The all-new 2021 Mercedes Benz GLA is less of a hot hatch and more substantial SUV than ever before and that’s why it’s one of our Top 30 of 2021.
Mercedes has followed the lead of other German manufacturers by creating a complete package to fill every tiny niche that’s left open on the market. Look no further than the incredibly similar GLB to see how small of a piece of the pie the GLA is in the lineup. Nevertheless, it’s clear that Mercedes is deeply committed to making the GLA a success thanks to the huge upgrades it’s seeing in this second generation. Where the original car felt much more like one of Audi’s Allroad options. Now, it’s clearly aimed at the compact luxury utility vehicle crowd. For 2021, Mercedes has completely redesigned the GLA from the ground up. Unlike the original GLA, this new compact SUV seats drivers higher up, it rides more smoothly, and has a host of other changes to the interior.
Fantastic handling and ride comfort
AMG models will be an outstanding value
Outstanding infotainment control stack
There’s no mistaking this for an S-Class inside
It still will cost most buyers more than $40,000
Equally expensive options all over the place
A more luxurious-looking base exterior
This little SUV isn’t meant to be peppy, but it’s still a passable passenger vehicle. Bumping up to the 4-Matic feels like a great value because, in addition to getting more sporty performance and power to the rear wheels, buyers get additional 4-Matic only traction modes that provide more versatility like off-road driving mode. While it’s obviously unlikely to catch a GLA at your next soft-roading gathering, Mercedes is taking advantage of technology here to make the GLA more capable of handling snow, ice, and poor road conditions.
Driving around town is a comfortable and classy experience with minimal road noise and very comfortable ride quality. The start/stop feature at stoplights is a bit rougher than we’d like considering the buttery-smooth interaction that less expensive brands have spoiled us with recently. Nevertheless, drivers of the original GLA likely wouldn’t recognize this vehicle simply because it feels far more advanced to drive than a single generational change usually does.
While we haven’t had a chance to drive either AMG model, they’re clearly going to offer insane performance for a vehicle of this size and stature. The 382-horsepower version, the GLA 45, will come with upgraded brakes and a faster shifting dual-clutch 8-speed automatic. Mercedes feeds as much power as possible to the rear tires through a more aggressively tuned all-wheel-drive system too. Having driven the A45 AMG we can assure you that the GLA model will be highly engaging.
With EPA ratings of 25 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway, the GLA does a nice job of being reasonably efficient for most usage cases. It beats out rivals from Volvo and Audi while arguably being the most advanced of the three as well. Highway miles are the way to get that value though as the 9mpg drop between that and city driving is dramatic.
Sitting in the GLA immediately brought back thoughts of mid-2000s Mercedes but not in a bad way. Those were all bemoaned for being too cheap, too plastic, and being an outright disappointment. When you get into the GLA it’s similarly easy to notice that this isn’t a high-end Benz. It’s nowhere near as bad as those earlier cars, but the detail and attention seem to be missing a bit. Panel gaps aren’t an issue but surfaces are big and broad without anything that would set them apart from a car that’s many thousands of dollars less.
For a taller person like myself, the GLA can feel a bit small but if you’re an enthusiastic driver this shouldn’t deter you. Rear seats aren’t meant for long rides with normal-sized adults either but will be comfortable for short trips almost anywhere. The cargo area in back is bigger than the previous generation which will surely attract more customers. Fold the seats down and owners will have just over 50 cubic feet to store and haul whatever they need to.
Mercedes MBUX infotainment system is a bit of a polarizing subject. Where some drivers feel it’s clunky and hard to navigate, we found it to be pretty straightforward. We highly recommend experiencing it for yourself before spending this much cash on any car though because for those that don’t like it, the complaints are pretty loud. Still, the base 7-inch screen that comes in the GLA is bright and luxurious. Opt for the 10.3-inch upgrade and the entire interior seems to be much more opulent suddenly. Controls with the voice assistant are surprisingly good, and the center touch controller is accurate and easy to learn.
We’d like to see more safety features on the GLA but it does come standard with active braking assist and driver attention alert warning, Optional extras include adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and evasive steering assist which will actually swerve into another lane if the GLA sees a crash coming.
Unlike many other manufacturers, Mercedes isn’t creating a vast slew of trim levels. The GLA 250 is the base model only because it can be bought without any options. In “base” trim it gets a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that sends power to the front wheels through an 8-speed automatic. A panoramic roof, LED accented headlights, and active automated braking are all standard.
Bumping up to the 4-Matic GLA adds on all-wheel-drive. The engine and transmission are identical as are the optional packages.
This GLA uses all of the same gear as the GLA 250 4-Matic but the engine is tuned to produce 305 horsepower and the 8-speed transmission now uses the AMG dual-clutch setup. The AWD system is also specifically tuned for more sporting performance.
Take everything we said for the GLA 35 and repeat it except that the engine now makes 382 horsepower. It also gets AMG performance sport seats. Nevertheless, it can be fully optioned just like the other GLA models.
Mercedes keeps its warranty period simple with 4 years or 50,000 miles of complete coverage for both the powertrain and the rest of the vehicle. No complimentary maintenance is included. Overall you will get more warranty coverage for your money with most other manufacturers.
The GLA is as niche a vehicle as there has ever been. We say that because it’s hard to imagine exactly who the GLA buyer really is. At a base price of nearly $40,000, the GLA feels like a compromise in almost everything it does. Mercedes did well to make it much more clearly an SUV this year over previous years’ hot hatch persona but we still wonder if this is going to be a truly obvious choice for all but the most faithful Mercedes die hards.