Previewing a future production crossover model, the Mercedes-Benz Concept GLA was conceived to show the currently untapped potential that lies within the automaker's compact MFA vehicle architecture that already underpins the A-Class, B-Class and soon-to-launch CLA-Class models. Matching adventurous styling cues with solid functionality, this diminutive all-wheel-drive one-off making its global debut at the Shanghai Auto Show also boasts a number of trick techno touches -- although several don't appear likely to see volume-build status.
Finished in Mercedes' signature silver Alubeam paint, the Concept GLA makes a bold first impression. Its rakish, if relatively low-slung profile is defined by taut character lines, aggressively rendered fascias and a prominent wheel/tire fitment. Upon closer inspection, a number of intriguing details make their presence known. Up front, its distinctive grille treatment features stylized twin bars flanking a prominent center star and is accented with new raised "softcubes" trim -- a design flourish also reprised in the side sills and around the Concept GLA's large dual exhaust outlets. Frameless door windows emphasize the Concept GLA's coupe-like leanings while fully-recessed door handles that rise at the touch of a button add a touch of elegance, as does its full-power liftgate. While hard-core off-roading is far from its forte, the Concept GLA does boast skid plates front and rear. It also wraps 20-inch turbine-style alloy wheels in custom 255/45 tires that extend the spoke design into the tread pattern.
Arguably the most innovative exterior feature of the Concept GLA is its front lighting system. In addition to providing high-intensity LED-enhanced illumination, each headlight also contains a laser-beam projector capable of tossing still or video images onto a screen or other surface ahead of the vehicle. Input for this kind of an impromptu show can be drawn from any device capable of interfacing with the car's COMAND telematics system. That includes a pair of removable high-definition 3D cameras that are normally housed in the Concept GLA's front roof rail to capture real-time images of the passing scenery. Beyond mere bragging rights for being the first vehicle to use this type of laser-enhanced lighting, Mercedes notes that the hardware has the potential to be integrated into future head-up systems. There, it could be used to project guidance arrows from the navigation system to help the driver stay on route or to warn pedestrians about the vehicle's direction of travel.
The Concept GLA's cabin blends design cues also found in other current Mercedes compact offerings with its own individually tailored elements. Each of the four separate sport seats is covered in brown and gray leather that Mercedes says emulates the look of a saddle while various bits of matte, polished and dark-galvanized aluminum serve as hard-surface counterpoints. Like the earlier Concept A-Class and Concept Style Coupe, the air vents in the Concept GLA are illuminated and change from blue to white to red in response to increases in the selected temperature. When cargo calls, the rear seatbacks easily fold forward to create a flat load floor.
Motivation for the Concept GLA comes from the same 2.0-liter turbocharged/direct-injected 4-cylinder engine that will be found under the hood of the new 2014 CLA-Class. Developing 208 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, it's backed by a 7-speed (DCT) dual-clutch automatic transmission and drives all four wheels via M-B's all-new lightweight and super-efficient 4Matic system that's specifically designed for use in vehicles with a transversely-mounted engine.
A production version of the GLA-Class is expected to make its first appearance this fall at the Frankfurt Auto Show. Sales are slated to begin sometime in 2014, although specific timing for its arrival in the U.S. has not been confirmed. This natural competitor for crossover SUVs like the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Land Rover Evoque and Mini Countryman also is expected to spawn a hotter AMG version.
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