It seems the world has gone crossover crazy, with the amorphous SUV/wagon variants popping up everywhere, and comprising an ever larger slice of the sales pie for many manufacturers, especially luxury brands. The latest is the Mercedes-Benz Concept GLA, which is being unveiled in Shanghai, a tamer variation of which is likely to show up in Mercedes showrooms around the world in the not-too-distant future.
While some are not unqualified fans of Mercedes' mass-market expansion, after having seen the CLA and now the GLA concept, style has definitely not been sacrificed in the process. The chunky, purposeful lines of the Concept GLA combine the sleekness of the CLA with just enough of the macho swagger of Mercedes' ML and GLK to produce a rugged yet refined look.
The show car is a combination of real-world and slightly far-fetched, although the materials and technologies used are not so extravagant or exotic that they couldn't show up in production a few years down the road.
The drivetrain of the GLA is decidedly conventional -- at least for a modern Mercedes Benz. It shares the CLA's 2.0-liter turbo-four, which is rated at 208 hp in this application and is mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission and 4Matic all-wheel-drive.
Of the likely concept-specific details, the laser-projector headlights are the most noteworthy. In addition to providing road illumination, the lights are also capable or projecting photos or symbols onto a screen or the road surface. In addition to facilitating driveway parties, the system can project directional signals such as turn arrows on the road surface ahead, serving the dual purpose of a reminder to the driver as well as a signal of intent to other cars or pedestrians.
In an additional example of the GLA's active lifestyle positioning, the car is equipped with removable HD cameras on the roof rail that could be affixed to bike helmets. The footage recorded could then be displayed on the COMAND display screen in the interior, or even presumably through the magic laser projector headlights. But Mercedes hasn't completely abandoned LEDs, the current fashion trend in automotive exterior lighting, because the running lights and taillights retain that technology. Another feature that may or may not make it to production are the flush-mounted telescoping door handles, similar to those found on the Tesla Model S.
The unique styling details continue in the interior of the car, with saddle brown leather and galvanized aluminum being the predominant materials. The front and rear high-back bucket seats feature grey-colored canvas inserts in the seat cushions, grey leather seatback inserts, and hand-stitched outer seams.
Accentuating the structural, industrial theme, the dashboard features a clear piece of sculpted plexiglass covering and aluminum subframe, with visible screws. Plexiglass is also used for the COMAND system buttons, painted black from the rear, and function descriptions etched from the backside. Finally, the climate system vents feature accent lighting that adjusts its color in accordance with temperature settings. At 71 degrees Fahrenheit, they are illuminated white. If the temperature is adjusted cooler, the lighting turns blue, and if it is adjusted warmer, the color turns red. The cargo area features fiber optic ambient lighting, as well as an helicopter-style four-point harness.
Size-wise, the GLA is firmly in the C-segment, with a trim overall length of 172.5 inches, a broad-shouldered width of 77.8 inches, and a car-like height of 62.1. For comparison, that's about three inches shorter that the BMW X1, but nearly seven inches wider, and two inches taller.
The laser-projector headlights and hand-crafted interior may not be cost or volume feasible for a mass-market crossover, and are likely typical show car flourishes showing an automakers ultimate technological capabilities, but take away some of the futuristic frills, and you're looking at the next addition to Mercedes' crossover lineup, likely about a year away from production.