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Driven: Mercedes GLA goes for the crossover jugular

4 to the floor: The GLA250 4Matic is set to become the top-selling variant in Mercedes’ local compact crossover line-up.

Mercedes-Benz Australia expects the new 250 4Matic to be the best-selling GLA

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Mercedes-Benz logo10 Jul 2014

MERCEDES-BENZ has finally introduced the model it expects to best take on the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and Mini Countryman in the burgeoning premium crossover segment.

Known as the GLA250 4Matic, the all-wheel drive version of the recently released five-door hatchback/crossover is poised to account for about half of all volume in Australia – if the factory can keep up with demand.

Priced from $57,900 plus on-road costs, it follows on from the front-wheel drive diesel-powered GLA200 CDI that broke cover in May.

Speaking at the launch in New Zealand this week, Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific senior manager of communications, David McCarthy said the petrol-powered GLA250 4Matic gives the company ammunition in the growing premium SUV segment against other luxury brands – though supply may be a problem.

“We expect it to do extremely well in Australia,” he said.

“If we get the number that we like, it will be probably around 50 per cent… depending on what month and the number that comes in. But by far the 250 4Matic will be the most popular variant.” A front-wheel drive version of the GLA250 will not be offered locally for the time being.

Though Mercedes is late to the premium compact SUV party in Australia – the outgoing C-Class-based GLK never made it here due to it being left-hand drive-only – Mr McCarthy is confident the brand will quickly establish itself as a main player.

Next year the GLA will be joined by the second-generation GLK to take on the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Range Rover Evoque, while more variants will arrive for the larger ML-Class and GL-Class SUVs.

Mr McCarthy said meeting demand for the A-Class-based GLA this year will be tough, and that the company is focused on offering wider range of SUV product to buyers.

“In total we will get around 1500 this year, or up to 1800 or even 1900 if they get out of the factory and land here in time,” he revealed.

“We did get an increase in our GLAs after the international launch, but clearly we will not get enough to meet demand.” “It’s no secret we started a little bit late in the SUV segment. We don’t have the same number of models, but over the next few years there is this, the GLK, there are a couple of ML variants, a couple of GL variants, and something else as well.” While the 200 CDI is currently the cheapest GLA on offer from $47,900 plus on-road costs, there is scope for lesser-powered and de-specced versions to slip in underneath once the GLK arrives late in 2015.

“If we had GLK in Australia then (the GLA) would sit a little bit below it,” Mr McCarthy said.

“The next-generation GLK is a little bit larger than the current GLK, so (the GLA) will sit pretty much where the GLK would, but because we don’t have this vehicle in Australia and we won’t have it until next year at the earlier then that is where this vehicle sits.” MBA/P said that a combination of high global demand for the GLA250 and the later production start-up of the 4Matic version opened up a window of opportunity for the company to release the latter one first.

As we reported back in May, Mercedes was forced to stagger the GLA’s launch due to global demand and production constraints. The flagship GLA45 AMG 4Matic will see the light of day in October.

Based on the brand’s MFA transverse-engine platform, the GLA shares componentry with the hugely successful A-Class, CLA and B-Class compact models, though no body panels are alike.

Sitting some 16mm higher off the ground (at 150mm) than the B-Class, the GLA sits on the same 2690mm wheelbase but is longer, wider and higher.

Under the GLA250 4Matic’s bonnet is a 1991cc 2.0-litre direct-injection four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine producing 155kW of power and 211Nm of torque. 95 RON premium unleaded is the minimum brew.

Delivering torque to all four wheels is a three-mode 7G-Tronic DCT seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that helps the GLA hit 100km/h from standstill in 7.1 seconds, average 7.0 litres per 100 kilometres of fuel use and emit 162 grams/km of carbon dioxide pollution.

The 4Matic AWD system is Mercedes’ own design.

Engineered to use as little fuel as possible and adding just 50kg to the weight of the GLA250 thanks to its aluminium-intensive construction, it is an on-demand system with fully variable torque distribution (with reaction times of 100 milliseconds) to the rear axle as road and driving conditions dictate.

It uses a multi-disc clutch pack integrated into the rear axle, allowing up to 50 per cent of available torque to be channelled from the front wheels that usually do all the work.

Among the 4Matic’s innovations are a two-piece prop shaft designed to ‘telescope’ inwards in a collision to minimise possible floorpan intrusion, as well as special mounts that cut noise/vibration/harshness pathways.

All Australia-bound 250 4Matics will be fitted with an Off-road Package as standard that alters the engine and transmission response times and widens the headlights’ spread by six degrees while upping their output three Watts to 38W, among other things.

Also included is a downhill speed regulator (operational between 2km/h and 18km/h) using the engine, gearbox and stability/traction controls, as well as an off-road screen in the centre console. As with all GLAs, the percentage of high and ultra-high strength steel in the redesigned five-door hatchback body rises from 67 to 73 compared to the A-Class, while there are reinforcements in the crossover’s C-pillars, sill panels, floor and transmission tunnel.

Mercedes says the GLA underwent over 1.8 million kilometres of testing, over a nine-month period involving 24 prototypes. Along with a “punishing” 4x4 circuit program, 4Matic development occurred in Europe, the United Arab Emirates, the United States and China.

Interior differences compared to the A-Class include an 80-litre larger boot at 421 litres, reclinable rear-seat backrests that fold down flat to boost cargo capacity to 1235 litres and different material and trim inserts that keep it in line with the GLA’s more rugged aspirations.

For a $10,000 premium over the 200 CDI, the 250 4Matic gives you AWD, 19-inch runflat tyres and alloys, electric and heated front seats with memory, a panoramic sunroof, alarm system and an “intelligent light” system that features bi-Xenon headlights, cornering lights, LED tail-lights and adaptive high-beam assist.

That is above the base car’s nine airbags, blind-spot monitoring, Benz’s Pre-Safe accident anticipatory system, vinyl upholstery (dubbed Artico in Benz-speak), reverse camera with front and rear parking sensors, automatic headlights, sat-nav, Bluetooth audio streaming and phone connectivity, USB/radio/CD/DVD/MP3 player, and paddle shifters for the standard automatic transmission.

It also features a powered tailgate, dual-zone climate control, hill-start assist, radar-based Collision Prevention Assist, auto parking assistance and aluminium roof rails.

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class pricing*
200 CDI (a) $47,900
250 4MATC (a) $57,900
45 AMG (a) $79,900
*Excludes on-road costs.

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