Mercedes' GLA Class completes the small car triple-play so beloved of its compatriots Audi, VW and BMW - a hatchback-based SUV. Spun off the A Class platform, it has the extra height and the four-wheel drive its 4Matic badge implies.
It also has some chunky urban warrior chic black plastic, big wheels to fill its huge arches and that now unmistakable Mercedes aesthetic. Its greatest competition is Audi's gracefully ageing Q3 while the now-elderly - but capable - X1 brings up the rear. The Tiguan is so old it can't be considered in the same breath.
In a way, the GLA kicks off the second-generation of German small SUVs by being the last of the first. Whichever it is, it needs to be good to take on the competition.
The GLA 250 opens the bidding at $57,900. That's a big jump from the GLA 200 diesel and a fair way short of the potty 265 kW $80,430 GLA 45. For reference, the front-wheel drive A 250 on which it is based, is $51,000.
In its base form your money gets you a six-speaker stereo with USB and Bluetooth, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, alarm with tow away and motion sensor, man-made 'leather' trim, rear-vision camera, front and rear proximity sensors, electric front seats with memory and heating, auto headlights and wipers, active bi-xenon headlights, keyless entry, gigantic panoramic sunroof and power mirrors and windows.
Added to the GLA 250's $57,900 base price is metallic paint ($1082), Driving Assistance and Comand packages (both $2264) or a grand total of $63,510. Driving Assistance adds active cruise and lane departure warning while the Comand package throws in DAB digital radio, 12-speaker stereo, internet bridging with your mobile's data connection and a inbuilt hard drive.
Chunky, eh? Or should that be chunky A (sorry) because it shares a lot of its styling flourishes with the humbler hatchback. The GLA is 4417 mm versus the A-Class's 4292 mm but isn't appreciably bigger on the inside.
The slightly blunt front end is capped by a shapely bonnet and the rest is basically standard raised hatchback, with wheelarches in unpainted plastic. The front and rear bumpers have satin chrome inserts. It's not a heavy-handed SUV, just enough to convince the SUV buyer that they're buying one. If that makes sense.
Inside is instantly familiar to A/CLA owners and that's no bad thing. Well put-together and slickly designed, there's just a few suspect plastics choices to worry about. The accommodation is good, with plenty of headroom and adequate legroom for rear passengers, but a long-range five-seater it isn't, at least not if you value those rear passengers.
Lots of storage around the cabin makes it a handy family device, including what look like sneaky phone hiders under the front seats.
...if you want the one that's bang up to date, the Merc is the one to get
Nine airbags, ABS, brake assist, forward collision detection, blind-spot sensor, fatigue detection, crash avoidance with braking, traction and stability control. As befits Mercedes' reputation for safety, it was awarded five ANCAP stars.
The Comand system is virtually identical to that found in the CLA/A and is still an acquired taste. There are sometimes too many movements required to do something simple and it can be hard to work out what's "in focus" for the rotary dial. The shortcut buttons for the dial are sometimes ignored by the software causing jabbing and swearing. However, the screen itself is clear and well positioned with good detailing and smooth graphics.
There's too many seemingly randomly-placed buttons around the cabin, too and button presses don't always tell you what you've just done. The sat-nav, though, is fiddly and lacking in detail, but works just fine.
Engine / Transmission
The GLA 250 is powered by Mercedes' 2.0-litre turbo-petrol, generating 155 kW of power and 350 Nm of torque. Driving all four wheels through the seven-speed twin-clutch transmission, those figures will propel you to 100 km/h in 7.1 seconds while averaging a claimed 7.0 litres per 100km.
Despite a devil-may-care attitude to fuel economy which included disabling stop-start to keep the air-con running to banish Sydney's oppressive humidity as well as off-setting the massive sunroof, we were well under 10 L/100km.
If it looks like a high-riding hatch, then that's probably how it should drive. In this regard, the GLA did not disappoint. Body roll is there, but well-controlled and never lurching or lunch-worrying. Large bumps are seen off with a muffled thud and a jangling from the assorted tools beneath the boot floor.
Throttle response from the 2.0-litre turbo is a bit soft in Eco, but all that is forgotten when you introduce the pedal to the carpet.
The steering and brakes come in for special mention for being just right. Throttle response from the 2.0-litre turbo is a bit soft in Eco, but all that is forgotten when you introduce the pedal to the carpet. The transmission swiftly kicks down and rides the torque, shifting seamlessly between the seven ratios.
Curiously, the sound of this engine is quite different than in the CLA or A - it sounds more gravelly, perhaps to give a bit more of an impression of ruggedness. It's not disagreeable, just strange, something you might only notice if you've gone straight from one to the other.
It's not a fireball, but never feels slow as long as you're forthright with your right foot. Suburban running is as relaxed and easygoing as its highway composure, although some surfaces bring a hearty roar from the 19-inch run-flat rubber.