2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class
- Starting around $37,000
- Summer 2020
What to expect
- Gains the technology and refinement found in the latest A-Class
- More SUV-like shape adds space and comfort
- Increased off-road capabilities
- One engine in three flavors, culminating with 382-horsepower AMG GLA 45
- Launches the second Mercedes-Benz GLA generation for 2021
What is it?
After impressive updates to its small sedans and larger SUVs, Mercedes-Benz has finally gotten around to redesigning its extra-small SUV, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA. The new GLA's looks bring it in line with the newest generation of M-B products, but the new face covers big changes. For starters, the next-generation GLA is taller and more SUV-like than the crossover we're familiar with. That's very deliberate, and now that the GLA is no longer an off-road-stanced hatchback masquerading as a crossover, it's a more convincing SUV in both shape and market positioning.
This second-generation GLA shares its underpinnings with the current A-Class sedan, and just as the new A-Class puts the last generation to shame, the new GLA should make a similar leap in technology and quality. Beyond the added height, the 2021 GLA offers all of Mercedes' latest technology features. The MBUX infotainment system, with its two available 10.25-inch screens and "Hey, Mercedes" voice assistant, is available along with a full suite of advanced driver aids and active safety features.
We like the current A-Class so much, it's been our Edmunds Top Rated pick two years running. Based on its excellent bones, we expect the new GLA to be a massive improvement over the outgoing model, and early impressions we gleaned from a recent prototype drive only supported that hypothesis.
Why does it matter?
SUVs matter for Mercedes-Benz's profitability everywhere. And here in the USA, the GLA gives Mercedes-Benz presence in the competitive subcompact SUV marketplace. Subcompact SUVs are increasingly the entry point for buyers making their first foray into the luxury market. And they are becoming more popular with older buyers downsizing after their need for a larger family vehicle has passed. Translating the strengths of the new A-Class sedan into an SUV will make the GLA more competitive with both groups.
Being more of a true SUV, with the added practicalities that come with that, should help sales too. Mercedes underlined that push with the demonstration it gave us of its prototypes' capabilities, which was exclusively undertaken on a testing area that incorporated a fairly tough off-road course.
How does it drive?
Full disclosure, when Mercedes brought us in to look at a prototype model, we never sat in the driver's seat. Not when the vehicle was moving at least. Our early look at Mercedes-Benz's new subcompact luxury SUV was limited to sitting shotgun around a test track, a good portion of which was off-road. Being in Europe, we were driven in both a turbodiesel-powered example as well as a GLA with the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder gas engine that will be sold in the U.S.
Both early prototypes were fitted with 4Matic four-wheel drive, using a torque-on-demand system with a new electronic clutch — the previous GLA had a mechanical one — for greater control of the drivetrain. In regular driving, it's predominantly front-wheel-drive, with the 4Matic system diverting power to the rear axle when it's needed. We're told the system can divert 100% of available power to the rear if necessary. The entry-level GLA will be front-wheel-drive, and as with the previous GLA, 4Matic will be an option.
All 4Matic-equipped GLAs will additionally feature Mercedes-Benz's off-road package, which brings a raised suspension as well as additional functionality, including downhill speed control, an off-road-tuned engine and gearbox map, and off-road-specific information such as inclinometers in the instrumentation. Those displays can read some fairly impressive numbers, too, with the GLA able to tackle 30-degree side slopes, 60% inclines and descents of as much as 70%. That's more capability than any buyer is likely to need or, indeed, want, but it's impressive should your GLA ever be required to do something more demanding than the daily grocery run.
What's obvious even from the passenger seat is the improved refinement: The cabin is nicely isolated from sound, the gas four-cylinder engine particularly hushed, and road noise, even in prototypes with Bridgestone winter tires, largely absent. Ride comfort, too, is nicely judged, while the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission shifts imperceptibly. Beyond that, we'll need to wait until we get some time in the correct seat on a wider variety of roads for detailed driving impressions. But extrapolating from what we've experienced with the GLA's closely related A-Class and B-Class models, we can be sure the GLA will offer a finely tuned driving experience, a sure-footed chassis with exceptional body control, and Mercedes-Benz's usual suite of well-integrated active safety systems.
What's the interior like?
MBUX might dominate the driving environment, but elsewhere the cabin is significantly improved over the existing GLA, both in its materials quality and space. If you've sat in an A-Class sedan, you'll be familiar with the smart finishes on things such as the air vents, the buttons in the center console, and even areas where traditionally (and quite noticeably in the old GLA) you could come across some lower-grade materials. That's not evident here. The GLA feels like the premium product its badge signals, whatever surface you're touching. Since Mercedes-Benz introduced its new compact models, rivals have been playing catch-up in regards to interior quality and user-friendliness, and that is still very much the case with the 2021 GLA.
How practical is it?
The GLA's cabin feels far roomier inside than the sometimes-compromised space of its predecessor. With its more clearly defined SUV shape, there's an increase in overall height in excess of 4 inches, and that's transformational for the driver and front passenger. You sit higher, with a better view through the taller and less severely raked windscreen. Similarly, the side glass and bodywork are more upright, which translates to a far more spacious, airy and practical cabin. The trunk offers good space and a wide opening. It, as with the rest of the interior, benefits from the GLA's greater height.
The 2021 GLA is notably more comfortable inside as a result of the dimensional revisions, but not all the numbers have trended upwards. In fact, while rear legroom has increased significantly thanks to the new, more upright seating, rear headroom shrunk, but only by about a quarter of an inch. But if headroom wasn't an issue for you in the rear seat of the last GLA, you'll find a much improved experience thanks to both the added 4.5 inches of legroom and the larger glazed area around you. The new design removes the claustrophobic feel in the back that was problematic with the old GLA. It now feels very much a genuine rival for its SUV competition in relation to its practicality, which is where the old model was lacking.
What does it compete with?
With the new GLB above it set to fight with the BMW X1 and the Audi Q3, the GLA can focus on the BMW X2, Cadillac XT4, Lexus UX and Volvo XC40 as well as innumerable SUV/compact crossover models without premium badges or the elevated pricing that comes with them. (Audi isn't offering its Q2 rival in the U.S.) The performance-minded AMG GLA 35 will duke it out with the X2 M35i, while the AMG GLA 45 stands alone as the super-sporty small SUV.
What engines are available?
While Europe and elsewhere will have a choice of powerplants, the GLA will only be available in the U.S. with a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine, albeit in three states of tune. The standard vehicle, the GLA 250, produces 221 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. This setup, Mercedes says, will enable a base front-wheel-drive GLA 250 to cover 0-60 mph in 8.6 seconds.
The new AMG GLA 35 ups the output to 302 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. Power is routed to all four wheels for an estimated 0-60 mph time of 5.0 seconds.
If you want your hot crossover even hotter, there's also the AMG GLA 45. The turbo-four now produces 382 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque, which Mercedes says is good for a 0-60 mph sprint of 4.3 seconds. For those keeping track at home, that's only half a second slower than the V8-powered AMG C 63 sedan.
Mercedes-Benz is finally upgrading its most affordable SUV with the latest technology, design and refinements found in the brand's other products. A more SUV-like shape and more SUV-like capabilities also serve to make it more practical, comfortable and capable.