The outgoing first-generation Mercedes-Benz GLA was a stealth station wagon. With dimensions that mimicked precisely the height (60") and width (71") of my beloved 2018 VW Golf Alltrack and skimped only slightly on the length (175" vs 180"), it managed to wobble along the treacherous border of cute-ute-dom like a wine club denizen barely passing a roadside field sobriety test. I mean, just look at these two cars side by side. They could be fraternal twins, if one of the twins was deprived of nourishment in the womb and came out five inches shorter and much uglier.
The new Mercedes GLA250, which I tested recently, is a resolutely more capable vehicle in every way. Its steering is more precise. Its interior materials don’t look anywhere near as de-contented, especially if it’s loaded up with $18,000 in options like the version I drove. Its suspension is more supple. And its 4Matic all-wheel-drive system feels more sure-footed, even if I spent more than my fair share of time panic-braking as it skidded down the ice luge of a driveway at the AirBnB a friend and I rented.
Sadly, it completely fails the wagon test. This is mainly the fault of the design. It’s now three-and-a-half inches taller, putting it at 63.5 inches and placing it directly between the Kia Soul and Kia Sportage, both decidedly not wagons. It’s also about an inch-and-a-quarter wider, which, while not exactly in the same territory as a 1975 Buick Estate—the most humongous regular production wagon ever built—still lends the Benz a thickness that mimics its bigger siblings, the GLC and GLE. (It also provides enhanced storage capacity when compared to the outgoing model, which is, countervailingly, a wagon hallmark.)
In fact, so similar is the GLA in shape to those larger vehicles that when I posted a photo of the trucklet, someone at Mercedes’ own social media account mistook it for its big brother. Thankfully, it at least avoids the function-sapping seething-tortoise profile of its "crossover coupe" cousins.
But the inflation of the GLA, and the abandonment of its longroof-adjacent status, begs an important question: Why is Mercedes un-wagoning everything? Witness the recent Outback-ified jacked-up and dipped E-Class wagon, and the even more recent announcement that, though the all-new 2022 C-Class will offer a wagon variant in other parts of the world, it will not be available here in the States.
Obviously, as with all other maladies currently befalling the auto industry, the SUV-ification of everything is partly to blame. Despite, or because of, the USA’s diminished role and pull in the larger world, Americans want to sit high up, waste resources, and feel like they’re in command of everything. But Benz’s competitors at Audi and Volvo are doubling down on wagons, each bringing two distinct models stateside, along with assorted variants. Even Porsche has just announced a second addition to its local wagon lineup, with the electric Taycan Cross Turismo joining the baleen Panamera Sport Turismo.
Of course, this comes amidst news that a couple other recent converts to the wagon train, Jaguar and Buick, are abandoning the segment in the States. Credit stupid consumer taste. Wagons account for only about 1.5 percent of American new vehicle sales. (It's worth noting that this number is extremely close to the rate at which our residents purchase pure battery-powered cars.) Maybe Porsche is onto something with its watty Cross Turismo, and the electric wagon is the counterintuitive answer to the dubious question no one is thinking to ask. Mercedes can keep its new GLA. Instead, we'll petition the three-pointed star to put its new EV platform under an EQC Estate.
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