Motoramic

Mercedes squeezes into compact SUVs with the new 2015 GLA-Class

Justin Hyde
Motoramic

Among all the prayers being answered for the global auto industry that's gorging itself on profits, the most satisfying may be the advent of customers willing to pay luxury car prices for ever smaller vehicles. Buick's diminutive Encore SUV stands as its hottest product, and today Mercedes-Benz revealed this, the 2015 GLA-Class — a testament that even the world's oldest luxury automaker sees gold in front-wheel-drive softroaders.

Built from the bits of the new CLA, the GLA250's specs fit into expectations of value. A 2-liter, four-cylinder turbo engine churning 208 hp and 258 lb.-ft. of torque sends power through Mercedes' 7-speed dual-clutch automatic to either a permanent 4Matic all-wheel-drive system or, for those value-sensitive American shoppers who still want a new three-pointed star on their grill, the front wheels only.

But Mercedes does deserve some credit for baking a smidgen of off-road flavor into the GLA. In 4Matic models, there's a transmission setting for non-paved surfaces and automatic hill descent control, just like its larger luxury brethren. The GLA can even measure your hill descent angle in degrees and use its cameras for extra control on steep terrain — although the vast majority of GLAs sold in the United States will never see anything steeper than a mall parking ramp.

There's more than just a fad to the move to small SUVs; buyers who can afford these cars want something more efficient than a larger SUV, but without feeling as if they're auditioning for a Ringling Bros. act. Pricing is yet to come, but Mercedes has shown it's willing to get aggressive to sway customers from Audi and BMW. The GLA shows that's still the plan.

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