If the Mercedes-Benz Concept GLA, which premieres this weekend at the Shanghai motor show, doesn't quite look like a smaller version of the upright GLK-class you expected, look no further than the BMW X1. When a production version of the GLA goes on sale in the U.S. in fall 2014, it will double the size of a nascent sub-segment of crossover/utility vehicles; a segment that could alternatively be described as "tall premium hatchback" or "street-parking-friendly urban vehicle."
Like the CLA-class going on sale in the U.S. this fall, the Mercedes-Benz GLA is based on the new A-class, although that basic A-class four-door hatchback is not destined for our shores. Also like the CLA and unlike the BMW X1, the Concept GLA sports a rakish, coupe-like roofline that highlights its design cred as an entry-luxury vehicle for both young and post-family aspirational consumers.
The Concept GLA's dimensions are instructive. It's just 62.1 inches tall and 172.5 inches long, whereas typical, larger CUVs stand at least 65 inches high. The X1, by comparison, measures 60.8 inches tall and 176.5 inches long, its low height more than its overall size delineating it from the X3. The Buick Encore, though not quite in the same segment, is 65.2 inches tall and has an overall length of 168.4 inches.
Like the CLA four-door "coupe," the Concept GLA is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline direct-injection engine rated at 208 hp and 258 lb-ft. The engine is coupled to Mercedes-Benz's seven-speed wet dual-clutch automatic transmission. The Concept GLA has all-wheel drive, which is an option on the front-wheel-drive-based CLA. The transverse-engine configuration will be a first for Mercedes-Benz in the U.S.
The Concept GLA rides on 20-inch wheels and 255/45R-20 tires; and has "softcubes" details on the grille, sill, and tailpipes; frameless side windows (like the CLA); recessed door handles; protective grilles on the sideview mirrors; a powerdome hood; and a three-layer dash covered in leather, polished aluminum, and Plexiglas. The paint scheme is silver alubeam.
Like the CLA, the Concept GLA is loaded with features but, also like the CLA, many of the following will be optional in the production version: two detachable roof-rack-mounted high-definition cameras with lighting, temperature-dependent air vent illumination, a power-closing tailgate, a fiber-optic illuminated load floor, a spring-loaded four-point luggage harness, and video-projecting laser-based headlamps.
The Mercedes CLA-class, with a base price of $30,825, will be advertised at under $30,000 (before required destination charges) and, when typically equipped, will be in the $33,000 to $36,000 range. To compete head-on with the BMW X1, the GLA will need to have a base price just a couple thousand dollars higher than its four-door coupe counterpart but, like the X1, probably will come in at closer to $40,000, typically equipped.
Assuming the production GLA will look much like the concept, which is a pretty safe assumption, Mercedes' CUV/tall hatchback variant of its A-class will -- like the CLA -- have broken out of the boxy design confines that otherwise defines the segment.