2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA

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Updated: February 19, 2021

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA

The 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA is the smallest and least costly crossover SUV in the Mercedes lineup. Introduced six years ago, for 2021 it has been redesigned, and, not surprisingly, it grows bigger: 3.6 inches taller (including 0.4 inches more ground clearance), more than one inch wider, 2.0 inches longer in wheelbase, but shorter overall. It now looks more like a proper crossover than a “hatchover.”

Its new size gives it much more rear leg room and a bit more cargo space. The independent suspension has been softened for a more comfortable ride. It’s still well equipped and flush with expensive options.

The base engine, a 2.0-liter turbo-4, gets pumped up to 221 hp, an increase of 13 hp; it’s mated to a paddle-shifting dual-clutch 8-speed automatic transmission that’s mostly smooth but not flawless.

If that’s not enough power, Mercedes has just added two AMG versions making 302 hp and 382 hp. Watch this space for driving impressions.

The GLA hasn’t been crash-tested. Standard safety equipment includes automatic emergency braking, but the other good safety features are bundled in a $1,700 optional package.

The engine not only makes more power than before, but it’s also a bit more efficient in the city. With standard front-wheel drive, it’s EPA-rated at 25 mpg city, 34 highway, 28 combined; with all-wheel drive, it gets just 1 less mpg.

Model Lineup

The GLA250 starts at $37,280 with front-wheel drive, while all-wheel drive adds $2,000. Standard equipment includes synthetic leather upholstery, 8-way power-adjustable front seats, a power liftgate, keyless start, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, LED headlights and taillights, and 18-inch wheels with all-season run-flat tires.

Among the many options, there’s one that’s well worth it. The Driver Assistance package ($1,700) includes a more sophisticated emergency braking system, plus active lane control, blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alert, automatic rear emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control that can restart from a stop and adjust to changes in posted speed limits.

Stand-alone safety options include a surround-view camera system and parking sensors.

The upgrade to 10.3-inch screens in the Premium Package for $1,750 might be tempting to some. There are 20-inch AMG wheels for $750, ambient lighting in 64 blended colors for $310, reclining rear seats for $360, and wireless smartphone charging for $200.

Other options include a panoramic sunroof, multi-contour power seats, augmented reality navigation that uses the front camera to show where to turn next, and an Exterior Lighting package ($900) that, upon startup, sequentially illuminates the car’s perimeter.

The warranty is a solid 4 years or 50,000 miles.

Exterior

Despite losing its hatchback looks, the GLA is still bubble-cute. But its wider stance makes it look more filled out. The optional 20-inch AMG wheels make it look buff.

The GLA’s face leads with an airline or at least aviator design theme, with a tri-star emblem placed within wings spanning the mesh grille, between adaptive LED headlights.

Interior

The cabin features soft and dark synthetic leather with trim that’s either aluminum or textured faux carbon fiber around the console and turbine-like vents, which keep with the aviator design theme. The side-by-side 7.0-inch screens are canted toward the driver.

The latest MBUX infotainment system includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The climate, audio, navigation and other functions can be controlled through the touchscreen, a touchpad in the console, with steering wheel controls, or voice activation using the prompt, “Hey Mercedes.”

With the redesign, the front loses an inch of leg room, but it’s no big deal. The seats are compact, but provide enough support and comfort.

That one-inch loss in the front goes to the rear seats, where the 4.5-inch increase in leg room in the redesigned 2021 GLA moves it from one of the worst in the class to one of the best. The big gain comes partly from the fact that the seat slides five inches. The seats are a bit stiff, though, and the seat bottoms are short. Two adults can ride in comfort back there.

Behind the rear seats, the cargo space grows by half a cubic foot to 15.4 cubic feet.

Driving Impressions

The capable 2.0-liter turbo-4 in the 2021 GLA250 inspires confidence. The increase in horsepower to 221 hp, with 258 lb-ft of torque, enables it to hit 60 mph in 6.6 seconds, with all-wheel drive. It takes off without much turbo lag, and the standard paddle shifters with the dual-clutch automatic 8-speed transmission are useful.

In Sport mode, the transmission sometimes lurches between first and second gears, namely when it’s in second and the throttle is applied, as it downshifts to first. But it also sometimes lurches when downshifting to first for a stop.

An independent rear suspension cushions the ride quality, and it handles more like the crossover it is, than the hatchback it isn’t. In the city it’s fairly nimble.

With all-wheel drive, the power split between front and rear is 50:50, except in Sport mode when it goes to 70:30. Standard hill descent control brakes the car at speeds of up to 11 mph; it’s enormously useful on an icy downhill, as the driver can just lift his or her feet off the pedals and steer, and be perfectly safe and confident the car won’t start sliding.

This hill descent control comes with a standard off-road package, although we’d think twice about taking it very far off-road. Even with an increase of 0.4 inches in ground clearance for 2021, there’s still only a total of 5.6 inches, which isn’t enough to go over rocks.

Final Word

The 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA corrects the few flaws from the first-generation model. For $41,000 you can get an all-wheel-drive GLA with a very full complement of electronic safety features, plenty of smooth power from a turbo-4, a twin-clutch automatic 8-speed with paddle shifters, and 27 combined mpg.

 

—by Sam Moses with driving impressions by The Car Connection