Mercedes-Benz is not a car maker we automatically associate with small cars – or 'compacts' as the German car maker prefers to refer to them. We should, though.
Almost every fourth car Mercedes-Benz has sold worldwide in 2019 is a small car – technically identified by the fact that it uses a transverse engine and offers the choice of either front or four-wheel drive.
The success of its small cars in many global markets, including Australia, over recent years was behind a decision by Mercedes-Benz earlier this decade to expand its line-up to the point where it presently offers seven different models off its latest small car platform.
The so-called MFA II, the latest being the recently unveiled GLB, adds a new dimension to the line-up with seven-seat capability next to the A-Class, A-Class sedan in both standard and long-wheelbase guises, B-Class, CLA and CLA Shooting Brake.
Now, in a move that will complete its current small car offering, Mercedes-Benz is preparing to introduce an eighth model in the form of the second-generation GLA.
The new five-seat crossover is a vitally important car for the company, as its sales statistics underline. “Since its launch in 2014 we have sold almost one million GLAs worldwide,” says Mercedes-Benz spokesperson, Markus Nast.
Looking to garner an even greater slice of the premium small crossover market against popular rivals such as Audi Q2 and BMW X2, Mercedes-Benz plans to offer the 2020-model-year GLA with the choice of four different drivetrains, with both traditional petrol and diesel combustion engines as well as a new petrol-electric plug-in hybrid system and, an aerodynamically-refined EQA model earmarked for Australian introduction in late 2021, with a pure electric powertrain.
We’re still a few weeks away from seeing the new GLA, which is planned to be unveiled by Mercedes-Benz boss Ola Kallenius in a live-to-internet presentation next month.
But before it is exposed in full we were given the chance to sample a near-to-production-ready prototype in a run around the German car maker’s A-Rock off-road obstacle course at its Rastatt plant, where the crossover model is currently undergoing pilot production ahead of a planned Australian introduction during the third quarter of 2020.
Initial impressions back up what earlier scoop images of the new GLA suggested, namely that it has been given more upright styling in a bid to provide it with greater interior accommodation, added versatility and a slightly larger boot.
Mercedes-Benz confirms the new model is almost 20mm shorter than the first-generation GLA, which ran to 4424mm in length.
Despite this, the wheelbase has been extended by 30mm to 2729mm, endowing it with greater rear-seat legroom and the scope for an adjustable rear seat similar to that already offered as an option on the latest third-generation B-Class and new GLB.
The biggest change in overall dimensions, however, comes with the height. It has been extended by almost 100mm in a move that gives the GLA less of a hatchback-on-stills optic for a more truly dedicated crossover appearance.
It also helps to provide the new Mercedes-Benz model with greater headroom, especially in the rear which is now considerably roomier than before.
Inside, the new GLA combines elements from both the fourth-generation A-Class and new GLB.
With clear and precise digital instruments and a touch screen infotainment display housed with a single panel as well as quality features, including Mercedes-Benz’s MBUX operating system and a 64-colour ambient lighting, it's big on upmarket appeal.
Standard equipment includes active braking assist, active lane-keeping assist, speed limit assist, a driver attention sensor and keyless go.
With our time in the new GLA limited purely to an off-road course at walking speeds, we can’t tell you very much about its on-road character just yet. What we can confirm, though, is that it is capable of going places many prospective owners will never consider taking the second-generation crossover.
As with other new Mercedes-Benz compact models, its optional 4Matic four-wheel drive system has been reengineered to offer fully variable apportioning of power to either the front or rear wheels.
Traction on slippery surfaces is obviously a key strength, allowing it to tackle tricky obstacles without much trouble at all.
Despite Mercedes-Benz’s insistence on showcasing its off-road ability, though, the GLA will only be offered with standard bodywork. A more rugged variant in the style of the company’s All Terrain models, is not on the cards, according to Nast, who says the new model, which goes under the internal codename H247, will be available exclusively with a standard and, in combination with an optional AMG styling line, a lowered ride height.
“At the moment there are no plans to offer a higher riding model,” he says.
The standard engines for the new GLA mirror those of the other recent new Mercedes-Benz compact models. Exclusively four-cylinder, they include a 1.3-litre and two 2.0-litre turbo petrol units with 120kW, 140kW and 165kW respectively as well as a 1.5-litre turbo-diesel with 85kW and a pair of 2.0-litre turbo-diesels with 110kW and 140kW.
Standard GLA models will retain front-wheel drive, with gearboxes set to include a six-speed manual, a seven-speed dual-clutch Getrag-supplied unit or either a seven-speed or eight-speed dual-clutch in-house produced unit depending on the engine.
As displayed by the prototype we rode in, selected new GLA models will also be offered with 4Matic four-wheel drive.
A new GLA250e EQ Power plug-in hybrid model will join the new GLA line-up in time for the beginning of Australian sales later next year. It uses the same petrol-electric system as the recently introduced A250e EQ Power, with a 1.3-litre four-cylinder petrol engine developing 116kW and gearbox-mounted electric motor with 75kW.
Together, they offer a combined system output of 160kW. With a 15.6kWh lithium-ion battery mounted underneath the rear seat, it is expected to provide an electric-only range of over 60km on the WLTP test cycle.
Also planned for sale during the second half of 2020 are three 2.0-litre four-cylinder AMG models. Included is the GLA35 4Matic with 225kW, the GLA45 4Matic with 285kW and the range-topping GLA45 S 4Matic with 310kW – the later boasting a 0-100km/h time of 4.0sec and electronically limited 250km/h top speed.
While Mercedes-Benz is yet to provide official confirmation, CarAdvice can also reveal the new compact crossover also forms the basis of the electric powered EQA.
Set for launch in 2021, it will challenge the likes of the BMW i3 and Volkswagen ID.3 with an expected electric range of over 300 miles (482km).
As with the first-generation GLA, the new 2020 model will be produced alongside the A-Class hatchback, B-Class MPV and A-Class sedan at Mercedes-Benz’s Rastatt plant in Germany. Additional production will take place in Beijing, China, exclusively for the Chinese market.