Mercedes-Benz built its reputation in the U.S. as a purveyor of luxury cars, although nowadays SUVs and crossovers are the biggest sellers for the German brand. Given its position as the entry point to the Mercedes-Benz SUV lineup, the importance that the 2021 GLA 250 carries for the brand cannot be overstated. Since its introduction in 2014, the crossover has become one of the more popular models for first-time Mercedes buyers, and the company hopes the trend continues with the all-new 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA. Replete with updated styling, a roomier interior and better performance, the new GLA should easily fulfill those hopes.
“The launch of the new GLA marks the culmination of a complete renewal of our family of compact cars,” said Britta Seeger, a board member at Daimler AG who is also responsible for Mercedes-Benz Cars marketing & sales. “The high demand for our SUVs shows that we can offer the right model for all of our customers here” Seeger noted.
The 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA gets fresh styling all around, from its expressive LED headlights flanking a more aggressive grille to the sleek two-part taillights and wider cargo opening at the rear. Overall the new GLA is wider and taller than its predecessor, and while the wheelbase is longer the vehicle’s length is shorter. This gives the GLA more SUV style with shorter overhangs front and rear.
Initially the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA will be available as the GLA 250 with front-wheel drive. For drivers who live where the seasons change, optional 4MATIC all-wheel drive can be added for $2,000. The more powerful Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 and GLA 45 are expected to arrive in showrooms later this year.
The 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 has a starting price of $36,230, making it one of the lowest priced models in the brand’s lineup. The extensive list of standard features includes dual-zone climate control, keyless start, power driver / passenger seats, a multi-function leather-wrapped steering wheel, a 7-inch touchscreen display, Android Auto / Apple CarPlay, reclining and sliding rear seats, a power liftgate and 18-inch wheels with run-flat tires.
Pricing has not been released for the AMG versions of the GLA. Unfortunately, these more powerful variants were unavailable for testing. In addition to the features found on the GLA 250, the AMG trims receive a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster and a 10.25-inch touchscreen multimedia display, AMG Performance 4MATIC all-wheel drive, AMG sport suspension, 64-color ambient lighting and 19-inch AMG wheels.
The 2021 GLA functions as the entry-level SUV in the Mercedes-Benz lineup, although one would not know it looking at the interior, especially when upgraded with dual 10.25-inch displays. One screen is directly in front of the driver and one is more centrally located; both connect to look like one long flat panel. Not only does this display provide considerably more functionality, it gives the GLA a look of a more premium model. Both displays can be customized to provide different information with varying appearances. Large chrome vents with piano-black trim also contribute to the SUV’s high-end looks.
With multiple power adjustments and an extendable seat bottom, the GLA’s front seats look as good as they feel. Heating and ventilation are available options.
The GLA offers a decent amount of storage in the console between the front seats, and forward of the cupholders resides a wireless charging pad as well as one of several USB-C ports. Mercedes has moved to providing only USB-C ports in their vehicles, necessitating separate adaptors for older devices.
The primary controller for the infotainment system sits within easy reach of the driver. Instead of a dial, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 uses a touchpad with buttons. The system can also be controlled via the touch screen, touch pads on the steering wheel, or by a sophisticated voice control. The steering wheel controls are intuitive and easy to use while keeping hands on the wheel — we found that these were easier to use than the centrally-mounted touchpad.
One of our favorite features in the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250, the optional Augmented Reality Navigation system takes the stress out of navigation. When approaching a direction to turn during a chosen route, the nav display shows the live view from the front camera and overlays street names and directions so the correct way to turn is crystal clear.
Although the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 has a shorter length than its predecessor, interior space has actually grown. The new GLA provides more headroom and legroom for both front- and rear-seat occupants. This expanded space is especially noticeable in the rear area, which feels quite roomy — even the middle seat is usable, if not quite as comfortable. Dual USB-C ports are provided, as is a 110-volt outlet. An optional panoramic sunroof adds an airy, open feeling to the GLA.
It may be a small crossover, but the GLA uses interior space wisely. The cargo area is surprisingly spacious. Its wide opening makes loading large cargo much easier, and the rear seat folds for additional cargo-carrying ability.
Power for the GLA 250 comes from a new 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine producing 221 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, teamed with an 8-speed dual-clutch transmission (a bump of 13 horsepower over the previous year). With peak torque available at a low 1800 rpm, the GLA 250 feels quick. According to Mercedes, the front-drive crossover will reach 60 mph in 6.8 seconds — 6.6 seconds with 4MATIC. Top speed gets limited to 130 mph.
According to the U.S. EPA, the GLA 250 can achieve 25 mpg city / 34 mpg hwy / 28 mpg combined; all three figures drop by one mpg with 4MATIC all-wheel drive. During test drives we didn’t quite achieve these numbers, averaging closer to 22 mpg — according to the trip computer.
Two powerful AMG engines will certainly change the dynamics of the GLA. The GLA 35 will get an AMG-enhanced 2.0-liter turbocharged engine producing 302 horsepower, while the GLA 45 gets an AMG-handcrafted 2.0-liter powerplant that takes power all the way to 382 horses. We look forward to testing these enhanced GLAs.
We spent a few days with a well-equipped GLA 250 4Matic and never tired of driving it. Exhibiting plenty of low-end torque, the GLA feels quick and satisfying to drive without any feelings of inadequate power that sometimes arise with four cylinders. Its small footprint makes the GLA easily maneuverable in urban spaces thanks to a tight turning radius.
In the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA, drivers choose from multiple drive modes that adjust engine response, suspension, steering and stability systems to better set up the crossover for a particular drive route. These can be set independently or with presets such as Comfort or Sport. Sport mode provides a noticeable difference with better responsiveness and tighter steering.
With a solid, comfortable ride, the GLA doesn’t feel entry level — it simply feels like a Mercedes-Benz. Cruising on the highway at 70-plus mph, the GLA remains quiet with little road or wind noise. While negotiating winding backroads of the Pacific Northwest, the GLA provided an enjoyable driving experience thanks to great steering feedback and a ride that isn’t overly stiff yet still inspires confidence. Sport mode allows drivers to take better advantage of the engine’s power while improving the steering feel.
The new Mercedes-Benz GLA is designed as an entry into the luxury brand’s lineup, and it plays this role very well. With styling that fits in with the rest of the Mercedes-Benz SUV lineup and an interior that feels several levels above its expected pay grade, the GLA sets a good example for the first-time Mercedes buyer. Add to that its spunky powerplant and available premium upgrades and the GLA stands out in the premium small crossover market.
Pros: Drives like a Mercedes; premium, roomy interior; good performance.
Cons: Only USB-C ports; fuel economy lower than expected.
Bottom Line: It may be entry level, but the new GLA is clearly a Mercedes.