Mercedes-Benz isn't a car maker that we automatically associate with compact cars. We should, though.
Almost every fourth car it has sold worldwide in 2019 so far is a compact car – technically identified by the fact that it uses a transverse engine and offers the choice of either front or four-wheel drive.
The success of its small cars in many global markets – including the UK – over recent years was behind a decision by Mercedes earlier this decade to expand its line-up to the point where it presently offers seven different models off its latest small car platform, the MFA II.
Now the firm is preparing to introduce an eighth model in the form of the second-generation GLA. The new five-seat crossover is a vitally important car for the company; since its launch in 2014, almost one million examples of the original model have been sold worldwide.
Looking to garner an even greater slice of the premium small SUV market against popular rivals such as Audi Q2 and BMW X2, Mercedes plans to offer the new GLA with the choice of three different powertrains: petrol, diesel and petrol-electric plug-in hybrid.
We’re still a few weeks away from seeing the new GLA, which will be shown by Mercedes boss Ola Källenius in an online presentation. But ahead of that event, we were given the chance to sample a near-production prototype in a run around an off-road obstacle course at Mercedes' Rastatt plant. The model is currently undergoing pilot production here, ahead of the first UK cars arriving in the second quarter of 2020.
Initial impressions back up what earlier scoop images of the new GLA suggested: that it has been given more upright styling in a bid to provide it with greater interior accommodation, added versatility and a slightly larger boot.
Mercedes confirms the new model is almost 20mm shorter than its 4424mm-long predecessor. Despite this, the wheelbase has been extended by 30mm to 2729mm, endowing it with greater rear leg room and the scope for an adjustable rear seat similar to that already offered as an option in the B-Class and GLB.