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2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA Review

When the GLA made its debut for 2015, we didn’t know quite what to think. On one hand, it was a compact little hatchback with sleek and modern style. On the other, it was a subcompact crossover SUV, especially when you ordered it with 4Matic all-wheel drive. While we weren’t sure if it was a hatchback car or a crossover SUV, we did know this: The GLA was an affordable gateway to the Mercedes brand.

For 2021, there’s an all-new Mercedes-Benz GLA. It has taken a step toward the SUV side of the equation, thanks in part to a slightly more upright windshield. Based on a chassis related to that of the CLA, the A-Class, and the new GLB, the new 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA is 0.6 inches shorter than before, but with a back seat has an extra 4.5 inches of legroom.

Other vitals: The wheelbase of the new GLA has grown by 1.1 inches, and the vehicle is 1.2 inches wider than the first-generation it replaces. Moreover, the roof of the 2021 GLA has been raised by 3.5 inches, so there’s headroom galore in this subcompact Mercedes SUV.

Mercedes positions the new GLA as more of a sporty urban crossover than the larger and more traditionally styled GLB, and it continues to be available with front-wheel drive (FWD) or 4Matic all-wheel drive (AWD).

4Matic costs an extra $2,000, but it’s money well spent if you live in areas with real weather. GLAs with 4Matic also come with the Off-Road Engineering Package, which has an extra drive mode that adjusts the tuning of the engine, transmission, and AWD system for optimized off-road performance. The GLA 250 4Matic also has Downhill Speed Regulation (DSR), which safely limits vehicle speed on tricky dirt downhills.

A transverse-mounted turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder powers the new GLA 250, but this engine is a bit more powerful than last year’s 2.0-liter. It puts out 221 horsepower at 5,500 rpm, plus 258 lb-ft of torque at 1,800 rpm, and that power reaches the wheels via an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with shift paddles. Last year’s GLA had a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic.

Also available for the 2021 model year are the Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 and GLA 45 models. The GLA 35 is powered by an AMG-enhanced turbo 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine with 302 horsepower, whereas the GLA 45 is powered by a 382-horspower turbo 2.0-liter that has been hand-built by AMG. Both of these 4Matic AMG models employ an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

As a luxurious subcompact crossover SUV, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA has competitors ranging from the Audi Q3 and Buick Encore GX to the BMX X2, Lexus UX, and Volvo XC40.

What’s New for 2021?

The Mercedes-Benz GLA 250, along with the sportier Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 and GLA 45 models, is all-new for 2021. See the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class models for sale

What We Like

  • Great interior room for its size
  • Tidy size is good in the city
  • Solid chassis
  • Potent AMG models
  • “Hey, Mercedes” user interface is standard
  • Standard Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
  • Digital instruments

What We Don’t

  • Some torque steer (FWD models)
  • Not “Mercedes quiet” inside
  • Occasionally rough downshifts

How Much?

$37,280 to $54,500

Fuel Economy

The new 2021 Mercedes GLA 250, whose turbo 2.0-liter puts out 221 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, returns Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy figures of 25 mpg city/34 mpg highway/28 mpg combined with FWD, or 24 mpg city/33 mpg highway/27 mpg combined with AWD.

The takeaway here: 4Matic all-wheel drive affects EPA fuel economy only a tiny bit, but the reward it provides in adverse conditions is huge. Mercedes, by the way, expects 60 percent of all new 2021 GLA 250s to be ordered with 4Matic, a $2,000 option.

With standard 4Matic, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35, with 302 horsepower, is rated at 23 mpg city/29 mpg hwy/25 mpg combined. The GLA 45, also with standard 4Matic but with 382 hp, is thirstier because of all its extra power. It comes in at 20 mpg city/27 mpg hwy/23 mpg combined.

Standard Features & Options

The 202 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class comes in GLA 250 and GLA 250 4Matic versions.

The 2021 GLA 250 ($37,280) may be an entry-level Mercedes but it’s equipped with a bounty of standard equipment. Besides the interactive “Hey, Mercedes” system and a power tailgate, the front-drive GLA comes standard with dual-zone climate control, 18-inch alloy wheels, run-flat tires, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and a leather-covered steering wheel with touch-control buttons and shift paddles.

Also standard: LED headlights and taillights, along with 8-way power front seats with memory, keyless ignition, selectable drive modes, and 7-inch digital screens for the instrument panel and infotainment. A forward-collision warning system with automatic emergency braking adds some peace of mind.

The GLA 250 4Matic ($39,280) is equipped almost identically, but its AWD powertrain is complemented by a driver-selectable off-road driving mode that includes a digital off-road dash display and downhill speed regulation.

As a Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 ($47,550) and the GLA 45 ($54,500), this compact new crossover SUV is equipped with a 10.25-in digital instrument cluster, a 10.25-in touchscreen display, an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, AMG sport suspension (with 3-stage damping), 19-in alloy wheels, and 64 colors of ambient interior lighting. The GLA 45 ups the content quotient with a 4Matic AWD system that has AMG Torque Control, a system that allows power to be apportioned individually to each rear wheel.

Key option packages:

The $1,750 Premium Package features a 10.25-inch digital instrument panel and a 10.25-inch central information screen, both integrated into one large horizontal panel on the GLA’s dash. Power-folding side mirrors and a keyless ignition also are part of this package.

A $1,295 Multimedia Package is highlighted by MBUX Augmented Reality Navigation, which uses a forward-facing camera to give drivers a clear look at the area where, for example, the navigation system indicates you need to make your next turn. This package also comes with Speed Limit Assist, which displays the speed limit of the road on the GLA’s instrument panel and will lower the set speed of the cruise control if necessary.

Besides adaptive cruise control and active lane-centering, the tech-filled $1,700 Driver Assistance Package includes Active Emergency Stop (which will bring the CLA to a stop if the driver is asleep or unresponsive), Speed Limit Assist (which adjusts vehicle speed according to the posted limit), and a lane-change assist program.

The $2,600 AMG Line Package brings AMG styling tweaks to the GLA, plus aluminum shift paddles, a sport steering wheel, sport seats, drilled front brake rotors (with painted calipers), and an AMG Diamond-block grille.

Notable stand-alone options on the new 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 include leather upholstery ($1,450), heated front seats ($500), a panoramic sunroof ($1,500), adjustable suspension damping ($900), 19-inch alloy wheels ($700), and a Burmester Surround Sound stereo ($850).

Other niceties worth considering include wood interior trim ($325), 64 colors of ambient interior lighting ($310), and wireless smartphone charging ($200). We’d also seriously consider the sliding second-row seat ($360), which can more rear legroom or cargo capacity, depending on your needs.

Options on the GLA 35 and GLA 45 include AMG Ride Control suspension, the AMG Night Package ($750), an AMG aero kit ($1,550), wheels of up to 21 inches, and even AMG Track Pace ($250), an app that lets you keep track of your lap times and other data if you go to track-day events on the weekend. You can also get a panorama roof on the GLA 35 or GLA 45 for $1,500.

Safety

The GLA may be the shortest available Mercedes, but it comes up long in the category of standard safety equipment. A few highlights:

Active Brake Assist. It warns the driver of impending frontal collisions, and it will automatically add maximum brake pressure if the driver doesn’t apply the brakes hard enough. If the driver fails to apply the brakes, the system automatically applies full brake pressure to stop the GLA in the shortest distance possible, perhaps preventing a collision.

Active Brake Priming, part of the standard Adaptive Braking Technology safety suite, preloads the GLA’s brake lines with pressure the moment the driver’s foot comes off the accelerator. This hastens the arrival of braking force, possibly preventing a collision. Adaptive Braking Technology also features Automatic Brake Drying, in which the brake pads are moved against the wet rotors to squeegee off the water and improved stopping performance next time you need to the brakes.

If you order your 2021 GLA with the Driver Assistance Package, it comes with Blind Spot Assist. This provides visual and audible warnings if there’s a vehicle in your rear three-quarter blind spot. And if necessary, it will even automatically apply the brakes to one side of the Mercedes to pull the GLA safely back into its lane and avoid contact with the car in your blind spot.

Behind the Wheel

The 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 has a solid chassis, and the suspension is tuned for sportiness without being uncomfortable. While some might think it’s a bit too firm, we like being able to feel the road and the agility it provides.

We also think there’s just the right amount of steering assist, even though steering wheel of the front-drive GLA occasionally gets pulled left or right when accelerating hard out of tight corners. This torque steer, apparent in aggressive driving, is not an issue in the 4Matic GLA models.

With 221 horsepower from the turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, the 2021 Mercedes GLA is reasonably quick, and the power ramps up smoothly. In Eco or Comfort, the GLA 4Matic has 80 percent of its power going to its front wheels. In Sport, 70 percent goes forward, while Off-Road locks the power distribution at 50/50.

The new 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission shifts smoothly and is world’s better than a CVT, aided by shift paddles. While a conventional torque-converter automatic may not be as sporty or efficient as the dual-clutch setup in the GLA, it likely would be smoother, particularly when you’re trundling around, say, a supermarket parking lot at slow speeds and the gearbox is trying to figure out what it should do.

Inside, we’re impressed. The new GLA has a premium look and feel, although road noise is a bit higher than we normally expect from Mercedes. On a positive note, this little Mercedes SUV accommodates drivers 6-foot-5 or shorter with an impressive ease.

With the rear seat in the up position, there’s 15.4 cubic feet of cargo space in the new GLA. Last year’s GLA, for the record, has 17.2 cubic feet. With the rear seat folded, though, the new GLA has 50.5 cubic feet of cargo space versus 43.6 for the previous GLA. A standard cargo cover keeps valuables out of sight.

Other Cars to Consider

2020 Audi Q3 — Completely new for 2020, the Aud Q3 impresses. It’s larger and more refined than its predecessor, and it looks great. AWD is also standard.

2021 Buick Encore GX —  A new player for 2021, the Encore GX should make you forget about the standard Encore, which is still being sold. Considerably less expensive than the GLA, but considerably less powerful.

2020 BMW X2 — Firm suspension and similar power, the BMW X2 is a bit more involving to drive than the GLA.

2020 Jaguar E-Pace — Pricier and a bit larger than the GLA, but available with a 296-horsepower engine.  AMG versions of GLA coming soon, though.

2020 Lexus UX — Well equipped and reasonably priced. AWD is only available in the hybrid model, but only at speeds below 45 mph.

2020 Volvo XC40 — Beautifully packaged and attractive, plus it’s loaded with luxury touches and safety equipment.

Used BMW X3 — A dynamic treat with more interior space. Snag a certified pre-owned BMW X3 with a warranty.

Questions You May Ask 

Where does Mercedes build the 2021 GLA?
The 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA, on sale now, comes to the U.S. from a factory in Rastatt, Germany.

Is the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA a totally new vehicle?
Indeed it is. The 2021 Mercedes- Benz GLA is not a modified version of last year’s GLA. Rather, it’s based on a platform related to that of the CLA and A-Class sedans, as well as the GLB SUV.

Is the Mercedes GLB bigger than the GLA??
Yes. The new Mercedes GLA is a 173.6-inch vehicle with a 107.4-inch wheelbase. The new GLB, which has three rows of seats, is a 182.4-inch vehicle with a 111.4-inch wheelbase.

What’s the warranty on the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA?
The bumper-to-bumper and powertrain warranties on the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA models last for four years or 48,000 miles, whichever comes first.

Autotrader’s Advice

We’re impressed with the new GLA. It’s smaller on the outside, and larger within. It’s loaded with cool entertainment and safety technology. It’s fun to drive. And the AMG models are downright quick. What’s more, it’s well built, and as a subcompact crossover SUV, the new 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA maintains some good practicality. Lastly, we think that 4Matic, at $2,000, is too good of a deal to ignore. Find a Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class for sale

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