by Jake Lingeman
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.
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.
See trim levels and configurations:
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.
NHTSA safety ratings are not available at this time.
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.
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: