Shanghai Motor Show preview: Mercedes-Benz GLA concept is a CLA in hiking boots

Mercedes-Benz will unveil a new crossover concept at the 2013 Shanghai Motor Show later this week, but these leaked images have lifted the cover prematurely. The GLA will be Mercedes’ smallest ever crossover and will be similar in character to the CLA-Class “four-door coupe.”

In fact, the GLA will likely be based on the same platform that forms the foundation for the CLA and the A-Class hatchback (not sold in the United States).

The family tie is apparent in the styling. Like the CLA, the GLA is compact and features a more sculpted and emotional look than most Mercedes products. The low roofline is probably meant to suggest a coupe; we’ll have to see if Mercedes tries to pass the GLA off as an SUV-coupe hybrid, as BMW did with its four-door X4 and X6.

Given its CLA underpinnings, the GLA will likely be powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engines. In the U.S.-spec CLA250, it produces 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.

In an unusual twist for Mercedes, the CLA/A-Class platform is front-wheel drive. However, the GLA will likely be offered exclusively with 4Matic all-wheel drive.

If we had our druthers, we’d get Mercedes in-house performance tuner AMG to install the 355 hp 2.0-liter turbo-four from the CLA45 AMG in this compact crossover.

When it hits showrooms, as it almost certainly will, the GLA will compete with the Audi Q3 and BMW X1 for sales dollars and parking spaces at Whole Foods.

The GLA will be formally unveiled at the 2013 Shanghai Motor Show, which opens April 20. However, now that the photos are out, Mercedes may release some information sooner.

Is the GLA as much of a styling statement as its CLA cousin? Let us know in the comments.