- More interior space
- Youthful interior design
- Great handling
- Expensive options
- Lacking elegance inside
- Unintuitive infotainment
When the first-generation Mercedes-Benz GLA arrived on U.S. soil, we were split on whether we’d consider it an SUV or a car. “The GLA is proof the best way to get Americans to buy a hatchback is to jack it up and call it an SUV,” European bureau chief Angus MacKenzie said during our 2015 SUV of the Year program.
Yet the first-edition GLA impressed judges with its fun driving dynamics and great handling, which prompted the small Mercedes to move on as a finalist. But after a deeper evaluation, we concluded, “The GLA looks like a car and drives like a car, so it must be a car.”
View Other 2021 SUV Of The Year Contenders And Finalists Here
Enter the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA, and the tiny crossover continues to impress; its punchy powertrain, improved interior space, and classy styling stood out among the judges. “The small Mercedes done right,” features editor Scott Evans said.
The 2021 GLA 250 tweaked its formula to provide more interior space and an SUV-like experience. With its new platform (shared with the Mercedes-Benz CLA and GLB), the GLA 250 is 3.6 inches taller, 1.2 inches wider, and 0.6 inch shorter than the outgoing model. (The extra interior space comes from the added 1.1 inches on its wheelbase).
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With 221 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA feels punchy, though Evans likened the engine note to “a turbocharged dishwasher.” Its eight-speed automatic does its job of shifting swiftly and correctly and doesn’t hesitate to downshift when you ask for it. “The engine is eager to respond and gives a smooth whoosh when prodded,” head of editorial Ed Loh said. “The transmission is unremarkable, which is a good thing, as we’ve savaged other turbo-four powertrains in this class.”
After driving its slightly bigger sibling—the GLB—the GLA feels agile, settled, and more Mercedes-like. “If you were wondering which is better, the answer is GLA,” senior features editor Jonny Lieberman said. “It drives so much better.” If the GLA 250 is not enough, leave the maniac duties to the 382-hp Mercedes-AMG GLA 45, which will join the 302-hp Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 before the end of the year.
Step inside, and Mercedes’ MBUX infotainment system gets your immediate attention. With two 12.3-inch screens, the cabin looks modern and sophisticated, and it gives a great first impression. Once the sun sets, the interior vibe channels an Ibiza nightclub, with ambient lighting that changes colors to turn up the mood. Second-row seating is narrow but sufficient. Look a little deeper, though, and you notice your luxury-badged hangout suffers from chintzy plastics on the door handles and lower door panels.
Buyer’s Guide director Zach Gale applauded the design of the air vents and ambient lighting, but he had a hard time getting used to the overly complicated infotainment system. “I’d love for future Benzes to make changing to the next song easier than it is now,” he said. Loh went further: “The question is, will you get into an accident (from distracted driving) before or after you learn how the system works?”
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At the end, judges agreed that the GLA’s value proposition was its weakest point. With a starting price of about $39,000, the entry-level Mercedes crossover gets expensive quickly. Our as-tested unit crossed the checkout counter at a tough-to-swallow $44,405. “We all know a mainstream automaker will offer you a more compelling vehicle at this price point,” features editor Christian Seabaugh said.
The 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA is better than the outgoing model it replaces, and although it’s a better Mercedes than the GLB, it didn’t have enough to convince judges to move forward as a finalist. Lieberman summed it up best: “The second-generation GLA feels pretty good, though it’s missing the X-factor that would put it on the podium, never mind over the top.”
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