Another day, another compact premium crossover is revealed, or at least that’s what it seems like to many people who keep their finger on the pulse of car news. The rise of this market is one which is to the dismay of car buffs, as manufacturers renowned for their classic high peformance beauties demonstrate middle age (market) spread into niches which had not existed previously…or they copy the competition a year or two down the line anyway.
The crossover market has been one set for a boom since its very inception in the early 1980’s. Compared to other SUV’s of the time, the unibody/monocoque Jeep Cherokee was generally faster, more efficient and all around easier to drive and live with than its contemporaries of the time. Jeep did it again in the 1992 with the launch of the mid size Grand Cherokee, which while having the capabilities of a off-road centric SUV, also boasted a more sophisticated construction than the likes of the Ford Explorer etc. Fast forward another decade and a half and Jeep released their newest unibody-type product(s) on the road. Based on the Dodge Caliber hatchback, the Compass and Patriot were 2 uniquely styled crossovers with dimensions not much larger than a conventional family hatchback, and a rough and tough image complete with raised seating position and more practical cabin.
Unfortunately for Chrysler these cars were not the success they had hoped, and gained a reputation for cheap cabins and awful handling, much like the Caliber they had been based on. But what if a small crossover was based upon a decent car? Would better styling, cabin and drivetrain make it a car to inspire the masses? Well European luxury car makers have decided to give it a good go in the last couple of years; BMW/MINI with their X1 and Countryman, Audi with the Q3 and Volvo with the erm V40 Cross Country. Even more mainstream makes have got involved with Vauxhall Mokka, Ford EcoSport and very popular Nissan Juke all fighting it out for the attention of buyers.
Given this proliferation of successful rivals, Chrysler’s former partner Mercedes Benz is quite a late entrant to the arena, whether this is because they were wary because of their dalliance with the Jeep or maybe it was their lack of a decent small platform to base the car on, regardless they clearly intend to make an impact in this segement with their GLA. Based on their new front-drive based platform shared with the A Class and CLA, the GLA rocks the 3-pointed star’s aggressive new styling trends, accentuated by the chunkier details this has given it a handsome look unmatched by any competitors as of yet, indeed silencing some die-hard car fans who believe Mercedes should offer C, E and S saloons and not much else. Inside the car is very similar to the aforementioned ‘A’ cars which is no bad thing. This concept car features some glitzy details, but the high quality dash will likely remain, complete with the odd sat-nav display which looks like an iPad Mini has been glued to the cabin. Apart from that I can’t really comment much on the actual car spec wise…presumably there will be a good number of efficient diesel engines available, and a rumoured GLA45 with 340bhp will keep the petrolheads happy. Boot space is likely to be pretty comparable to its rivals…I’d guess around 350L if not more given its shape. Oh and as with all modern cars handling and ride will be good, ride less so with larger wheels although Mercedes’ do tend to ride better than either Audi’s or BMW’s.
My main bugbear with the GLA is probably its name…as it does not really fit with Mercedes’ alphanumeric soup of names, or rather it does fit with its car line-up just not its SUVs. A, C, E and S are their bread and butter saloons, with SL being its sport(y) grand tourer. Recently they have reintroduced ‘coupe’ to their coupe models, with the E and forecoming S 2dr models replacing the CLK and CLK respectively. SLK is their smaller grand tourer/convertible and SLS is their supercar-esque version. But that seems to be where the sense ends; CLA is the 4dr coupe version of the A Class, yet CLS is the same version of the E Class (not CLE). SUV-wise it gets even more confusing, with the GL being the big boy top dog, GLK being the C Class based model and now GLA being at the bottom. This would sort of make sense apart from the ML which could be based on the E Class (but isn’t), R Class (which is more MPV/crossover but still), and likely forthcoming GLC/MLC which is to be similar to the BMW X6. I pray that the X4 is not a success for BMW as I would hate to see the naming of that given the existing confusion.
But even though Merc is unlikely to sort out its naming conventions anytime soon, I am pretty sure that as long as the GLA is not too outrageously priced then it will be a roaring success.
PS The Range Rover Evoque is probably another competitor, but given that it is based on a larger platform and is abit more expensive, it did not spring to mind immediately…for me anyway