Being Mercedes’ first compact crossover, the GLA has no direct antecedent in the brand’s family tree. The 4x4s further up the line-up could be considered close relatives in conceptual approach, particularly the GLK, a C-Class-based crossover unfamiliar to UK buyers because it is left-hand drive only, which has been replaced by the GLC.
Although Mercedes would prefer for you to think of the latest model as its fifth SUV, the GLA is a crossover in the purest sense.
Not only does it share its MFA platform with three conventional, predominantly five-door compact models, but it also uses the same engines and – only where applicable – much the same torque-on-demand all-wheel drive system.
You’d guess as much just from the way that the car looks. Despite a record of designing and building proper, rugged-looking SUVs, Mercedes has styled the GLA – with its potpourri of low glasshouse, slightly raised vehicle height, high beltline and large wheel arches – to be redolent of a generic modern crossover and a current compact Mercedes, declining the opportunity to create something tougher and more striking.
So if your impression is of an inflated, high-riding modern hatchback and not the fiendishly clever, compact G-Wagen that you might have been hoping for, you’re in the same camp as most of us at Autocar.
In the metal, the GLA looks noticeably bigger than the A-Class, even if the specification says that it’s marginally slimmer, no lengthier at the wheelbase and, with the standard suspension fitted, stands only 59mm taller.
Although it gets the same basic MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear chassis as its siblings, there are two subtle variations beyond the default ‘comfort’ suspension set-up of our test car: sports suspension, which lowers the car by 15mm and comes as standard with the AMG Line trim, and an off-road comfort system that, when it reaches the UK, raises the ride height from 170mm to 204mm.
The concise four-cylinder engine line-up kicks off with a 154bhp turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol unit in the entry-level GLA 200 and Mercedes’ familiar 2.1-litre turbodiesel in its 134bhp guise aboard the GLA 200 CDI.