The original Mercedes-Benz GLA was an unqualified success, despite looking and feeling like a high-riding A-Class – and costing a fair chunk more.
For the second-generation model, the German carmaker is betting on a more traditional SUV approach to boost sales even further. The different approach is obvious visually, with a roof line that’s put on a growth spurt of more than 10cm, and it’s obvious from the driver’s seat that gains a similar elevation.
Getting the overall formula right is extra important in the context of a luxury compact SUV segment that is getting increasingly tougher. Since the first GLA debuted, both Lexus (UX) and Volvo (XC40) have entered the fray, while the Merc’s longer-term rival, the Audi Q3, has also emerged in new-generation form in 2020.
There are no surprises in the GLA range, which comprises four models all borrowing A-Class drivetrains.
The price of entry to the model, however, has increased dramatically. Whereas in 2015 you could get a GLA180 for $42,900, the latest generation kicks off from $55,100 for a GLA200.
|2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic|
|Engine||2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol|
|Power and torque||165kW at 5500rpm, 350Nm at 1800–4000rpm|
|Transmission||Eight-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||7.5L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||8.3L/100km|
|Boot volume (rear seats up / down)||435L / 1430L|
|ANCAP safety rating||Untested|
|Warranty||5 years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Audi Q3, BMW X1, Range Rover Evoque, Volvo XC40|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$66,500 RRP / $78,177 as tested|
The GLA250 is the first GLA in the current range to feature ‘4Matic’ all-wheel drive, though, as well as a proper Mercedes engine – a 165kW 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo instead of the GLA200’s Renault-sourced 120kW 1.3-litre turbo four and front-wheel drive.
Standard equipment highlights include 19-inch alloy wheels, panoramic sunroof, automatic tailgate, heated front seats with electric adjustment, and a 225-watt audio.
If you like options, the GLA is your oyster. There are packages galore, and our test car featured five of them – taking its value to $78,177 before on-road extras are added.
Some features might be expected to be standard on a vehicle that won’t give you any change from $70,000.
Adaptive cruise control forms part of the $1531 Driving Assistance Package, for example, and paddle-shift levers and privacy glass are inclusions in the $1915 Sport Package. You’ll find such items, and more in some cases, included with cheaper rivals.
A terrific cabin execution is all part of the GLA deal, though, and it’s easy to sense that many a buyer will be enamoured by the Mercedes’s instant showroom appeal.
Central to the GLA’s striking interior visuals are the same dual, 10.0-inch conjoined displays from the A-Class, which literally brighten up the front cabin with their vibrant colours and stunningly sharp resolution.
Fully customisable LED ambient-lighting strips along the dash, doors and centre console further embellish the posh presentation, while the general level of perceived quality is very high.
The most central of the GLA’s twin screens provides touch access to the MBUX infotainment system, where various commands can also be done simply by triggering the voice assistance with a ‘Hey, Mercedes’.
Continuing a theme of spoiling people for choice, the infotainment system can also be manipulated via a centre console control pad with haptic feedback and shortcut buttons. The driver can also vary the layout/information on the digital cluster, mainly via steering wheel buttons/toggles. A fair degree of learning is involved, though the majority of owners should find the effort worthwhile.
There’s an inductive charging tray for smartphones, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard (though not currently available with wireless connection).
Sitting in the new GLA is a very different experience to the original – that extra elevation creates a completely different style of driving position. That helps improve vision, naturally. If the seating is more upright than before, it’s still comfortable – especially as the front seats, in artificial leather, are very inviting.
While no current compact luxury SUV can match the XC40’s innovative approach to storage, the GLA has generously sized door compartments (with rubber matting), cupholders, that wireless charging tray, and a twin-lid console cubby with an extra two USB-C ports to add to the single USB-C by the smartphone tray.
The GLA is better at accommodating rear passengers than its predecessor. This has been mainly facilitated by a 30mm increase in wheelbase (despite overall length shrinking by 14mm).
So, this time there’s noticeably more rear leg room than in an A-Class as well as the previous GLA (by nearly 12cm in the latter’s case), and rear head room is still generous despite losing 6mm over the old model.
Although fitting more than two adults across the bench is unrealistic, the scalloped outer seats match the excellent comfort of the front seats and passengers are treated to rear vents, net pouches and their own USB-C ports. The long, dual-pane panoramic roof also provides a lighter, brighter cabin for those in the back.
A first for a GLA is a sliding rear bench, though Mercedes asks $790 for this whereas it’s standard in the rival Q3.
Boot space hasn’t made as big a jump as interior space, up by just 14L to 435L. While that volume is still decent – and not far off the luggage capacity of Mazda’s mid-sized SUV, the CX-5 – the Q3’s 530L boot is noticeably more practical.
The GLA’s seatbacks fold flat in a handy 40-20-40 split, and the tailgate features automatic operation.
The last GLA turned out to be the best-riding model out of all of Mercedes’s compact vehicles, making the most of its extra suspension travel.
It’s mixed news for the new model. Around town, the GLA250 provides mostly smooth progress in the Comfort mode of the adaptive damper system, showing only the occasional hint of the bounciness that plagues the related seven-seater GLB.
The GLA250 sits on a lowered version of a ‘Comfort’ suspension beneath the GLB250, though while this seems to help at lower speeds, the GLA’s ride refinement goes similarly south on country roads – turning uncomfortably choppy on bumpier sections. Switching the suspension to Sport improves matters little as the ride then becomes too firm.
Freeway journeys are more relaxing, where generally smoother bitumen allows the suspension to be supple rather than bouncy.
The GLA otherwise feels composed through corners, and its precise steering is also commendable.
Although the more expensive AMG GLA 35 variant starts to offer some serious performance in this segment, the regular version of that model’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo should leave few GLA250 owners feeling they need a great deal more under the bonnet.
The 165kW/350Nm motor, in tandem with a permanent all-wheel-drive system, provides the kind of pace that isn’t a million miles off what a VW Golf GTI hot hatch was achieving not so long ago. Mercedes quotes 6.7 seconds for the 0–100km/h acceleration run.
More importantly for effortless everyday drivability, the GLA250 feels responsive at the throttle pedal without the need to turn the vehicle settings to Sport.
Whereas the GLA200 features a seven-speed dual-clutch auto from gearbox specialist Getrag, the GLA250 pairs its engine with Mercedes-Benz’s own eight-speed dual-clutch.
In a GLB250 we tested just prior to our GLA250, the auto seemed to suffer from a calibration issue that made for inconsistent responses. The GLA’s transmission proved to be far more predictable, with much smoother shifting.
Official fuel consumption is rated at 7.5 litres per 100km on recommended 95RON petrol. Our mixed-road testing produced an indicated 8.3L/100km, so expect higher figures if driving predominantly in built-up areas.
Although the GLA isn’t designed to be a rock-hopper, its all-wheel-drive system includes an Off Road mode that switches from a front-drive bias to a 50:50 torque split between the front and rear wheels to help on trickier terrain. There’s also a hill-descent control function.
Overall, the Mercedes-Benz GLA has expanded its practical appeal while also lifting its interior presentation quite markedly. And in GLA250 guise, the package brings strong performance that will be more than ample for most buyers.
It’s relatively expensive, though, with better value to be found with the Audi Q3 and Volvo XC40. The Swedish rival, for example, is available as a flagship plug-in hybrid for very similar money to the GLA250.