The end result is a high-riding five-seat hatchback which looks solid and chunky, and seems ready to plunge into mud baths like a hippo. Yet it stands only 59mm (2in) taller than the A-class on which it is based.
But this is no disadvantage for the new contender. The ground clearance is useful and means the GLA has little trouble straddling green lanes and riding over ruts.
And this is because, underpinning Merc’s latest 4x4 is a new generation of the firm’s 4Matic permanent four-wheel drive system. The rear axle gets an integrated, electro-hydraulically controlled multidisc clutch, which affords fully variable torque distribution between both axles to help progress.
Getting power to the rear axle has been made easier with a new vesion of the manufacturer’s seven-speed twin-clutch transmission, the 7G-DCT. It serves up rapid shifts and helps the 220Cdi engine stay well within its generous reserves of grunt.
There is a wave of torque available through most of the rev range, so the GLA feels brisk without the need to stretch its legs in every gear. As a result, expect a degree of frugality which knocks on the door of 50mpg.
Included with 4Matic is downhill speed regulation and an off-road transmission mode too. Selections are made using switches on the centre console.
Choosing off-road mode modifies the gearshift and numbs the throttle characteristics to avoid premature upshifts and jerky progress when being jostled across rougher surfaces.
A 5.8in tablet-style touch-screen display allows you to see off-road progress, showing steering angle and car attitude too. While the tablet-style presentation might appear unique, it does look a little like an afterthought which has been stuck on the front of the dashboard. Still, it is clear, intuitive and easy to use.
There is no doubt the GLA is a confident soft-roader which offers a sporty drive too. Its raised driving position and shallow front windscreen does give the impression of being in a low, wide, sporty motor. GLA drivers do get a good range of seat and steering wheel adjustments too, so finding an ideal driving position is not a chore.
Clever use of space means rear seat passengers get generous head and legroom, unless you are more than six feet tall. But with passengers sat in the back, the load space is compromised.
Unless you drop the rear seats, you will struggle to get anything bulky to fit through the tailgate’s narrow aperture. And a tall lip on the boot edge makes it awkward to haul heavier items from the rear.
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