Deep Dive: The Mercedes A-Class Spawns Three Siblings

The trio and their competitors
The Mercedes-Benz CLA is the sleek four-door coupe that was previewed at the 2012 Beijing motor show under the guise of the Concept Style Coupe. Production is due to start early next year, in the new, state-of-the-art assembly plant in Kecskemet, Hungary. Twelve months later, the brand is going to release the five-door shooting brake (wagon/hatchback) variant. In autumn 2014, the stylish yet functional GLA crossover is set to complete the revamped A-Class line-up.

The CLA will compete against the soon-to-be-released 2013 Audi A3 SportSedan and the 2013 BMW 1-series GT. The shooting brake variant is aimed at the A3 Sportback and the 1-series hatchback. The GLA chases matches up against the BMW X1 and the upcoming Audi Q3 and Q4.

Front- or all-wheel drive
Like the competition, the new MFA architecture that underpins the A- and B-Class family offers a mix of front- and all-wheel drive applications. A derivative of this matrix also will be used by the future compact Infiniti that will be built by Magna Steyr in Graz, Austria, which is loosely based on the 2011 Etherea show car.

Positioned one rung above the A-Class five-door hatchback, the three new up-market models can be had in Sport, Exclusive, and AMG trim. Available equipment includes a Haldex-operated 4Matic all-wheel drive system; dynamic chassis control; a dual-clutch transmission; MyDrive smartphone connectivity; a panorama sunroof; and the so-called diamond grille. There is even going to be a proper high-performance edition badged the CLA/GLA25 AMG. Powered by a twin-turbo 2.2-liter four rated at 350 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque, this AMG A-Class is deemed fit to take on the 360-hp Audi RS3 Sportback and the 320-hp BMW M135i xDrive<.

Other powertrains include three gas-fed units (1.6-liter, 112 hp, 147 lb-ft; 2.0-liter, 170 hp, 184 lb-ft; 2.2-liter, 211 hp, 258 lb-ft) and three diesel engines (1.6-liter, 109 hp, 192 lb-ft; 2.2-liter, 136 hp, 221 lb-ft; 2.2-liter, 170 hp, 258 lb-ft). Likely to be added at a later stage, but not yet confirmed, is the GLA/GLA250 CDI equipped with the 204 hp, 369 lb-ft top-of-the-line oil burner. In terms of alternative drivetrains, MB has reportedly axed a 177-hp range extender, scrapping all 37 prototypes at a total cost of roughly $23.6 million. Instead, the company is now concentrating on a fuel cell (143-hp, 214-lb-ft), a natural gas engine (156-hp), and on a still-to-be-defined plug-in hybrid.

Size and design
The 2015 GLA sits on a 106.3-inch wheelbase, which suggests that it is roomer than the baby Audi crossovers and on par with the BMWs. The key measurements (174.8 inches long, 70.9 inches wide, 59.1 inches tall) indicate that the Mercedes is lower than its rivals, but within an inch or so in every other direction. The first drawings show a clean, coupe-like vehicle that has very little in common with the boxy, homespun GLK. The front end of the GLA features an upright grille with two horizontal bars, a new element being used on all future Mercedes-Benz SUVs -- passenger cars will have only one crossbar, sports cars will highlight the three-pointed star. Common to all upcoming Mercedes models are bi-xenon or LED headlamps with torch-like indicators flanked by signature daytime running lights. The restyled tail lamps display triple-chamber graphics.

Since Audi and BMW are preparing coupe versions of their entry-level crossovers, Mercedes, too, is allegedly contemplating to add an even sportier two-door GLA derivative. No, we don't want to think about the nomenclature chaos such a newcomer might cause, given Benz's new naming scheme.

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