle and independent multilink rear suspension combine for civilized ride and handling abilities.
DSR (Downhill Speed Regulation) and an off-road transmission mode are also standard. And other driving assistance systems, standard or optional, include Attention Assist drowsiness detection, the radar-based Collision Prevention Assist, Distronic Plus, Lane Tracking with Blind Spot and Lane Keeping Assist, Adaptive Highbeam Assist and Active Parking Assist.
That’s a lot of Assists but the sum total combines for a complete, secure and sensible family transportation package.
Of course, if you have a little more money and a little less sense, you could opt for the 2015 GLA 45 AMG featuring some of the packaged performance options mentioned at the beginning of the story, a little more attitude, a little more taut suspension jiggle, and a whole lot more muscle courtesy of the world’s most powerful series production four-cylinder engine.
The AMG M133 2.0-litre turbo motor boasts 355 hp and 332 lb/ft of peak torque that will reduce 0-100 km/h acceleration times to 4.8 seconds. Fuel economy takes a minor hit at 10.5/8.1/9.4L/100km (city/hwy/comb). A reinforced AMG DCT SPEEDSHIFT seven-speed automatic puts the power through a performance-oriented AMG 4MATIC all-wheel drive system that sets new standards in dynamic handling, accented by a lowered suspension, sport steering and many other dynamic tweaks.
This is called “having your cake and eating it too” because you get all the passenger accommodation, technologies and even more luxuries, along with the bonus package of outstanding performance. A special limited offering of fifty GLA 45 AMG Edition 1 models will also be available for Canadian collectors.
Of course, that kind of edgy performance might be a little harder to live with over the ruts and bumps of everyday existence, but the sheer exuberance of the GLA 45 AMG’s power and handling, and the snarling roar and backpressure burble of that impressive little four-banger will easily win over any racer wanna-bes, weekend warriors and adrenaline junkies looking for compact crossover qualities with some added attitude.
With two different versions of the same GLA compact crossover blending shared qualities along with diverse power outputs and pricing levels from both ends of the spectrum, we’ll have to leave it to Mercedes-Benz customers to decide.
And thanks to the addition of this entry-level 2015 GLA lineup, there seem to be a lot more of those customers showing up in Mercedes-Benz showrooms lately.