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Test Drive: 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA

Part SUV, part urban roadster, the latest entry-level offering from the German automaker impresses in the city and out

by Hans Aschim in Design on 16 April 2014

Autos, Car Design, Coachella, Compacts, Los Angeles, Mercedes-Benz, SUV, Test Drive

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The spending habits of younger consumers have changed drastically in recent years—especially when it comes to large purchases like cars and real estate. Whether due to economic forces or shifting social norms (or a combination of both), companies are racing to appeal to this new brand of consumer. With the successful launch of the Mercedes-Benz CLA—a high-end sedan aimed at drawing young professionals to the brand with a balance of luxury and value unlike anything on the market—the German automaker is continuing to expand its focus on new Benz owners with the 2015 GLA: an attractive compact SUV cross-over with the feel of a sports car and off-road capability. We recently had the opportunity to drive from Los Angeles to Palm Springs in the first GLAs to hit roads in the US. Though the face of Mercedes-Benz drivers behind the wheel is changing, the quality and inventive engineering that built the brand remains as cutting-edge as ever.

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"With its striking features the GLA embodies our progressive thinking and enthralls with its off-road proportions," says Gorden Wagener, Vice President of Design at Daimler AG. "The clearly defined surfaces convey power, poise and assurance, and we have managed to combine as much emotional appeal as possible with as much purity as necessary." One look at the car reveals the design team's ability to hit their goals. On the one hand, the aggressive rear overhang and high bowing lines through the shoulder of the car gives it the classic G-Class SUV pedigree. Meanwhile, a simple elegance balances out the front of the car drawing on the sculpted notes of the C-Class. The GLA is a true crossover, with ample rear space and off-road driving abilities yet with the appropriate size, functionality and style for the city.

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Style notes aside, the body of the GLA was designed specifically for aerodynamic driving to improve fuel efficiency and reduce wind noise. The front pillar of the car was lowered to improve overall aerodynamics, while mirrors and taillights are pulled in for even further reduced drag. A multi-level door sealing concept along with fortified roof and tailgate seals contributes to the near silent ride of the GLA.

Behind the wheel of the GLA, all of the team's design notes are made tangible. On city streets and highways, the car has a sharp response with the raw power we've come to expect from Mercedes. While not necessarily a "driver's car," the GLA is built for blending practicality with an emotional driving experience. Ample cargo room in the rear ensures enough gear for a weekend in the countryside will fit. The fully foldable backseat is also adjustable, making it surprisingly comfortable—even for two full-sized adults.

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There are several engine variations of the GLA and we had the pleasure of testing a few. The entry-level GLA 200 is more focused on efficiency that power with its 156 horsepower four-cylinder, but still manages to provide quick acceleration for passing and city driving. However, for those looking for a more enriched drive and off-road experience, there's no other way than the GLA 250 4Matic, boasting 211 horsepower. The GLA is the first of the brand's SUVs to come equipped with the acclaimed all-wheel-drive system with fully variable torque distribution and a significantly lighter set of components than similar competitor systems. In loose surfaces, like the gravely dust roads outside Palm Springs, the GLA 250 4Matic grips where others fishtail. With any of the engine options, the car's compact frame makes for impressive handling. Careening down the winding desert mountain roads—with sheer cliffs at every turn—the GLA suctioned to the road and took turns like an F1 car.

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The car's interior plays heavily on vertical lines, with a horizon aesthetic running throughout. Premium leathers, woodgrain and metals meld into the sophisticated contours. The luxuries one would expect from a Mercedes driver's seat are all present, including an intuitive climate control system, heated sport memory seats and all in a range of materials and finishes to suit every taste. The car's panoramic sunroof is perhaps its most attractive feature. A fixed, glazed section in the rear of the car bathes the backseat in natural light while the retracting front of the sunroof is designed specifically to reduce wind noise when open. An optional add-on sensor closes the retractable roof at the first sign of rain.

Though the models tested were not equipped with the highly anticipated Apple CarPlay, the existing system features simple smartphone integration with a focus on the iPhone. An in-car app allows for usage of supported functions such as Siri, Twitter, Facebook simply by voice command. Mercedes-Benz opted out of touch screens in favor of a dial command in the center console. While many of us may now "think in touch-screen," the dial actually feels less distracting once you get the hang of it, though there is a slight learning curve.

Part SUV, part sports sedan, the 2015 GLA offers the best of both worlds at a value that is sure to attract young, active consumers to this storied brand. The GLA hits lots across the US this fall. Though pricing details for the US market have not yet been released, expect them to be similar to the CLA, which starts at $29,900.

Photos by Hans Aschim

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Studio Visit: Amelie Mancini

The French-born, Brooklyn-based artist on her process, Left Field Cards and her love of baseball

by CH Contributor in Design on 16 April 2014

Art, Baseball, Brooklyn, Designers, French, Homeware, NYC, Painting, Sports, Studio Visitis

by Eva Glettner

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The multi-talented Amelie Mancini is a Brooklyn-based French artist who works with a variety of mediums—from wood to linen to wool—to create her playful, colorful artworks. Her fascination with baseball, born from the first game she ever attended (between the Mets and the Phillies, back in 2007), led to the creation of Left Field Cards; a site dedicated to her homemade baseball cards. Cool Hunting visited Mancini in her studio and learned more about her process and her wholesome but passionate love for the game.

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What's your artistic background?

I studied arts and design in Paris at the Sorbonne University. I always loved painting and drawing the most, but I also studied product design and architecture.

Did you follow many sports while growing up in France?

Like everybody else I jumped on the soccer bandwagon during the 1998 World Cup because it was impossible not to. (France beat Brazil 3-0 in the final and the whole country went nuts.) I enjoyed watching the Olympics, I tolerated tennis and hated cycling. But nothing close to my love for baseball.

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How did you become so interested in baseball?

I didn't know anything about baseball until I moved to NY and some friends took me to a game. Since everything was new, everything was fascinating to me. And I loved reading about legendary baseball players just as much as I loved pouring over old baseball cards with my fiancé, who grew up in Queens and is a huge baseball fan. Baseball players tend to lead interesting lives and I just loved hearing about funny off-the-field accident stories or making lists of players with the best mustaches.

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So then, how did you go from being a painter to making baseball cards?

I tend to make really big paintings that are hard to sell because they're so expensive and, well, big. So at some point, I looked for a smaller and cheaper way to make art and discovered block printing—which was cheap, small, faster than painting, reproducible and also had beautiful solid colors. My boyfriend had just brought home from his parents' house four or five boxes of old baseball cards he had collected as a kid and I thought it was the coolest thing ever! So I decided to make my own.

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Tell us a little about your process—do you create each individual card, or do you illustrate one and then reproduce it?

The cards are printed on a letterpress after I carved the original design on linoleum. [They take] a long, long time. Each series of 10 cards takes on average a full month from start to finish.

What other mediums are you interested in exploring?

Last year I started an entirely new body of work focused on home goods—be it linens, table wares and even bags and wooden spoons. It all started with a cactus-themed linocut I did as a breather from all the baseball stuff. People really liked the pattern so I ran with it. Today I run two companies, Left Field Cards and my own line of non-baseball related home goods.

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Favorite baseball player?

That's a tough one. I have a lot of admiration and respect for players like Sandy Koufax, Roger Maris or Jackie Robinson, but I'm most fascinated by weird guys like Moe Berg, who was a spy for the US government on his days off, or Bill Spaceman Lee, who is just the best. 

Photos by Karen Day

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Re-Up, Beijing

A cafe and event space aiming to be a 360-degree upcycling experience

by Alessandro De Toni in Food + Drink on 16 April 2014

Beijing, China, Eco-conscious, Food, Sustainable

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In a country where fast development is often synonymous with waste and where the cityscape often looks like a never-ending construction site, Chinese consumers are constantly searching for the "brand new," often without the proper awareness of such a quick product lifecycle. Nowadays the drive for success is more often accompanied by an increasing awareness of environmental issues, wastefulness and the wrongdoing that often come with large-scale production.

Spoonful of Sugar (aka SOS)—created by design mastermind Lin Lin Jacobs—proposes creative strategies to cope with China’s overconsumption with alternative ways to use of overlooked and misplaced resources. The SOS goal is to “deliver an upcycled and effortlessly conscious consumer experience." Enter, Re-Up: a project that reflects the constant growth of SOS and a space which opened its doors a month ago.

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Located at #59 Tie Shu Xie Jie Tie in the heart of Beijing, Re-Up is a unique artisanal-style cafe and event space that is focused on sustainability, artistic creativity and community-building in the old city neighborhood of Dashilar. Housed in a formerly run-down art-deco building, Re-Up was restored and reinvented by the SOS product design team and engineering firm Buro Happold and Creative Collaboration Ltd.

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Re-Up has been decorated with stylish simplicity: high-ceilings, hardwood and natural materials, recalling local style and history. An old front door against the wall becomes artwork and there are pieces by emerging artists covering the walls—which are also available for purchase.

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In the kitchen, classic meals are created, but with a modern twist. Every dish is developed with innovative combinations of flavors in mind. From a great variety of coffees and homemade sodas (like Pu-erh tea and sichuan peppercorn flavored varieties) to sandwiches created with homemade bread and kumquat cookies, there's something to please everybody's tastebuds—and perhaps a few surprises too. Every snack is made in-house, cutting down waste and valuing resources to the fullest.

Soon Re-Up will open its urban gardening rooftop, with a vegetable garden that will enrich the tasty organic menu.

Photos by Alessandro De Toni

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