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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.

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA-class
The GLA, an all new model for Mercedes-Benz, will be presented at the 2013 Frankfurt auto show.

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.

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.