Mercedes-Benz throws down the luxury gauntlet

Mercedes-Benz throws down the luxury gauntlet

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In recent years both BMW and Audi have lauded their sales success and leadership of the luxury market. Long quiet on the subject, Mercedes-Benz is now making some noise.

It says it wants to be, and for that matter deserves to be, number one – claiming it is, to an extent, leading the luxury passenger vehicle market – excluding MA or SUVs – from the sales charts year-on-year it is up 28% and in fact Mercedes-Benz passenger cars are the number one luxury brand in New Zealand.

“We really feel we are in a position to succeed in New Zealand,” says passenger car general manager Ben Giffin. “For us to do that it is really important to grow in the SUV market.”

There is sound logic to Giffin’s assertion. While BMW has had X1 and X3, as well as MINI Countryman in, underneath the X5, and Audi the Q3 and Q5 under the Q7, Mercedes range has begins with the large ML lineup,

The company is now plugging that with the GLA-class launched yesterday, and will match the ranges of others when the GLK-series arrives next year.

For now, the GLA sits very much at the compact end of the SUV spectrum, and will go head to head with. BMWs X1 and Q3, as well as a number of mainstream branded vehicles. Within the MB range itself, it is a little bigger than the A-Class with which it shares styling and the B-Class.

Product manager Robert Leigh told journalists buyers no longer necessarily expect two-box vehicles In this class anymore, and instead, like the GLA, it is ok for such vehicles to be longer, leaner and more coupe like.

At 150mm of ground clearance, it is only around 30mm up on an A-Class.

Styling wise the GLA looks like an A-Class that has hit the gym. Hunches are a little more muscular and stretched out, and it scores toothed side skirts that hint at things the GLA will never attempt.

Inside it is a modern characterization of Mercedes of past. A swathe of metallic plastic across the dash, big round chrome vents and large gauges. It is not the subtle treatment you get from the other Germans.

There are three main models in the line-up, starting with a two-wheel drive GLA 200CDI. That gets a 2.1-litre turbo-diesel producing 100kW and 300Nm of torque and consumes 4.6-litres per 100km. At $64,900 it gets Mercedes Benz Artico faux-leather, 18-inch wheels, bi-xenon headlamps, bling spot assist and navigation among a healthy specification level.

The GLA 250 4MATIC brings all-wheel-drive and a 2-litre turbocharged petrol producing 155kW and 350Nm. It gets the same 7-speed direct-shift transmission as the entry level. At $76,990 you add items such as intelligent lighting, 19-inch wheels and a panoramic sunroof.

Top of the range is the GLA 45 AMG, which like it’s A-Class brethren gets the world’s most powerful production four – a turbocharged 2-litre producing 265kW and 450Nm paired to an AMG version of the 7-speed. At $100 short of $100,000 it also gets 20-inch wheels, an AMG performance seat in leather and an upgraded navigation and entertainment system.

AMG seats and other technology and driver assist items can be had across the range as part of a range of packages – customers can make an 200 CDI look like an AMG should they wish.

Geffin says the entry-level price will draw new buyers to the brand.

“With these prices, Mercedes Benz is now on the shopping list of those who may not have considered the brand before.”

Sales expectations are similar to M-Class, so a bit over 200 units a year taking SUV sales for the brand to 20% of volume.

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