The clever clogs in Affalterbach are on a roll at the moment, especially with this particular 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35. Its latest generation of product is gaining a new breadth of ability. No longer are they all the aggressive sledgehammers of yesteryear.
I’m sure you’ll jump into anything wearing the three capital letters, now so synonymous with performance, and feel content. Even as far as family cars slash daily drivers go, they’re becoming more palatable at each product update.
What speaks to that truth most is the bigger remit that Mercedes-AMG is earning itself. The range that wears just two numerical digits, instead of three like conventional Mercedes-Benz products do, is expanding. Not just upwards, but also downwards.
For the first time, you can now have your GLA cut in two ways: fast and well equipped as a 35 model, or outright bonkers as a 45 S version.
Today, we’re testing the GLA 35. As the lower-power version of Mercedes-AMG’s twin-pronged model range, it starts from $82,935 before on-roads. Our test car had some options that brought its price up to $90,095 as tested, also before on-roads.
The only other line-ball competitor would be the BMW X2 M35i, which is priced significantly cheaper at $69,900. Audi’s faster RS Q3 is worthy of consideration, and isn't a world away on price, at $89,900 before options and on-road costs, but with performance that's a closer match to the more potent A45 S
|2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35|
|Engine||2.0-litre turbocharged petrol four-cylinder|
|Power and torque||225kW @ 5800rpm, 400Nm @ 3000–4000rpm|
|Transmission||Eight-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||8L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||10L/100km|
|Boot volume (rear seats up / down)||435L/1430L|
|ANCAP safety rating||Not tested|
|Warranty||5 years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Audi Q3, BMW X2, Volvo XC40|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||From $90,095|
If you have your concerns as an ex-45-series AMG owner, don’t. This new breed of 35-series AMG cars is, in many ways, superior to the outgoing stuff.
The reasoning for Mercedes-AMG splitting its range comes from a good place. Its quest for new heights of performance with 45 S versions has resulted in insanity. Something that’s too much for many.
After experiencing both 35 and 45 versions of the Mercedes-AMG compact range, I've come to the consensus that the 35 models land in nirvana – an enlightening balance of competency as a road car, with a bit more performance than you actually need, so as to provide thrills.
Supplying gusto is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine. To the nerds out there, and something I’ll come back to later on, its code is ‘M260’. It produces 225kW of power at 5800rpm and 400Nm of torque available from 3000–4000rpm.
It’s the steady ramp-up of torque that gives the car a bold feeling mid-range. Despite appearing to come on late, when compared to other contemporary turbo engines, it's actually the way it builds up that’s exciting.
No doubt it’s making a large portion of that 400Nm way earlier, but some clever tuning here has made riding the torque wave such an event. The other piece of the puzzle is spot-on gearing and a relatively light rotating mass, both of which enable the engine to rev cleanly and freely.
Its 225kW are some of the strongest I’ve ever felt. If you told someone that your new GLA 35 they’re currently joyriding in makes 250kW at the flywheel, they’d believe you. If I knew no better, I wouldn’t question it.
Other parts of the driveline also provide clout to such make-believe stories. Engine performance is multiplied by an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic and then sent through a ‘4Matic’ all-wheel-drive system. Variable torque split means the system can divide drive from 100 per cent to the front axle to as much as 50:50 split front to rear, as conditions demand.
The spread of gear ratios is awfully complementary to the punchy nature of the engine. If you’re into performance, or just like having it on beck and call, you’ll dig this car. It’s not tear-you-face-off fast, but it’ll spook the uninitiated real quick.
As for fuel usage, it fell right on the threshold of acceptability using 10.0L/100km versus an official claimed figure of 8.0L/100km. As is the case with Mercedes-AMG products, their effervescence corrupts their fuel usage. In other words, I’m copping out and blaming the tools.
Despite a significant performance bump over a regular GLA250, the 35’s suspension setup offers better ride quality and breadth of ability. Use that to sell the upgrade to the AMG version with the powers that be. Don’t say I’m never helpful.
I’ve found some adjustable suspension setups just make the ride awful and busy for the sake of ‘sports’. Usually, the softest setting is the one you ought to be in, even when enjoying the car. In saying that, all three of the GLA 35’s suspension modes remain useful in suburban settings. The highest of highs, Sport+, does make your fatty bits jiggle a little, but not in a way that regular stiff suspension does.
Instead, an illusion is cast that makes the change in suspension feel related to the whole car, not just the upright sticks at all four corners. It’s clever stuff – well-calibrated dampers that are themselves well constructed.
Out on the faster roads, Comfort mode does begin to demonstrate floatiness, but a quick tap of the customisable buttons on the steering wheel fixes that. In Sport, as I liked it, the GLA 35 becomes a brigand. A naughty one.
You have three varying degrees of excellence to pick from. A hard choice, but luckily the car remembers your last settings and will default to that every time you start it.
Speaking of the fancy steering wheel, this variant’s interior will dazzle upon first glance. If that first moment is in low light, it’ll maybe stun. The amount of ambient lighting in this car is intense, some of which is interactive. There are lights even in the air vents themselves that change to blue or red depending on how you’re adjusting cabin temperature.
Equally as sophisticated is a pair of 10.25-inch screens sitting proud of the dashboard: one for you as the driver, and one for sharing as central infotainment.
The whole show is run by Mercedes-Benz's MBUX operating system, which is wildly complex. There are many buried and hidden features on board, so do yourself a favour and study the manual. You’ll have a far better experience knowing how to complete tasks quickly, instead of trying your luck in patchy sessions while driving. All of that usual good stuff remains, however: smartphone mirroring for Apple and Android, wireless charging, and an excellent optional Burmester sound system, if you so desire.
The infotainment system is controlled via a console touchpad with haptic feedback or steering wheel touchpad, which makes using it on the move easy enough. However, traditional types can still operate things via the touchscreen.
Back to that steering wheel for a tick. It’s the same item found in every other AMG product, with a circular, LCD-screened drive selector knob on the right side, and a customisable twin switch panel on the left also powered by an LCD screen.
You can toggle through settings easily by tapping the switch, such as having stop-start disabled, changing the suspension mode agnostic of the overall drive mode, and even locking the transmission in manual, all in one touch.
It’s currently the best user interface of vehicle system control out there. Watch others catch on and thieve this idea.
With regard to device charging, there are three USB-C ports in the first row alone. Mercedes-AMG does provide one USB-C to USB adapter with the car, in case you’re running an older smartphone.
As for general living conditions, space is surprisingly abundant, but there are catches. I found the regular front seats to be uncomfortable. They’ve raised the seat specifically for the GLA, but along the way somehow tainted things.
The lower seat bases are also too flat and not supportive, which created slight discomfort in my hamstrings. I thought about my long-legged frame being a reason why, so I asked a better-proportioned colleague to jump in without saying a word. After a stint around the block, they condemned the seats with equal frustrations.
There are a better pair of sports seats on the options list, so if you find issues after awkwardly trialling things in the showroom, give those a go instead. As a claw-back, the standard seating is trimmed in genuine leather instead of the Artico faux Artico leather used on GLA200 and 250 variants.
The other downfall is just how much sound enters into the cabin. It’s bloody noisy, with intrusive tyre roar taking the ARIA here. You’ll find yourself setting speaker volumes for turn-by-turn navigation and phone calls almost to maximum in some lewd attempt at masking it.
Okay, let’s get back on track with the basics – space. It’s decent throughout the passenger area. A 180cm occupant in the front passenger seat retains ample room while sitting in front of a capsule or rearward-facing baby seat. With that same front passenger seat position, a three-year-old sitting behind in a forward-facing support seat has enough room to fully extend their legs.
Such decent proportions are carried into the second row. Sitting behind my own 182cm driving position, I had around 4cm of knee room, huge amounts of toe room, and plenty of space around my noggin.
As for fitting three, you could shoehorn two adults in alongside a convertible baby seat uncomfortably, or just about fit two younger teenagers pleasantly next to the baby of the family.
A nice touch is the 40/20/40 seat arrangement, which means you can fold down the middle section and load long cargo while leaving your child seat installed. Go forth and enjoy Ikea together.
A tall roof line means that equally tall glass wraps around the rear passenger cell brightening things up. As for amenities in the back, there are two USB-C ports, rear air vents, and deep storage bins on either rear door. An Audi Q3 does offer more room, but for now there's no matching performance model, without stepping into the more relentlessly sporty (but only slightly more expensive) RS Q3.
Boot space comes in at 435L. Not the best in the class, but you’ll easily stack two decent-sized suitcases and a stroller, too. Its depth does mean that a compact pram will have to go in lengthways, up against the seat backs, and not longways.
Folding all of the second-row seats down creates 1430L of potential storage space. Outdoorsy types can squeeze their mountain bikes in without having to affix a carrier to the to the roof. Once the goods are in, a standard-fit electric tailgate closes up on your behalf.
The new Mercedes-Benz GLA is now a genuine SUV, and is no longer the tack-on semi-hatch alternative that it once was. Its cargo area does suffer as a result of making the cabin as spacious as possible, but this is the better of two evils. It still remains versatile and sizable enough to suit life as a family ride.
What a ride that’ll be if you can make the stretch up to this entry-level Mercedes-AMG version. I made a mention of that engine code earlier, as some harp on about it being a negative. Something about its purity as a genuine AMG car being affected by the fact it uses a regular Mercedes-Benz engine.
That’s ridiculous. It’s not the absolute rocketship that 45 S models are, but it’s still a well-endowed performance car that earns its badge.
The chassis, the steering, the fierce nature of its engine – behaviours all shared with the 45 S version are just turned down from 11 here. It’s less of something that's excessive, which includes the price – the GLA 35 is cheaper by a handsome $24,100.
Those two-car households looking to consolidate a selfish hot hatch and older family run-around into one, you’ve landed in the right place.
Others who like things spicy, or who are simply drawn to the intoxicating brand that is AMG, will all leave feeling like they’ve got their money’s worth.
The old GLA45 was the least popular version in the old, baby-AMG range. Who wants to wager on the new GLA 35 becoming the most popular choice in this new line-up?