It takes a lot to impress Australian motoring writers but the recent New Zealand-centred launch of the Mercedes-Benz GLA off-roader had them complimenting not only our roads but the test car.
While the diesel version of Mercedes' compact SUV was launched at the end of April, the GLA 250 4Matic model has just arrived here and is now on sale on both sides of the Tasman.
Priced from $76,900, the GLA 250 comes with a 155kW 2-litre, four cylinder, direct-injection turbocharged petrol engine that's engineered by AMG and is "not just a dress-up kit", we were told at the Australasian press launch.
The GLA 250 is paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and 4Matic, Mercedes' version of all-wheel drive that includes hill ascent, and descent control that works at speeds ranging from 2km/h to 18km/h.
The GLA is 127mm longer and 24mm narrower than the A-Class and has ground clearance of 134mm, 44 per cent more than the Mercedes hatchback.
The GLA 250 gains 19in, five-twin-spoke alloys over the GLA 200's 18in wheels plus panoramic sunroof.
As standard, the compact SUV also has leather upholstery, heated seats plus reversing camera, blind spot monitoring and collision prevention assist.
By the end of the year the sport model, GLA 45 AMG, will be added to the line-up, costing $99,000.
The GLA will provide competition to the likes of the Audi Q3 and BMW X1.
Mercedes-Benz New Zealand's general manager, Ben Giffin, expects the GLA 250 to be the popular pick for Kiwis, taking 60 per cent of the sales of the compact SUVs.
If supply holds up, Giffin expects to sell 100 units though, like Mercedes Australia, he may be affected by the GLA going on sale in Canada soon.
"You have a big North American market that loves 4Matic vehicles which creates supply problems for our local market," he said.
From the GLA line-up, Giffin expects most of the GLA 250 4Matics to head to the South Island.
"The mix [of buyers] is swayed towards the South Island and the GLA 250 4Matic will be 80 per cent of our sales, whereas in Auckland we don't have the problems of snow and ice.
The GLA 250 4Matic has just arrived and is priced from $76,900.
"I think the capability of the 4Matic is suitable for New Zealand off-roading, which is mud, snow, ice and basically using it when you need to check the farm, those sort of capabilities."
To show off the GLA 250's off-road capabilities, the Aussie motoring writers headed here - joining us locals in doing a return overnight drive from Auckland to Tauranga via Clevedon and Miranda then a dirt segment at the Pukerau off-road farm near Maraetai.
The winding coastal road from Clevedon showed the secure handling of the GLA 250 with tight corner grip and control on the wet Karangahake Gorge roads.
Heading towards the Bay of Plenty at speed on bitumen the road noise became obvious; added to that was the rattle from the infotainment screen plonked awkwardly on the front console to cut the lines of the dash.
Here's a design tip, Mercedes: integrate the screen or follow Audi's design cue and have the screen slide in the dash.
To show off the vehicle's off-road ability we engaged hill ascent mode on the centre console and headed to Pukerau, where the GLA encountered a muddy track, slippery bumps after recent rain and then grass to the peak of the farm.
The Aussie journos, already parked in the test GLAs, were taking in the views across the Hauraki Gulf.
"Jeez, this country is too beautiful for you Kiwis," one commented, while the others where too busy nodding appreciatively at the cars.
Headed back down the farm, I used the navigation screen display that shows steering, incline, transverse and longitudinal angles.
The GLA 4Matic easily controlled the sometimes rough patch on the dirt track, but kept up a comfortable speed.
Leaving the Aussies at Auckland International Airport, I snaffled a GLA 250 4Matic for a few days of Auckland driving and life as a family car as transportation for my teenage kids.
I was already impressed with the styling of the GLA after testing the diesel model a few months ago, but to have the knowledge of all-wheel-drive, and the capable petrol engine I'm picking the GLA 250 as one of my Car of the Year nominations.
Just don't tell the Australian journalists - they're very competitive.