The 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA is priced from $42,400 in Canada, $36,230 in the US.
The GLA is Benz’s most affordable SUV and it is incredibly popular.
The second-generation GLA launched for 2020 shorter overall but with more interior space.
I live in a modest neighborhood. Most own mainstream SUVs however many drive and own luxury-branded vehicles. By this, I mean that I have many neighbors who own one (or more) entry-level models from premium automakers. Some of the most common are Mercedes-Benz C-Class, B-Class, and the GLA.
It’s been said that luxury automakers have an advantage: They can move down from the premium ladder, go mainstream, and sell more vehicles with ease. And brands like Mercedes-Benz have done so with enormous success. The A-, C-Class, GLB, GLC, and GLA have proven to be critical models for Benz as they account for about 45% of all Canadian sales. Many of these models are bought by up-and-coming professionals but I’ve noticed the GLA’s in my hood are driven by older couples, about 80% of them to be more precise.
This got me thinking that these GLA owners and drivers purchased a Mercedes-Benz product as a recompense for a lifetime of hard work, rising a family – essentially, the car is a reward. The three-pointed star is a symbol of the finer things in life and wanting a part of it is fully understandable. The question is, however: Is the GLA a real Mercedes-Benz?
Injected with a dose of essence of Benz
The answer is that it’s far closer to being one than the previous generation GLA. In fact, it once was a lesser Mercedes vehicle aimed expressly at consumers preferring a logo over the content. One of the major draws for the GLA was its styling. The new vehicle is a little smaller overall, but its proportions bring it closer to an SUV compared to its old crossover looks. From afar, it could be mistaken for a shrunken GLC, but for all intents and purposes, it’s a raised and slightly bloated A-Class hatchback.
The first-generation GLA convinced many based solely on the exterior design. Coming in contact with the cabin was a whole other matter. This is one place where the illusion fell as quality took something of a backseat to impressions. This has changed dramatically with the new 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250. Lifted from the A-Class and adjusted for the GLA, the standard dashboard starts off with twin 7-inch displays which grow to 10.25-inch with the Premium Package.
Beyond these accessories, presentation and attention to detail have clearly moved up the priority ladder. Fit, finish, and materials are up to expectations – there’s a sense that Mercedes-Benz addressed what was “lesser” from the old vehicle. The extended wheelbase (over the outgoing GLA) provides all aboard with extra room, especially in the rear. Seats are generally comfortable all around.
Taking to the road
The worst offending issue with the old GLA was its ride and drive. It truly felt as though M-Benz had purposefully removed nearly all layers of refinement normally associated with the brand in order to keep pricing low. In fact, they were tin-y and without reassuring substance.
The driving experience was dry and noisy however most of this is now in the past thanks to the updated platform. The standard 18-inch wheels and tires provide an appreciable level of comfort and handling. The latter would not be improved by the optional 19-inch wheels however I suspect comfort, still, a notch below where it should be would take a hit for the worse. Despite the improvement in ride quality, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 could still learn road manners from the GLE, for example.
The standard turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine provides 221 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. or torque and they are certainly all accounted for. With the included 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and 4Matic AWD, the GLA 250 launches to 100 km/h in 6.7 seconds. From the seat-of-the-pants, the GLA feels much faster than that. Of the drive modes, “comfort” is perfectly calibrated for daily driving. And no matter the selected setting, the 8G-DCT is wonderfully responsive and agreeable.
It is a better lesser Benz
In the small compact luxury crossover/SUV segment, players like the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and X2, Lexus UX and NX, Mercedes-Benz GLB, Volvo XC40, and Cadillac XT4 all give a little something up to reach their desired price point. You might be surprised to learn that the German automakers are the ones that strip the most away from their products with regard to refinement.
To note, the Cadillac XT4 and Volvo XC40 are not victims of this “cheapening”. In fact, the XT4 and XC40 are the better-sorted SUVs of their respective manufacturers with the exception of the Escalade for Cadillac.
The 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4Matic is a huge improvement over the old GLA however it’s still a little low on Benz essence.