One of my very first posts involved the launch of the GLA concept car from Mercedes Benz, and here we are a mere 4 months later and the production version has broken cover after what seems like years of spy shots and teasers from the marketing department in Stuttgart. Although it was always pretty clear that some of the more extrovert details of the concept car would not be making it onto the production spec (headlights with built in movie projectors would be awesome though!), Mercedes seems to have further than most in taking an exciting looking concept and making it boring for the paying customer.
This tends to be the way that concept cars work, and whilst I understand totally that it is not economically viable to equip every new model with 22″ wheels and leather lined interiors, it is always a little disappointing that manufacturers have chickened out or short changed fans of the original concept. With the GLA Mercedes openly admitted that the real life car would be considerably toned down from the concept, but the barrage of spy shots that greeted me every week still suggested that the car would offer some visual excitement.
Above is the production GLA and to be fair many people will consider it to be quite the looker. Taking considerable inspiration from the well received A Class, the car builds on the sleek shape of it’s donor car by adding macho detailing like faux-underbody protection, integrated roof rails and headlights which are a little more snazzy and therefore appear more expensive (probably because they are). Under the squared off wheelarches lie what appear to be 19″ alloys, at least in this publicity image. Few would deny that the GLA (and A Class) are a cohesive yet slightly daring design, especially from a manufacturer as conservative as Mercedes Benz, and also most would concur that it is an all round better effort than the kinda fugly BMW X1 and staid Audi Q3 which are the car’s main competitors.
Where the GLA falls down in my eyes though, is that it fails to appear rugged and chunky enough to compete as even a soft roader, and in fact it looks so similar to the A Class that in many photos I have mistaken them for each other. To me it appears to be a similar effort to the likes of the Volvo V40 Cross Country, a model based on the standard V40 yet given a slightly raised ride height and a few off road-esque details; both cars have a sleek shape and teardrop headlights, and in fact Volvo have pushed the visual similarity between the standard V40 and A Class in a series of adverts…Mercedes may have a heritage for SUV’s that stretches back to the G Wagen, but the Volvo is just as sleek and will likely be considerably cheaper. The question remains whether Volvo is missing a trick by not naming their car the XC40, or whether Mercedes are over-reaching in terms of the naming (and price) differences between their two models.
Thankfully inside the GLA has remained pretty close to the concept’s layout and even it’s sense of occasion. The new A Class family have been blessed with an unusual but classy layout which emphasizes the metal air-vents and central plaque…although whether standard plastic will look as nice as the wood in the picture above remains to be seen. The rest of the controls are standard MB and can be found right from these models up to the SLS supercar! Yes the COMAND system lags behind some competitors and yes MBtex leather is never going to be nice as the real stuff, but in brown it looks nice and Mercedes are making big steps with their infotainment systems…apparently.
Even though I am disappointed in the looks of the GLA, I still feel it will be a success and will perform well against rivals from both premium brands and less conventional competition…although having said that I think that even with the superior looks of the Mercedes it will struggle to match the sales of the X1 and Q3, mainly because their parent brands tend to sell more of their cars in general. If it were my money I would probably stretch my budget to a Range Rover Evoque because it looks sufficiently different from anything else on the road, but given my preference for larger SUV’s I would end up getting a second hand X5 or something. You could do a lot worse than the GLA though.