by Deiondre van der Merwe
In an effort to appeal to a younger audience, Mercedes-Benz had to do something drastic when it launched a trio of FWD machines in the form of the A-Class, CLA-Class, and GLA-Class around seven years ago. But while the US never received the A-Class hatchback, and the CLA-Class was a disappointment to many, the GLA actually proved to be something decent. While technically classified as a compact crossover, it drove like a premium hatchback and afforded suspension comfort missing from its lowered siblings. But with a new GLA on the way for 2021, the current generation is nearing its end. Against rivals like the BMW X2, Audi Q3, and Lexus UX, age is taking its toll, and not even a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine developing 208 hp is enough to keep the GLA-Class in the limelight.
With the new GLA already unveiled and ready to go as a 2021 model, the 2020 GLA is a carry-over model from 2019 and remains unchanged.
The GLA carries the three-pointed star well as Mercedes' smallest crossover offering with its shapely exterior styling. The classic twin-blade grille is absent in favor of a more rugged approach and a set of halogen headlights with daytime running lights round off the front end. LED headlights are optional, and the crossover rests on 18-inch wheels, with available 19-inch options.
Slightly smaller than the Audi Q3 and the BMW X1, the GLA has a length measurement of 173.9 inches but has a longer 106.3-inch wheelbase in comparison to its rivals. The GLA stands 60 inches tall and has a width of 71 inches without taking the mirrors into account. Curb weights depend on the choice of drivetrain, with the GLA 250 weighing in at 3,164 pounds, and the 4MATIC variant increasing in weight to 3,340. The Merc is slightly lighter than both the Audi and the BMW, even in AWD-guise. The GLA-Class also sports a ground clearance of 5.3 inches.
A total of eight exterior color choices are available for the GLA-Class SUV, only three of which are no-cost options. Standard paint options are inclusive of understated Night Black and Polar White, and an adventurous shade of Jupiter Red is also available for the daring. Four metallic hues are available for those looking for some extra sparkle and will cost an additional $720, including Cosmos Black, Iridium Silver, Mountain Grey, and Denim Blue. The most premium option clads the GLA in designo Mountain Grey Magno with a luxurious and velvety matte finish for a hefty $2,500.
The GLA 250 does not offer as much power as one would expect from a Mercedes-badged product, but the turbocharged 2.0-liter provides enough power to get the lightweight crossover going without too much of a struggle. Mercedes-Benz claims that a 0-60 mph run is accomplished by the GLA in 7.2 seconds when equipped with front-wheel drive and that the 4MATIC-equipped GLA will manage a marginally faster run in 7.1 seconds. These figures are slower than the X1's 6.6-second run, but the Merc has a similar acceleration time to the Audi Q3. Notably, testing in the real world has indicated that the AWD-equipped GLA can actually reach 60 mph in under seven seconds, which is extremely impressive for the segment. The AWD system still favors the front, but has the ability to send power to the back wheels when the situation demands traction.
Both trim levels in the GLA-Class SUV range share the same turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 208 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The GLA has slightly less horsepower than the Audi Q3 and BMW X1's shared power outputs of 228 hp, but all three offer the same 258 lb-ft. The 2.0-liter four-pot is married to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that can also be controlled via steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles. The engine might be small, but it allows for quite a bit of punch on longer distances, and passing others and merging onto the highway should be a breeze. It is a slight nuisance in the city, however, and you're going to find yourself needing to get the revs up pretty high to get the wheels turning with eagerness. The saving grace for the engine's penchant for laziness in urban settings would be the silky transmission. It doesn't sacrifice on power and intuitive changes are enough to be efficient without bordering on too much interference, and the ability to rifle through gears using the shift paddles is a nice-to-have for the little Merc. We wish it had a little more power, but it's by no means slow and does well for the crossover segment.
A highly favorable aspect of the GLA is its handling, and the SUV manages to feel more like a car thanks to its dedicated engine, smaller size, and its reduced dimensions in comparison to competitors that give it an edge when it comes to dashing in and out of traffic and navigating narrow roads in the city. Its shared DNA with the CLA doesn't result in a similarly firm ride, and the GLA offers comfort for the most part. It manages run-of-the-mill undulations with ease, but bigger bumps or gravel roads will make a day of unsettling Merc's smallest crossover. As for the corners, we wouldn't go so far as to say that it's earned chuckable status, but the SUV's minimal body roll even in tighter turns came as a welcome and pleasant surprise, making it feel more hot hatch than crossover. The steering isn't as sharp as we would like, but allows for enough response to navigate through traffic deftly and it doesn't nullify one's connection to the car enough to result in boredom from behind the wheel. Sharp brakes are able to stop the SUV quite capably, and the GLA as a whole delivers a drive that's pleasurable at the very least.
Another category that the GLA-Class SUV shines in is fuel economy. The GLA lightly sips on the gas and isn't in a rush to go anywhere, with the front-wheel-drive GLA boasting EPA estimates of 24/34/28 mpg, which is slightly better than the BMW X1 sDrive28i's 24/33/27 mpg figures. Opting for the 4MATIC drops fuel economy quite significantly in comparison to its FWD sibling and the AWD-equipped GLA has estimates of 22/30/25 mpg. These figures still outshine the Audi Q3's 19/27/22 mpg estimates, but they fall behind the AWD-equipped X1's 23/31/26 mpg offering.
Mercedes-Benz's undeniable reputation for providing utopian interiors isn't truly reflected by the inside of the GLA. There's far more evidence of discounted materials than what's expected from a car that bears the three-pointed star, and basic features are rather limited. There's a clear focus on providing the basics in the SUV and we're hoping the 2021 models change this for the better. Space is also on the diminutive side in the rear and the inside of the GLA feels particularly outdated, thanks to its older steering wheel and infotainment screen. It's not a horrible place to spend one's time, but both the BMW and the Audi outshine it with modern and premium cabins.
Technically speaking, the GLA can seat up to five people, but we're a little doubtful. Its 33.9 inches of rear legroom results in a rear environment that's considerably smaller than rivals from BMW and Audi. Even a Volkswagen Golf offers more room in the rear, which is concerning given that the GLA is classed as a crossover SUV - only a family with small children should consider the Mercedes, or those that don't need a back seat. That being said, the GLA offers a 14-way power-adjustable seat for the driver that allows for maximum comfort and visibility and the front seats offer enough comfort for longer journeys. Ingress and egress are also easy, thanks to the GLA's height.
Mercedes offers a vast list of interior options and a total of six upholstery choices await the purchaser of a GLA. Three of these are no-cost, MB-Tex leatherette options, and three are genuine leather. The MB-Tex upholstery comes in either Black, Sahara Beige or Crystal Grey. Three genuine leather options all cost $1,650 and come in either Black, Nut Brown or a combination of Sahara Beige and Black. One standard trim insert is available, which is Sail Pattern and an Aluminum trim insert will cost an additional $150. The choice between Matte Black Ash wood or Satin Light Brown Poplar wood will cost $325, while ambient multicolor lighting asks $155.
You've probably come to realize that the GLA isn't exactly a pioneer of space in the segment, and though it appears to be a purpose-built crossover, it doesn't impress much when it comes to its cargo space offering. A 17.2 cubic-foot trunk means that it offers a lot less practicality than the likes of the 23.7 cubes found in the Audi Q3, and the Merc's trunk space is put to shame by the BMW X1's 27.1 cubic-feet of real estate. Still, the GLA offers enough space for a day's worth of shopping, but if the family is planning on going away for a vacation, you'd best pack lightly.
In-cabin storage doesn't do much better either, with meager door pockets present in all four doors and a tiny center console for the front. A total of four cupholders can be found in the GLA.
A reasonable number of standard features accompany the GLA, but they aren't anything special when compared to rivals. A power liftgate comes as a standard-fit indulgence along with rain-sensing windshield wipers for the exterior. The inside sees push-button start, a 14-way power-adjustable driver's seat, and dual-zone climate control. Ambient lighting sets the tone for the inside and the standard suite of standard safety features offers a rearview camera, active brake assist, and driver attention assist. The potential for a better features list lies with additional options including a panoramic sunroof, heated seats and extra safety features including a surround-view camera, lane keep assist, and blind spot monitoring.
The GLA offers pretty minimal infotainment features as standard, especially in comparison to its rivals. The SUV plays host to an eight-inch screen while other products from Merc boast 10.25-inch screens. The relatively dated central infotainment screen allows for Bluetooth streaming and HD Radio. Two USB ports are also standard along with a six-speaker sound system. If you want more, you'll have to pay more for features like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto which costs $350, and SiriusXM functionality comes under the $1,900 Premium Package. More premium options include a navigation system for $625 and an $850 Harman Kardon LOGIC7 sound system. The Multimedia Package costs $2,300 and adds COMAND navigation and SiriusXM traffic.
The 2020 GLA-Class hasn't suffered any recalls as yet but the 2019 model was at the center of three recalls for issues including inadequate sunroof bonding that may allow water to leak in (on those cars equipped with the optional panorama roof), loose anchor plates for the rear middle seatbelt, and incorrect rear seatback coverings fitted. J.D. Power gave the GLA an 80 out of 100 rating, and Mercedes-Benz offers a basic warranty of four years/50,000 miles and the drivetrain warranty applies for the same amount of time and mileage. Its four-year corrosion warranty in greatly outshined by Audi and BMW's 12-year offering, and roadside assistance is standard for four years/50,000 miles.
The 2020 GLA hasn't been rated by the IIHS or the NHTSA, but the Merc offers extra safety features under its Driver Assistance package, and Mercedes-Benz has a good reputation in terms of the safety of its products overall.
The standard suite of safety features found on the GLA is inclusive of a rearview camera, keyless start, a welcome home feature, automatic emergency braking, and driver attention assist as well as ABS stability control and adaptive braking technology. An eight-airbag system includes dual seat-mounted airbags along with dual-front, side curtain, and driver and passenger knee airbags. Additionally, available safety features are inclusive of lane keep assist, parking assist, and blind spot monitoring as well as a surround-view camera.
As with any car in today's market, the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class SUV isn't perfect. It is bested by rivals in quite a few categories and feels outdated amongst Mercedes' models in 2020. Still, the GLA has its sweet spots, and the SUV provides a hatch-like driving experience compared to others in the segment. It handles bends well for a crossover, and though the engine may be slightly lacking in power, the snappy transmission makes up for it. Its composure through the corners is admirable for the segment, too. It also offers above-average fuel economy, and bests most rivals except for the BMW X1 in this regard. The GLA's biggest downfall would be its limited and outdated tech offering and discounted materials on the inside. It also offers very little space in comparison to its competitors, along with a smaller trunk. We have high hopes for the 2021 GLA to change all of these things for the better, but we'd recommend looking at the X1 or the Q3 for now.
The GLA comes in at a slightly lower base price than its rivals from BMW and Audi, with the GLA 250 having an MSRP of $34,250 - more affordable than the Audi Q3's $34,700 price tag and the BMW X1's MSRP of $35,200. The 4MATIC-equipped GLA 250 has a slightly more expensive asking price of $36,250, with all prices here excluding a $995 destination fee, which is applicable to your purchase of the GLA.
The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class SUV comprises two trims, the GLA 250 and the GLA 250 4MATIC. Both trim levels share the same 208-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that is mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The only difference between the two trim levels would be that the GLA 250 comes standard-equipped with a front-wheel-drive system, while the GLA 250 4MATIC boasts all-wheel drive.
Standard features include a power liftgate, halogen lighting, and 18-inch wheels. The inside makes way for a 14-way power-adjustable driver's seat, push-button start, and dual-zone climate control, along with ambient lighting. Infotainment features include an eight-inch touchscreen that enables Bluetooth and HD Radio through a six-speaker sound system, but Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and SiriusXM are additional options that you have to pay for. Standard safety features include a rearview camera, driver attention assist, and adaptive braking technology.
Mercedes makes a host of additional options available for the GLA-Class, so we'll start with the important ones first. Must-have options include the $350 Smartphone Integration package that adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. The Multimedia Package adds a navigation system and voice control along with SiriusXM for an additional cost of $2,300. We recommend adding the Driver Assistance package for $1,500 that adds active distance assist and lane keep assist. The Parking Assistance Package adds a surround-view camera and active parking assist. Blind spot monitoring can be added for $500. Adding the Premium Package for $1,900 will add blind spot monitoring, keyless entry, heated front seats, and SiriusXM functionality. For a sportier outward appearance, the AMG Line exterior package can be added for $2,300. It adds AMG body styling, 19-inch AMG wheels, and upgraded brakes.
The 4MATIC is only truly necessary if you're after some added all-weather capability, so if you can live without it, it'd be best to go for the base model and use the extra money to equip the Driver Assistance Package that adds features like lane keep assist and active distance assist. Also worth adding would be the Smartphone Integration Package that adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. If you have the budget for it, the Premium Package adds nice-to-haves including heated front seats and SiriusXM functionality as well as blind spot monitoring. Opting for the base GLA and adding these three packages turns the SUV into a better all-rounder.
The Mercedes-badged relatives both employ a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, though the one found in the GLC-Class produces higher power outputs of 255 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. The GLC's $42,500 price tag means that its a lot more expensive than the GLA, but the extra thousands are worth it for the bigger size and added luxury of the GLC. It must be said that the GLA is vastly outdated in comparison to its larger relative, and lacks the digitally-focused feel of the GLC's cabin. The GLC offers more interior space thanks to its bigger size, and the inside offers more premium materials than the GLA. If you have the budget for it, we'd recommend the GLC.
Around $1,000 separates the X1 and the GLA, and we think you should fork the extra cash out for the BMW. The X1 may slightly drop its EPA estimates to 24/33/27 mpg, but makes up for it by offering an extra 20 horses from the engine. The BMW is also bigger, and offers better road manners. Performance aside, the X1 also manages to best the Merc's interior thanks to more premium materials and added digital elements in the ways of the digital instrument cluster. A smaller trunk is offered by the GLA, and the BMW has around 10 cubes of extra room for those extended family holidays. Apple CarPlay is also standard on the X1, while you have to pay extra to enjoy them in the GLA. By almost every measurement, the X1 is superior to the GLA and is the better buy.