Ask anyone where the Sierra Nevada mountain range lies and a good number of people will reply that it’s somewhere in the American mid-west.
Probably because this range had been regularly used as the backdrop for old American wild west movies featuring gunslinging cowboys and outlaws, the less publicised “original” Sierra Nevada range in southern Spain seems to draw a blank among many.
While both rocky ranges are continents apart, they look quite similar in dark gray with snow-capped peaks.
The Spanish Sierra Nevada range, if observed from the outskirts of Granada close to sunset, will look red instead of gray, projecting an eerie Martian-like landscape and identity.
This phenomenon coincided with Mercedes-Benz’s recent global media test drive of its latest GLA-Class model which some how also comes with more than one identity.
The standard GLA looks like a stylish urban crossover but Mercedes-Benz has also created two spin-offs - an AMG-enhanced variant that delivers a sportscar-like performance and a serious off-roader version with elevated ride height.
At a glance, the GLA looks similar to the five-door Mercedes-Benz A-Class hatchback but this new crossover is more muscular as well as being slightly longer and wider.
Other visual cues to tell the GLA apart from the A-Class are the roofrails, aggressive front, flared wheel arches with cladding, a bulbous bonnet with ridges and wider rear shoulders.
The GLA has the same wheelbase as the A-Class as both vehicles are based on the same platform.
Its boot space of 421 litres can be increased to 1,235 litres with rear seat backrests folded down, allowing versatility for those with active outdoor lifestyles.
GLA 250 4MATIC
Inside, the GLA 250 is as premium as the A-Class; the cabin features a large freestanding multi-information screen dominating the softtouch dashboard that has wood trimmings and five circular aluminium air vents.
The driver sits higher than in most passenger cars and this gives a better forward view.
Rear leg room is not as generous as those in larger Mercedes-Benz models but is enough if you are not fussy.
Our unit’s 2.0-litre turbo engine produced 211bhp and 350Nm of torque, and was more than enough to provide excitement for our drive from Granada to Malaga.
The electromechanical steering has been tuned to give more feedback compared with earlier Mercedes-Benz models so the GLA 250 feels more symbiotic in your hands.
The 4MATIC all-wheel drive system became more sure-footed when we were charging hard on twisty trunk roads.
Power goes to the front wheels most of the time but can be split equally between front and rear wheels if required for better traction.
The GLA can be specified in front-wheel drive only if owners do not need the 4MATIC capability.
Driven sedately, the GLA 250 is serene and quiet inside.
Go heavy on the accelerator and the GLA 250 is fast and responsive.
The exhaust note also goes sportier as we drove faster.
The twin clutch DCT transmission with seven speeds is quick as well as smooth with gearshifting as not to interrupt our driving pleasure.
Mercedes-Benz says the GLA’s bodyshell was wind tunnel-developed and has a best-in-class low drag co-efficient of 0.29, promising low wind noise and fuel consumption.
GLA 45 AMG 4MATIC
This variant, tuned by Mercedes-Benz’s AMG performance division, is the Usain Bolt of the GLA line-up.
Complete with more aggressive AMG-styled bodykits, bucket seats and oversized 20-inch wheels, its 2.0-litre turbo engine delivers a staggering 360bhp and 450Nm of torque.
It rockets from 0-100kph in 4.8 seconds and the engine electronically limits the top speed to 250kph.
The already fast GLA 250 would be easily be left behind if you race it against this speed demon.
Also, the soundtrack delivered by the engine is full-bodied and should appeal to hardcore drivers wanting an edgier sensation.
In addition, the GLA 45 AMG is fitted with a 15mm-lowered stiffer suspension that provides better cornering and road handling.
Although the vehicle can take sharp corners with little or no body rolls, the downside is a ride quality that tends to be a bit choppy on rough roads and poorer overall comfort compared against the GLA 250’s.
Those still not satisfied with the GLA 45 AMG’s appearance can opt for the Edition 1 package that is even more extreme with a revised front bumper featuring a big splitter and side wings, black 20-inch wheels with red lining and a large rear wing.
GLA 200 CDI 4MATIC
Equipped with an off-road suspension system, the GLA 200 CDI stands 30mm higher compared with the standard type and gave an elevated driving view close to a 4X4’s.
An off-road test drive path that looked like it had been randomly savaged by a deranged excavator was the site for us to test the GLA 200 CDI’s mettle.
The combination of a turbodiesel with 300Nm of torque and the 4MATIC system was enough for the vehicle to crawl through the ruts and inclines effortlessly.
Aside from giving a higher clearance, the off-road suspension was also comfortable and could absorb the shocks during the drive over the unfriendly terrain.
It also comes with a Downhill Speed Regulation that assists off-road downhill driving using engine and wheel braking.
To ensure the vehicle’s off-road hardiness, the GLA also underwent endurance tests on the same military training ground in southern Germany used by tanks and tracked vehicles of the German Armed Forces.
Mercedes-Benz seems to have developed a good-looking crossover that is rugged for the off-the-beaten track and yet glamourous enough for the urban lifestyle.
The GLA will be launched locally tomorrow by Mercedes-Benz Malaysia with prices starting from RM238,888.