Australia and Mercedes-Benz recently became a lot closer with the shift of Aussie driver Daniel Ricciardo to the McLaren Formula One race team, powered by the German giant’s engines.

Now Benz has combined the sophisticated technology of race circuit performance with off-the-beaten-track advantages in the GLA crossover SUV. And it’s arrived in the land Down Under.

Consisting of four variants – GLA 200, GLA 250 4Matic, GLA 35 4Matic and GLA 45 S 4Matic+. GLA-Class is powered by two turbo-petrol four-cylinder engines – a 1.3-litre unit putting out 120 kW and 250 Nm powering the front wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic – and a 2.0-litre motor, in various states of tune, mated with eight-speed autos and Mercedes 4Matic all-wheel drive.

SUV status is earned by extra height over the outgoing model, making for a higher seating position and more head room for driver and front seat passenger, rear-seat occupants enjoy more leg room despite having 14 mm shaved of the length of the vehicle it replaces.

All models have an upright front section, relatively short overhangs front and rear, and various areas of protective cladding.

Prices start at $55,100, plus on-road costs, for the GLA 200 front-wheel drive and top out at $107,035 for the GLA 45 S 4Matic+. On test was a GLA 250 4Matic, selling for $82,935, plus ORCs.

“The new GLA embodies the perfect synergy between sheer beauty and robust off-road elements,” says Gorden Wagener, chief design officer of the Daimler Group, which roughly translated means it covers the crossover sports SUV ethos well.

A tall, boxy shape takes care of the SUV side of things. There are powerful shoulders, power domes in the bonnet accentuate the sporty nature of the vehicle, as do 19-inch multi-spoke alloy wheels.

The off-road character is emphasised by all-round protective cladding. Cleverly, the doors cover the sills, keeping door frames and occupants’ pants or legs free from dirt on getting in and out.

A wide-screen dominates the dashboard with its twin 10.25-inch displays and five distinctive turbine-style air vents are not far behind.

Driver and passenger space is surprisingly good for such a compact vehicle. Leg and head room in the rear are especially impressive. However, door openings in the back could be wider.

Cabin storage is good, with large door pockets, a deep centre console cubby and twin cup holders. Drinkers in the rear seats miss out on storage spots.

The boot holds up to an average 435 litres of cargo but is easy to load and empty thanks to a low lip and powered tailgate.

The aforementioned digital widescreen delivers a vast array of information up front in a choice of four different themes, while the ‘Hey, Mercedes’ voice activation system covers dozens of commonly-used commands.

The GLA 250 calls on a 2.0 litre turbo-petrol has 165 kW and 350 Nm and drives through an eight-speed automatic and 4Matic all-wheel drive.

A standard Off-Road Engineering Package adds Downhill Speed Regulation and increased headlight reach at slow speeds.

Standard features include active brake assist, which automatically calls into action the brakes to avoid, or at least, reduce the severity of a bump with stationary vehicles or crossing pedestrians.

The standard blind spot warning system includes an exit warning which alerts the driver to approaching cyclists or vehicles if the door begins to open in their path.

Standard are nine airbags, traffic sign recognition and an active bonnet to reduce impact on pedestrians in an ‘unscheduled incident’ and Cross Wind Assist to keep the GLA literally on the straight and narrow at speed.

The Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 steps up from the 1.3 litre turbocharged four-cylinder 120 kW / 250 Nm engine of the front-drive entry-level GLA 200 to 2.0 litre turbo ‘four’ putting out 165 kW and 350 Nm to ground through the Benz 4Matic all-wheel drive system.

This added ‘herbs’ do enable the driver to join faster moving traffic with confidence. Lowered suspension, even in ‘comfort’ mode and sport-style direct steering add assurance when it comes to changing direction.

As for off the bitumen, the Off-Road Engineering Package and multi-beam LED headlamps, as explained below, have a hand constantly at the driver’s back providing conditions do not become too testing.

As for fuel consumption, the Merc GLA 250 4Matic combined urban / highway consumption is claimed by the maker to be 7.0 litres per 100 kilometres. On test, the vehicle recorded 12.5 litres per 100 on the daily commute and close to half that on the open road.

GLA models equipped with 4Matic, Mercedes’ all-wheel drive system that switches power to the wheel it’s needed, also has an Off-Road Engineering Package as standard. The package adds a program via the Dynamic Select Drive control: a downhill speed regulator and an off-road animation with incline angles in the media display.

Combined with optional multi-beam LED headlamps the package also contributes a special off-road function, widening the spread of the beam for improved illumination during low-speed maneuvering.

More convenience features can be found in an optional Driving Assistance Package, which includes Distronic Active Distance Assist, Active Lane Change Assist and extended semi-autonomous driver help in stop / start traffic.

Active lane-keeping assistance keeps an eye on the driver’s ability to avoid wandering from a lane by acting on the steering and brakes, which I found un-necessarily intrusive at times.

The GLA-Class, in typical Mercedes-Benz tradition, fills a gap in its compact crossover SUV roll and will no doubt attract an army of supporters in one of the most popular segments in the vehicle market.

Mercedes-Benz GLA 200 $55,100
Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4Matic $66,500
Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 4Matic $82,935
Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 S 4Matic+ $$107,035
Edition Package $6990 (GLA 200); $5990 (GLA 250 4Matic)
Note: These prices do not include government or dealer delivery charges. Contact your local Mercedes-Benz dealer for drive-away prices.

SPECIFICATIONS (Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 2.0L Turbo 4-cylinder petrol 8sp automatic, 4Matic AWD SUV)

Capacity: 1.991 litres
Configuration: Four cylinders in line
Maximum Power: 155 kW
Maximum Torque: 350 Nm
Fuel Type: Premium unleaded petrol 98 RON
Combined Fuel Cycle (ADR 81/02): 7.0 L/100km

DRIVELINE: Seven-speed automatic, 4Matic AWD

Length: 4431 mm
Wheelbase: 2699 mm
Width: 1804 mm
Height: 1494 mm
Turning Circle: 11.84 metres
Kerb Mass: 1545 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 56 litres

Front: Ventilated disc
Rear: Solid disc

Five years / unlimited kilometres

About Derek Ogden

On graduating with an honours degree in applied science in London, Derek Ogden worked for the BBC in local radio and several British newspapers as a production journalist and writer. Derek moved to Australia in 1975 and worked as a sub-editor with The Courier Mail and Sunday Mail in Brisbane, moving to the Gold Coast Bulletin in 1980 where he continued as a production journalist. He was the paper's motoring editor for more than 20 years, taking the weekly section from a few pages at the back of the book to a full-colour liftout of up to 36 pages. He left the publication in 2009.
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