The Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class is back for a second generation after its original launch in 2014. This new model is restyled, following the changes of its bigger SUV brethren; it has more space inside and out and it offers the same dual 10.25-inch MBUX displays available as the much more expensive metal from the luxury carmaker. This makes it a far more premium prospect in the subcompact luxury SUV segment.
Reasonably priced at $36,230, the GLA 250 is available in either front- or all-wheel-drive forms, with 221 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque produced by a 2.0-liter turbo-four and doled out via an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic. These aren't dissimilar figures to rivals in the segment, which include the BMW X2 and Audi Q3. It might be the cheapest way of getting into Mercedes SUV ownership, but the GLA-Class is no less a genuine Mercedes product and one of the best in its class.
The 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class ushers in the second generation of the brand's subcompact premium SUV. As is often the case, the latest Mercedes GLA has grown compared with its predecessor; it's 3.6 inches taller, 1.2 inches wider, and has a longer wheelbase. Not only is it a far sleeker SUV to look at, but rear legroom and cargo space have also increased. The cabin design is a lot more contemporary and the GLA now boasts the latest MBUX infotainment system along with optional extras like augmented reality navigation.
Mechanically, there is a new 2.0-liter turbo-four engine with 221 horsepower, a 13 hp increase over the unit used previously. This year, the dual-clutch gearbox gains an extra ratio and is smoother than before. In all the ways that count, our review of the Mercedes GLA shows that it is a palpable improvement over its somewhat awkward predecessor.
See trim levels and configurations:
The previous GLA looked like it couldn't decide if it was a sporty hatchback or an SUV but the new one has less of an identity crisis. It's a sleek-looking vehicle with attractive LED headlights, LED fog lamps, gently flared fenders, the prominent Mercedes badge in front, and dual exhaust outlets. Aluminum roof rails and 18-inch alloy wheels are standard, but the GLA can be made to look much more aggressive if you add the optional AMG body styling or bigger 19- or 20-inch wheels. A chrome diamond-block grille and a panorama roof are also available.
The most notable increase in dimensions for the latest GLA is its height; it's a full 3.6 inches taller than the outgoing model and now stands at 63.5 inches tall. Its length is 173.6 inches, the width without the mirrors is 72.2 inches (79.5 with the mirrors), and the wheelbase is 107.4 inches. The BMW X1 is longer but lower than the new GLA, while the X2 cuts it pretty close, albeit still standing a little shorter. Curb weight comes in at 3,384 pounds for the GLA 250 and 3,494 lbs for the GLA 250 4MATIC.
There is a choice of nine colors on offer for dressing up the GLA-Class, but only Polar White and Night Black don't cost anything extra. To access one of the metallic shades, you'll have to cough up $720. These colors are Digital White, Cosmos Black, Iridium Silver, Rose Gold, Mountain Grey, Patagonia Red, and Denim Blue. There are two available AMG packages that can add extras like gloss black exterior accents and bigger wheels, and these do make for a more aggressive appearance. However, considering that this SUV is aimed at younger buyers, it would have been nice to see a few more flamboyant colors on offer such as the Sun Yellow that can be specced on the CLA sedan.
The GLA 250 and GLA 250 4MATIC both use a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 221 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. While the 4MATIC sends power to all four corners, the base GLA 250 is front-wheel drive. The reduced grip of the latter sees it post a slightly slower 0-60 mph time of 6.8 seconds, whereas the 4MATIC will accomplish the same run in 6.6 seconds. Both models have an electronically limited top speed of 130 mph. These are good performance figures although the BMW X1 xDrive28i is faster with a 6.3-second run to 60, while the Audi Q3 45 TFSI quattro takes seven seconds for the same run. For its intended purpose, though, the GLA makes light work of city driving and feels powerful enough for extended trips on the highway.
The new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is more powerful than the last GLA's engine. It now produces 221 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, up from 208 hp before. The maximum torque output remains the same, though. Last year's seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox has been replaced by an eight-speed DCT this year. Merc says that this new gearbox delivers improved efficiency and smoother operation when driving at lower speeds and we have to agree. The old one was clumsy and easily confused at middling speeds, whereas this one is far sharper and on the ball. In most situations, the engine is smooth and responds quickly to throttle inputs. However, the transmission is occasionally hesitant when maximum power is applied for overtaking or slipping into gaps in traffic.
It's quick, and fun with the eight-speed dual-clutch transmission (with paddle shifters), but doesn't quite feel like your typical Mercedes driving experience; maybe because max torque is delivered so low at just 1,250 rpm, it doesn't build speed linearly. That's more of a complaint during normal driving, however, as during spirited maneuvers, it just feels like a quick little SUV.
Owing to its longer wheelbase and wider body, plus our tester's 19-inch optional wheels, the GLA feels more like a sporty SUV with good amounts of stability instead of the old model's hatchback-like demeanor.
But what you really want in a Mercedes is that heavy feeling. Heaviness in the doors, in the steering, in the suspension, and those big wheels don't do it any favors there. The bumps felt a little harsher than expected over broken and dirt roads, though we'll note that this car did not have the optional adaptive suspension. In anything other than a sports car, we'll almost always take the tires with more sidewall and therefore more cushion.
The speed-sensitive, electromechanical steering feels light and quick too. And because this GLA is generally smaller than most vehicles on the road, it's easy to slip through small holes in traffic. The dual-clutch helps on the highway too, dropping several gears at a time to get you from 50-70 mph and into the passing lane with ease.
Mercedes-Benz promised that the new gearbox has contributed to greater efficiency and the EPA has confirmed this, although the biggest improvements are to be found with the 4MATIC model. This version returns 24/33/27 mpg across the city/highway/combined cycles, a decent increase in gas mileage compared with last year's 4MATIC which managed 22/30/25 mpg. The FWD GLA 250 now returns 25/34/28 mpg, numbers that are very similar to last year's 24/34/28 mpg. The GLA is one mpg more efficient in mixed driving conditions than the BMW X1, if comparable drivetrains are taken into account.
With a 12.7-gallon gas tank, the base GLA 250 will be able to cover approximately 355 miles between visits to the pumps.
It looks a lot better when you walk up to it, but has the GLA's cabin undergone the same transformation? In a word, yes. Mercedes has freed up more passenger space, improved the quality of the cabin materials, and installed the latest MBUX infotainment system. Details like the turbine-like air vents are similar to what's found in far more expensive Mercedes models, making the GLA feel closer to them despite its lower price. However, you do need to pay extra for the best features such as the larger display screens and the 64-color LED ambient lighting system. As standard, the GLA comes with power-adjustable front seats, dual-zone climate control, and a power liftgate.
That feeling of heaviness we were talking about while driving needs to translate into the interior too if this is to pass as a true Mercedes product. The doors, ironically, don't feel heavy but don't close easily either. This GLA had the $1,450 Bahia Brown textured leather, which looked nice, but the seats just felt a little too firm. That goes for the dash materials too. This one had the wood trim option, but the rest of the dash was in rubberized plastic, which doesn't feel pleasing to the touch. The ambient light is cool, surrounding the center console and round vents, and we also appreciate the wrist rest aft of the touchpad, which makes it much easier to control while driving.
Almost all of the interior dimensions are up including front headroom, rear legroom, elbow room and shoulder room. The key dimensions are 39 inches of headroom and 41 inches of legroom up front while those in the rear get 38.1 and 38 inches. The BMW X1 has a little bit more headroom in the front and rear, but the GLA bests it in legroom and shoulder room and it's easily noticeable in a cabin that can now genuinely seat five occupants.
The round vents are easy to grab and point in whatever direction you'd like, and the simple toggles are fine for the climate control, though the temperature would work better with a dial.
Mercedes offers just two upholstery choices as standard, MB-Tex in either Black or Macchiato Beige. If you want MB-Tex in a two-tone Neva Grey/Black or Black MB-Tex/Dinamica with red stitching, you'll have to add one of the AMG Line packages for a minimum cost of $2,600. Black leather costs $1,450 but requires at least heated front seats for another 500 bucks. Other genuine leather color choices include textured Bahia Brown (requires heated front seats), Classic Red/Black, or Titanium Grey/Black. The latter two options require both heated front seats and one of the AMG Line packages. Spiral Look interior inlays are standard, but you can also select Carbon Structure trim (requires one of the AMG Line packages), Natural Grain Black Linden wood ($325), or Natural Grain Brown Walnut wood ($325). Lower down in the cabin, there are some harder plastics to be found, but the overall perception remains positive.
Behind its second row, the new GLA-Class has 19 cubic feet of trunk space. That's down on the 23.7 cubes in the Audi Q3 or the 27.1 cubes in the BMW X1. There's sufficient space for about six carry-ons behind the second row and a power liftgate is standard, but if it's the most practical small SUV you want, this isn't it. The rear seats fold in a 40/20/40 split to increase cargo capacity to 50.5 cubes which is far more competitive.
Interior storage space is reasonable and includes door bins in all four doors, a center storage area that is an armrest when closed, the usual glovebox, and cupholders.
Both GLAs come standard with eight-way power-adjustable front seats, including power lumbar support and a three-position memory system. The steering column is four-way manually adjustable. Along with this, the GLA ships with many of the essentials expected in a premium SUV like dual-zone automatic climate control, remote start, a power liftgate, heated side mirrors, cruise control, and keyless start. However, some extras that we would have liked to have seen as standard are heated front seats, power-folding mirrors, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. In terms of safety kit, the GLA comes with a rearview camera, crosswind assist, blind-spot monitoring, attention assist, and rain-sensing windshield wipers. Parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, and active lane change assist are among the numerous optional safety features. Buyers can also spec a surround-view camera system and a head-up display optionally.
Mercedes likely won't punt the base-spec infotainment anywhere, but that's because twin seven-inch screens just look weedy, especially compared to the optional dual-10.25-inch setup that fills up a good two-thirds of the dash. The larger MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) screens look great, but we like them much more when they're integrated into the dash, or at least covered by a hood like in some other Mercedes vehicles. This one looks like you could grab it and yank it off. But as expected, the colors and functionality were fine.
Like the rest of the current crop, the GLA 250's optional screens can be controlled through the touchpad, on the steering wheel touch controllers, through the touchscreen or by chanting "Hey, Mercedes." The action on the touchpad isn't spectacular, it clicks down as you select an icon, but after a few days we had the basic and most important features down. We used Bluetooth to connect our phone, but the GLA also has native Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, albeit wired-only. Other functionality includes four USB-C ports, and HD Radio, but navigation, SiriusXM, and in-car Wi-Fi are optional, as is a 12-speaker, 590-watt Burmester sound system.
The gauge cluster screen has its own set of customizations, from the overall look to the individual nodes. You get three behind the wheel, normally for speed, tachometer and something in the middle. But you can switch to an all-wheel drive power gauge, an off-road lean gauge, or a piece of the navigation screen. If you opt for the available head-up display, this too has multiple customization zones. It seems a little daunting and complex at first, but most owners would likely set it all up once into a configuration they like and never touch it again, and we like how much customization there is.
J.D. Power has given the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class an overall rating of 74 out of 100 and a rather average quality and reliability score of 70/100. Then again, this is similar to the ratings for the BMW X1 and better than the Audi Q3. Despite not having been on the market for too long, the 2021 GLA has already been affected by three recalls. One was for a faulty eCall system that could send out an incorrect location to emergency responders following an accident, and another worrying recall involved a front passenger airbag that could inadvertently deploy. The rearview camera may also display incorrectly, a recall which has affected almost the entire Mercedes lineup.
Mercedes' warranty coverage is average, covering the first 50,000 miles or four years of ownership. Unlike BMW, complimentary scheduled maintenance isn't included.
Neither the IIHS nor the NHTSA have evaluated the GLA-Class for crashworthiness but we expect it to maintain the brand's high safety standards.
A comprehensive suite of seven airbags keeps occupants protected in the event of an accident. Along with dual front airbags, there are dual side airbags, curtain airbags for both rows, and a knee airbag for the driver. Other typical safety systems like tire pressure monitoring, ABS brakes, and electronic stability control are all in place.
Advanced driver-assist technologies include attention assist, crosswind assist, blind-spot monitoring, a rearview camera, and downhill speed regulation. There are many optional safety technologies on offer like parking sensors, evasive steering assist, adaptive cruise control, active steering assist, pre-safe plus, a surround-view camera system, and a head-up display.
This little niche of the auto world is occupied by this GLA, the BMW X1 and the Audi Q3. Audi moved a couple thousand more Q3s than Mercedes did GLAs in early 2021, and Mercedes sold about 1,000 units more than BMW did X1s. They're all the entry level into their respective brand's luxury crossover/SUV lineup which means they're all trying to bring the expected accouterments of their larger or more luxurious siblings.
As for whether the Mercedes does this, it's a bit of a loaded question. The tech is great, if you pay the price for it. This GLA doesn't come standard with lane keeping, which we found curious, and if you want the big MBUX screens - which work the exact same way they do in far more expensive Benzes - you have to pay extra. The engine is a little loud and agitated, not quiet and contemplative. The bumps and potholes feed into the cabin a little more than we'd like and the stop/start system is also a little gruff, for a Mercedes. Optioned up, this GLA could easily crest $50,000. At that point, we think you'd be better off stepping up a size class to the GLC. That midsizer comes with a lot of the goodies, and that traditional heavy feeling that buyers expect out of a Benz.
If you're willing to spend money on niceties, the GLA is a damn fine car, and perhaps that makes it a true Mercedes, as very few models actually come with all the niceties without a good 15-20% of their base prices in extras. But we fear it doesn't match up to the expectation of other Mercedes products, while a BMW X1 is a BMW in the way it feels and drives.
The GLA 250 in FWD guise kicks off the lineup at an MSRP of $36,230 in the USA. This price increases to $38,230 for the GLA 250 4MATIC. Not included in these prices are a destination charge of $1,050 as well as tax, licensing, and registration costs. In the US, the BMW X1 starts off at a slightly cheaper $35,400 but the Audi Q3 is the most affordable of the bunch at a starting MSRP of $34,000.
Besides the AMG variants which we review separately, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class is offered in two flavors: the GLA 250 and GLA 250 4MATIC. Both use a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 221 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque along with an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
Outside, the GLA has 18-inch alloy wheels, LED lighting, and rain-sensing windshield wipers. An AMG Line exterior styling package and a panorama roof are available as options. The cabin features MB-Tex upholstery, power-adjustable front seats, a seven-inch digital instrument cluster, a seven-inch touchscreen interface, HD Radio, and dual-zone climate control. Larger 10.25-inch screens are available along with a Wi-Fi hotspot, a head-up display, and heated front seats.
There are two AMG Line exterior packages that endow the GLA with a bolder look. For $2,600, the cheaper of these packages comes with 19-inch alloy wheels, AMG body styling, a sport steering wheel, a unique grille, and more. The AMG Line with the Night Package costs $3,000 and includes black wheels and gloss black exterior accents.
One of the most appealing upgrades is the $1,750 Premium Package. It boasts larger 10.25-inch displays (one for the digital instrument cluster and one for the central touchscreen), hands-free access, power-folding side mirrors, keyless go, and auto-dimming mirrors. Adding no less than 12 driver-assist technologies, the $1,700 Driver Assistance Package includes adaptive cruise control, active blind-spot assist, and evasive steering assist. This package initially appears to be excellent value but it requires both the Premium Package and the $1,250 Multimedia Package (navigation, augmented video for navigation, and speed limit assist).
A few of the more appealing standalone options are the Burmester surround sound system ($850), wireless charging and NFC pairing ($200), a head-up display ($1,100), and a panorama roof ($1,500).
Unless you're willing to spend extra for an AMG version like the GLA 35 - which we highly recommend looking at - you're saddled with just the choice of whether you want AWD or not, and what options you want to add to the GLA. Unless you need AWD to navigate snow or ice, we'd stick to the FWD GLA 250 and save $2,000. We'd use that money to add a metallic paint, but stick with the smaller 18-inch wheels for added comfort. Inside, heated front seats and the 64-color ambient lighting are neat additions, and you really must have the Premium Package for those big 10.25-inch screens. The Driver Assistance Package has a lot of nice-to-haves, but it also requires the Multimedia Package, so it gets pricey. Lastly, we'd add the $990 adaptive damping, totaling $44,545 including destination. We can't help but think, though, a top of the range Mazda CX-5 gets you almost all of that for nearly $7,000 less.
The current BMW X1, much like the GLA, is a lot better than the model it replaced. The X1 has a spacious cabin, sharp handling for a small SUV, and a turbocharged four-pot that offers marginally quicker acceleration than the GLA. However, the GLA is more efficient and has a much more stylish interior, whereas the X1 comes across as a bit dated from behind the wheel. Still, the BMW is more practical and boasts a much larger cargo area. Although the BMW has a larger standard touchscreen, its analog gauges don't look as good as the digital cluster in the Mercedes. The X1 also starts off at a cheaper price and comes with complimentary scheduled maintenance for the first three years or 36,000 miles. While the BMW may be a more sensible purchase on paper, we prefer the more sophisticated feel of the GLA. Others will prefer the BMW's familiarity, though, and that's fine, both are exceptional SUVs.
At almost $7,000 more, the GLC-Class is in a different league to the GLA. It rides better, has more cargo space, and is faster thanks to a 255-hp base engine out-muscling the GLA 250's 221 hp. Surprisingly, it's the smaller GLA that has more rear legroom, but the GLC's wider body makes it more suitable for carrying three occupants in the back. The extra cost of the GLC gets you standard features like heated front seats, a garage door opener, keyless go, parking sensors, and a larger 10.25-inch touchscreen, none of which are standard in the GLA. Although the GLA doesn't feel like some cheap relation of the GLC, we'd still make the stretch to the latter if we could. It's simply a better, more luxurious vehicle.
The most popular competitors of 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class SUV:
Check out some informative Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class SUV video reviews below.