Mercedes-Benz may have pioneered the luxury car segment in India and initially enjoyed a first-mover advantage, but BMW and Audi have recently nosed ahead. And that’s primarily down to one simple fact: Mercedes has a giant hole in its product portfolio. While BMW has the X3 and X1 SUVs and Audi has the Q5 and Q3, Mercedes has no product in the same segment.
However, this is now set to change. Dieter Zetsche, head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, revealed to Autocar India recently that Mercedes is planning the introduction of not one but two brand new SUVs for the Indian market.
The smaller of the two will be the yet-to-be-revealed GLA, which will compete with the BMW X1 and Audi Q3. Based on Mercedes’ new MFA front-wheel-drive transverse-engine architecture, just like the new A- and B-class, this space-efficient SUV is expected to take the Mercedes brand to a whole new set of SUV buyers. The styling is said to be as edgy as the new A-class, the cabin is reputed to be ‘very spacious’ and designers say some of the youthful exuberance seen on the interior of the A-class will be carried over to the GLA as well.
Unlike manufacturers like Audi or BMW, Mercedes will not build its compact SUV on an extended wheelbase. Both the new B-class and the new A-class share the same 2700mm wheelbase, and the new GLA is likely to do so too.
The GLA is likely to have a larger front and rear overhang, while track is expected to be slightly wider. And considering the GLA will be based on the MFA platform, the power plants will be similar too. The suspension however will be slightly different with longer travel arms, and you can expect a part-time four-wheel-drive system as well. Expect the prices to start from somewhere around Rs 23 lakh for the base petrol, with the cost of the top-end diesel somewhere around Rs 30 lakh.
The other SUV that will be launched here will be the new GLK. Mercedes never developed a right-hand-drive GLK and, as a result, has suffered at the hands of its competition. Back in 2008, when the original GLK was being engineered, packaging for the right-hand-drive version was proving to be difficult, and Merc struggled to fit all the components in its first compact SUV. Re-engineering a right-hand-drive version has proven to be even more difficult, and the project was canned.
The problem, according to Mercedes-Benz’ engineering sources, is a front driveshaft on four-wheel-drive versions of the GLK. It is positioned such that it encroaches on the right-hand-side footwell, and this apparently can’t be altered without “significant and expensive” alterations to its steel floor pan and driveline architecture. A low-cost solution that would have seen the first-generation GLK sold exclusively in rear-wheel-drive form in right-hand drive was apparently ruled out by Mercedes-Benz.
The second-generation model (codename X205) is due out in 2015 and already undergoing development at the company’s headquarters in Stuttgart. And that one will have right-hand drive, for sure. It has a much longer wheelbase, a wider track and the front axle has been pushed forward to incorporate the four-wheel drive. This means the new GLK is much larger, and that’s perfect for India.