There's much to like about the Mercedes-Benz A-Class. Striking looks, neat handling and a range of economical engines. But find yourself on a rutted country track, and it runs out of ideas.
You can't really criticise it for this of course - an Audi A3 or BMW 1-Series would be similarly out of their depth. But then Audi and BMW sell the Q3 and BMW X1 to fill this niche, and Mercedes had nothing with which to compete.
Until now - the Mercedes-Benz GLA. If the name wasn't enough of a giveaway, the styling is enough for buyers to make the link between A-Class and GLA, and might even tempt a few floating A-Class punters to make the step up (literally) into a crossover. It's nave to think buyers will only be existing Mercedes fans though - a whole 50 percent of new A-Class, CLA-Class and B-Class buyers are conquest sales - customers switching from another brand.
The GLA is a no-brainer for Mercedes then, given its previous absence from the sector.
But what can it offer you? Well, the same as the regular A-Class in effect, but with a few factors enhanced for that off-road image.
The styling is clearly A-Class related, featuring the same large grille design and scalloped body sides. If anything though, it's more successful. In profile particularly, the GLA looks less truncated than the A-Class and sits more comfortably on its large alloy wheels, surrounded by chunky plastic trimmings and enhanced by a few extra inches of ground clearance.
When viewed from the front three-quarters, you'll also notice the larger rear hips. A small kick to the rear side windows also imbues a sense of strength that the A-Class lacks with its sharply cut-off rear.
There's no doubt that the GLA is a better-balanced shape. It remains aerodynamic too, if not quite in the same league as the A-Class: a drag coefficient of 0.29 is better than many regular family hatchbacks.
The changes are much less obvious inside the cabin, which looks near-identical to the A-Class.
Aside from the incongruous display screen glued to the top of the dashboard, we're big fans of the A-Class cabin. It feels high-quality, looks sporty and has great levels of comfort. It's unlikely these factors have changed much for the GLA, but a few new trim packages to suit the car's more country-biased image should give the cabin a slightly different feel to the urbanist A-Class.
A range of turbocharged petrols and diesels will provide power. GLA 200 and GLA 200 CDI models kick off, with 156 and 136 bhp respectively from their petrol and diesel engines. Higher-output petrol and diesels are also available, with a 170-horse GLA 220 CDI and 211-hp GLA 250 petrol. The latter engines will each come with the option of Mercedes' new 4MATIC all-wheel drive system, with variable distribution of torque between the front and rear axles.
Like the A-Class, fuel costs should be fairly low - the 200 CDI gets up to 65.6 mpg combined, for instance, and CO2 of only 114 g/km.
Various off-road-type electronic modes should allow the GLA to traverse light off-road terrain with little difficulty, though don't expect G-Wagen style rock-crawling abilities. More useful to most will be Mercedes' wide array of safety technologies, with lane keeping assist, adaptive highbeam assist and more available as options.
Priced from: Not yet announced
Available from: Orders November, deliveries begin 2014
It's almost as if Mercedes was caught off-guard by cars like the Audi Q3 and BMW X1, both on sale for several years and only now challenged by the Stuttgart firm. But better late than never, as they say - and the GLA has a very real chance of stealing a few sales from its German rivals.
If it can also improve on a few of the A-Class's foibles, such as a hard ride and limited rear seat space, it might also become the pick of Mercedes' smaller cars range.
You can also check out our full summary of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class alongside reviews, stats, photos and videos!