The entry-level Mercedes-Benz GLA crossover was such a success here in the United States, it warranted a second-generation for the 2021 model year. In addition to the GLA 250 and AMG-tuned GLA 45 models offered in the first generation, this new model adds a third variant called the Mercedes-AMG GLA 35. As with other 35-badged models like the A35, CLA 35, and GLB 35, the GLA 35 is not a fully-fledged AMG model, though it does offer a significant power boost over the standard GLA 250.
A 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine sends 302 horsepower out through a new eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. That's more than the 208-hp GLA 250, but less than the 382-hp GLA 45, holding a one-horsepower advantage over its key competitor, the 301-hp BMW X2 M35i. As an entry point into the world of AMG-tuned crossovers, the little GLA 35 has some big shoes to fill. With hot hatchback-inspired handling, handsome styling, and a well-crafted cabin, the GLA 35 looks like it may have what it takes to live up to its AMG billing.
The latest Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class is a classy subcompact SUV, and the all-new GLA 35 provides some spicier performance without resorting to the fury of the full-AMG GLA 45. There was no '35' version of the previous-generation GLA, so this one provides a more subtle entry into the world of Mercedes-AMG. It uses an AMG-enhanced 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that's good for 302 horsepower, enabling a 0-60 mph sprint time of 5.1 seconds. This power plant is paired with the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system.
Together with its impressive powertrain, the new GLA 35 looks markedly different from the previous GLA - it's less of an awkward, raised hatchback and more of a cohesive, aggressive SUV. An AMG-specific grille and 19-inch wheels add to its appeal. It's much more up-to-date inside, thanks to the fitment of the brand's latest MBUX infotainment system as well as a standard digital gauge cluster.
Slotting in below the GLA 45, the GLA 35 begins at an MSRP of $47,550, a price that excludes a destination charge of $1,050. The Mercedes isn't cheap as the BMW X2 M35i starts at $46,450, and while the cheaper Audi Q3 would be considered a rival, there is no Q3 currently on sale that can match the GLA 35 performance-wise. When fully loaded, the GLA 35 will cost over $73,000, a ridiculous sum of money that could almost get you behind the wheel of an AMG GLC 63.
See trim levels and configurations:
|AMG GLA 35||
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
The GLA 35 may suggest "crossover" from the outside, but it screams "hot hatchback" from behind the wheel. AMG clearly designed the GLA 35 to appeal to former hot hatchback owners looking for a more premium experience. There is considerable turbo lag, which is to be expected from a small displacement engine, but the acceleration feels spry once the engine reaches its sweet spot. The snappy eight-speed DCT sends power to all four wheels, split 50-50 to the front and rear. This power split results in slight understeer when pushed hard, though we doubt too many GLA 35 owners will reach the limits of grip in this car. The truly spirited enthusiasts will want to spend up for the GLA 45.
AMG 35 models do not include a race driving mode, but the comfort, sport, and sport plus modes have a dramatic effect on how the car drives. The drivetrain feels outright sleepy in comfort mode, which is favorable for stop-and-go commutes. Sport mode gives the car its first sip of coffee in the morning, while sport plus places the GLA 35 into a caffeine frenzy. We giggled every time we drove the GLA in sport plus mode, as it reminded us of the hot hatchbacks that we grew up loving. This may not be a focused enthusiast's car, but it's more impressive than a front-wheel-drive-based crossover has any right to be.
NHTSA safety ratings are not available at this time.
The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 is a fantastic addition to the GLA family. It's more exciting than the standard GLA 250, but less pricey and extreme than the GLA 45. Think of it as the Goldilocks of the GLA lineup. We think former hot hatchback owners with budding families will appreciate the GLA's classy styling, premium interior, and slightly raised ride height that differentiates it from mainstream models like the Honda Civic Type R or Volkswagen Golf R. It may not be quite as fun to drive as those cars, but it's closer than you might think.
Mercedes faces the most direct competition from the BMW X2 M35i, but we prefer the engine and transmission in the GLA 35. BMW has easier-to-use technology and the cabin materials are slightly more upscale, but we think the GLA 35 is the more compelling overall package. Audi and Volvo do not offer subcompact crossovers with this much power, and the Mini Countryman John Cooper Works doesn't boast the same prestigious badge up front. The GLA 35 exists in a niche category, and we think it deserves high consideration.
A $47,550 starting MSRP makes the GLA 35 seem like a reasonable crossover, but expensive options can quickly add up. We'd save some money on the exterior, only opting for a more exciting paint color, one of the no-cost wheel options, and the $1,500 panoramic roof to brighten up the interior. Real leather costs $1,450, heated/ventilated front seats are a laughable $950, adjustable rear seats are a reasonable $360, and we'd easily spend $800 for the AMG performance steering wheel with the AMG drive unit mode selectors. The $1,295 multimedia package, and $800 premium package are both must-haves, as is the $850 Burmester audio system. If you want all the safety equipment, it comes as part of a $1,700 driver assistance and $1,090 parking assistance package. A $200 built-in dash camera seems too good to pass up, bringing the price to just under $60,000.
The X1 is BMW's own small SUV, providing a better-priced entry-point for buyers who want luxury and a premium badge on the nose. At $37,400 for the X1 xDrive28i, it's considerably cheaper than the GLA 35 but doesn't offer the same level of performance; this X1 will hit 60 mph in 6.3 seconds, some way behind the GLA 35's 5.1-second effort. However, the X1 is a better SUV to live with. It has a far larger trunk and more headroom, although the GLA actually has more legroom for those at the back. The X1 has good handling for a small SUV, but the GLA is more exciting thanks to its added power and looks a lot more interesting, both inside and out. Keener drivers will prefer the GLA 35, although it does come at a price. Perhaps the more evocatively styled BMW X2 is a better match for the GLA 35.
Like the BMW X1, the Audi Q3 lacks a performance variant to really challenge the Mercedes-AMG GLA 35. Even the quickest Q3 only makes 228 hp and takes seven seconds to reach 60 mph. However, like many Audis, the Q3 rewards a more relaxed approach. It's quiet, smooth, and effortless to drive. We also loved the styling both inside and out, as well as the technology on board. On the downside, the Q3's interior feels rather cramped, but its trunk is bigger than the GLA's. At under $40,000, the priciest Q3 is still over $7k cheaper than the GLA 35 yet offers quattro all-wheel drive, adaptive cruise control, and a lot more. However, the Mercedes is now the more desirable product, even if it isn't better than the Audi in every metric.
Check out some informative Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 video reviews below.