by Jay Traugott
It wasn't too long ago when only mainstream brands in the USA offered subcompact crossovers. Luxury vehicle buyers wanted big and powerful SUV crossovers, not small and economical ones like the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class. However, as emissions standards became increasingly stringent, luxury brands were forced to expand their respective SUV crossover lineups. Going small was the answer. Subcompact luxury crossovers have since become extremely popular, fueled in part by customers ditching conventional sedans and coupes.
The first-generation Mercedes-Benz GLA class, launched for 2014, quickly received a new competitor, the BMW X2. This was soon followed by the Audi Q3 and, more recently, the Lexus UX. Daimler realized that a complete overhaul was needed to keep its baby crossover competitive. And here it is. The all-new 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA has arrived and though it's smaller on the outside than its predecessor and competitors, it surpasses them in all other dimensions. Combined with a gorgeous new exterior and interior design, the German automaker has a future sales hit on its hands.
See trim levels and configurations:
The 2021 GLA's new sheet metal is gorgeous. Thanks to shorter overhangs at the front and rear, the new GLA is actually shorter than its predecessor. Note the power domes on the hood, and overall clean contours with reduced lines and accentuated planes. The design is athletic and modern, and wheels of up to 20 inches enhance that exterior appearance.
Also note the powerful shoulders and coupe-like lines along the windows, too. Up front, the radiator grille has unique openings along with a single louver and a central star. At the back, the taillights are actually divided into two parts as the reflectors are positioned separately in the bumper. Mercedes says this was done not only because it looks good, but also because it allows for easier loading. The integrated roof rails and chrome-plated load sill protection are additional classy touches.
The Mercedes GLA rides on the same platform as the A-Class sedan, CLA four-door coupe, and the GLB crossover.
Merc interiors have come a long way in a very short period of time and the new GLA is no exception. Technology plays a central role, as does luxury. Mercedes describes the instrument panel as having optical "cut-outs" in the driver and passenger area. On the driver's side, the cut-out features a free-standing display unit available in two sizes: two seven-inch displays and two 10.25-inch displays. The passenger's cut-out is finished in a high-quality material. The MBUX infotainment system is standard.
We particularly like those turbine-style air vents located directly beneath the infotainment screen and to the left and right of the driver and front-seat passenger, respectively.
Mercedes has also raised the seating position for the driver and front passenger while the rear seats can be optionally adjusted by 5.5-inches. Behind the rear seats, cargo space has also been increased, and this can be further expanded by the 40:20:40 folding rear seat. As expected, the new GLA is packed with several advanced driver-assistance and safety features such as Active Distance Assist, Active Steering Assist, Evasive Steering Assist, and Active Blind Spot Assist.
The Mercedes GLA comes standard with a familiar engine: the 2.0-liter turbo-four, which has been carried over from the previous model. However, power increases from 208 horsepower to 221 hp, and torque remains the same at 258 lb-ft. Instead of the previous seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, the 2021 GLA has an eight-speed DCT. Interestingly, acceleration from 0 to 60 mph has gone up, not down. It was previously recorded at 7.2 seconds, but Mercedes now claims it'll make that sprint in 8.6. Top speed is unchanged at 130 mph.
While the engine may be the same, the 2021 GLA's suspension is all-new. It features MacPherson struts at the front, a multilink setup at the rear, and more aluminum components to cut back on weight. Like before, the 4Matic all-wheel drive is optional, but this system has been redesigned with an electro-mechanical clutch instead of the old hydraulic one. Mercedes claims the new system distributes 20 percent of output to the rear wheels in regular circumstances, 30 percent in Sport mode, and 50 percent in off-road.
Mercedes-Benz has not announced an official price, though we don't expect it to be much different than that of the outgoing model, which carries an MSRP of $34,250. Fully-loaded, it can exceed a cost of $40,000.
Competition in the luxury subcompact crossover class is fierce. Major players include the BMW X2, Audi Q3, and Lexus UX. All three have similar pricing, levels of power and specs, and optional AWD. The Lexus offers a more impressive reliability rating from J.D. Power, however. For many, it could very well boil down to brand loyalty and/or styling.
Although it may seem a little early to see a 2021 model revealed, Mercedes plans to have the 2021 GLA in US dealerships this coming summer. Look out for our full review of the Mercedes GLA shortly thereafter.
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