A little larger, and a lot nicer…
I have to start by saying that I owned a last-gen (2014-2019) GLA, and loved it in many ways. However, the ride could be beyond punishing at times, it had a dated interior and infotainment next to other Mercedes models, and most crucially, the old GLA never really felt quite as upscale compared to other small luxury crossovers in that price range… Mercedes has heard the feedback and rectified the majority of these issues for the all-new 2021 GLA model. At first impressions, it’s obvious that their smallest crossover has grown up (and out), matured, and got a bit more sophisticated. But is it better?
Let’s start with the basics- On the outside, the new GLA has grown 3.6 inches taller, 1.2 inches wider, and the wheelbase extended by 1.1 inches. It doesn’t sound like much on paper, but the overall feeling is this is bigger, bolder, and channels a much more ‘SUV’ than ‘compact crossover’ vibe. On the inside, you’ve got more front headroom while sitting 3.8 inches higher, and in back, a massive 4.5 inches of additional rear legroom, which makes a huge difference for taller passengers in the backseats that banged their knees with the old car. There’s nothing claustrophobic-triggering in this bigger GLA, but it does lose a bit of its former Hot Hatch vibe, both in terms of ride and handling. In other words, a little down on the fun factor, but up on the class and comfort.
The good news is the GLA250 still features the peppy-yet-efficient 2.0-liter turbo four, now making 221 horsepower (up from 208), yet delivering around 25 mpg in the city and up to 34 mpg on the highway. It’s now paired with a new 8-speed dual-clutch automated gearbox, which offers massive improvements in both smoothness and shifting. The ride was comfortable and quiet, with far less road noise and jolting on rough roads than the last generation model. A smart option for spirited driving is the Adjustable Suspension with Adaptive Damping System ($950), which lets you toggle between a firmer ‘Sport’ and smoother ‘Comfort’ setting by way of electronically controlled shocks. Additionally, our 4MATIC-equipped model ($2000 upgrade) is a great choice for those inclined to drive in wet weather or occasionally off-road.
From behind the steering wheel, the entire cabin feels much more luxurious, and the new touchscreen MBUX infotainment system has finally arrived and vanquished the dated physical keypad dash forever. Our tester was also equipped with the Premium Package for $1750 (includes a larger 10.25-inch touchscreen, power-folding and Auto-dimming mirrors, Keyless-Go) Burmeister Surround Sound ($850), Panoramic Roof ($1500), a Driver’s Assistance Package ($1700) packed with a myriad of Active Safety features, and a Multimedia Package with video-enabled Navigation ($1295). You can start to see how it doesn’t take long to push the $36,230 base price into the mid $50k range when clicking on Mercedes endless GLA options for both comfort and cosmetics.
Regardless of what options you may choose, the new GLA exudes German luxury and comfort worthy of the Mercedes Benz badge. This new version may be a bit more grown-up and SUV-like than its more raw predecessor, but it’s a better vehicle for it. In our opinion, the new GLA is the smarter choice than the slightly larger new GLB, and if you do still have the need for the hot hatch feeling, just wait for the AMG GLA45 coming soon!
Jay Ward is a Bay Area based gearhead and the Creative Director for the ‘Cars’ franchise at Pixar Animation Studios. He also serves at an honorary Judge at Pebble Beach, Amelia Island, Audrain’s, and Hilton Head Island Concours, as well as a regular contributor at the Jalopy Journal. You can find him and his kids at ‘Dad’s Daily Driver’ on Instagram and Facebook.