Words: Don Cheng
Photography: Don Cheng
Published: November 26, 2020
The first-generation Mercedes GLA was a hit. It had all the right ingredients for a sales slam dunk. With the athletic underpinnings of the CLA sedan, a lifted ride height with a higher seating position, hatchback practicality, and brand prestige, it was exactly the type of car that a young buyer would want in their garage. Its footprint isn’t as large as the GLC, giving it inherent urban agility, and it’s not as plain or as generic as a four-door sedan. The GLA was so successful that it spawned an army of competition from rivaling brands, as well as its own performance variants from AMG.
With the new 2021 GLA, Mercedes has given it a ground-up makeover with the hope that it doesn’t stray too far from its previous success, and received a shot of growth hormone to balloon its proportions overnight. The biggest visual difference is the height, towering 100 mm over its predecessor. The shove upwards means the new model is so much more befitting of what its Geländewagen nomenclature suggests. The width and wheelbase have been stretched by 30mm too and the new sheetmetal aptly fills the extra room, giving the GLA more muscular and athletic proportions. Mercedes’ distinctive diamond grille finds its way as the centerpiece of the new fascia, and adorned on either side are new LED headlights reminiscent of GLC models. They have actually done a great job bridging the familial ties in the styling with the rest of the lineup.
The new GLA sees swathes of changes in the interior too. Stepping inside the new cabin from the old feels like going from Titanic to the Starship Enterprise. Perched prominently on the dash are two 10.25-inch displays powered by the MBUX infotainment unit. The system is easily the star of the show here, providing an array of vehicle telemetry (all customizable by the user of course) and every conceivable way of interacting with the steering wheel mounted trackpads, touchpads in the center console, touchscreen, and Siri assistant style features a la “Hey Mercedes”. The cabin goes one step further and has been gussied up with premium materials. I particularly like the air vents, stylized to look like jet turbines. Although many elements are suspiciously evocative of the new A-Class - the brand’s most entry-level vehicle - that doesn’t diminish the quality in-cabin experience by any measure. It’s not just improvements to suit the driver either. The enhanced proportions in the body and wheelbase pays dividends to rear occupant legroom and shoulder room too.
As with the outgoing model, powertrain options for the GLA 250 are limited to a 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder. Power output sees a lift of 13 hp while torque figures remain constant. A new 8-speed dual clutch transmission runs the show, which should in theory allocate better fuel economy, though official figures are still out to lunch on that. In my short time with the vehicle, I managed average figures in the 8.5 L/100 km range. Where the new gearbox shines is in low-speed traffic situations, where the old 7-speed was particularly prone to jerky shift engagements, jostling occupants in the cabin. This one feels remarkably smooth. In fact, overall, the ride of the new GLA 250 is a decided improvement. The suspension has still been tuned to be more plush, as evidenced when you fling the GLA into a corner and the resulting body roll is always apparent, further exacerbated by the taller ride height. Furthermore, the steering sensation is numb and lacks communication, which tends to make the GLA feel larger than it really is. That said, it does feel well-weighted and accurate.
Something I miss about the outgoing GLA is that hot-hatch feeling, its darty front end, and sprightly engine that enjoys caressing the limiter. Instead, the handling and ride here lends itself to a more sophisticated and grown up demeanor. Get on the throttle and the engine delivers a wallop low in the rev range, and the transmission is tuned well to take advantage of that grunt. It shifts swiftly, maximizing the power band for quick sprints to keep with traffic. Stay on the throttle though and the turbo-four quickly wheezes out. It’s ample enough for the majority of drivers but those that desire more will have to look at the GLA 35 AMG, which adds more than 80 hp to keep the excitement alive.
Mercedes has always targeted the GLA at the young discerning buyer, and it’s no different this time either. They know their audience well, and it’s someone who wants to be part of the luxury automaker’s family and lead a lifestyle with variety. Perhaps it’s a night out on the town, or an impromptu camping trip with friends, and their GLA needs to be ready for that. With grown up road manners and an army of new technology, the new GLA now presents itself as less of a teenager, and more of a restrained professional. What remains to be seen however, is if the market will miss the WRX-in-a-suit charm of the original.
Model: 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4MATIC
Paint Type: Nocturnal Black
Base Price: $42,400
Price as Tested: $51,925
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,424 / 2,022 / 1,494
Curb weight (kg): 1,585
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
Horsepower: 221 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 1,800 - 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 8.6