Mercedes-Benz chases BMW with new GLA SUV

At the 2013 Frankfurt auto show, Mercedes-Benz will unveil its latest new model, the GLA-Class, a compact SUV or possibly a wagon, which goes head-to-head with the BMW X1.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
2 min read

Considering the dimensions of the new GLA-Class from Mercedes-Benz, to be unveiled at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt next month, I had pretty much the same reaction as when I first got a look at the BMW X1. Mercedes-Benz can call it an SUV all it wants, but the car reads as a wagon.

The new model measures 14.5 feet long, and just under 5 feet high. Most people will be able to look right over the roof.

That Mercedes-Benz may be copying the similarly dimensioned BMW X1 does not make it a stupid strategy, as the X1 sold so well in Europe that BMW had to delay the car's entry to the U.S. for lack of production capacity. There is clearly a market in many countries for a small, premium SUV or wagon.

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA: The smaller SUV (pictures)

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The GLA-Class will mark the second front-wheel-drive model that Mercedes-Benz is making available in the U.S., after the CLA. However, the GLA will initially only be available with Mercedes-Benz's 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. That first model comes to U.S. dealers in fall 2014, while the front-wheel-drive model is scheduled for a 2015 release.

In a press release, Mercedes-Benz boasted about the GLA's off-road capability. The car includes a hill descent program and a special transmission program for off-road driving.

More interesting is that the GLA will come with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, a type of gearbox relatively new to Mercedes-Benz, though in widespread use by competitor Audi.

In the U.S., the model will only be sold as the GLA250, meaning it will have a direct-injection turbocharged 2-liter engine. This powerplant will make 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, which translates to a zero-to-60 mph time of 6.4 seconds, according to Mercedes-Benz.

The car design also incorporates aerodynamic features such as underbody paneling. It also comes with an idle-stop feature, which shuts the engine down at stoplights.

Similar to BMW's recent interior designs, Mercedes-Benz makes the GLA's main LCD a standalone component, sticking up from the center of the dashboard. The company says the car will come with its latest Comand-system electronics, which should include everything from navigation to integrated Internet apps.

Mercedes-Benz presents an impressive list of driver assistance features, with almost everything we saw in our recent review of the 2014 S550. The GLA will come with a radar-based automated braking system, and will also offer blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and automatic parallel parking.

The GLA will slot in below the GLK, putting it at the smallest end of Mercedes-Benz's SUV range.