2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA review, test drive

    Merc’s baby SUV grows up and goes mainstream, and this 220d is better to drive too.

    Published on Apr 10, 2021 07:00:00 AM


    Model : New GLA
    We Like
    • Peppy, responsive diesel
    • Spacious and well built cabin
    • Ride and handling balance
    We Don't Like
    • Some kit missing
    • Idle could be smoother

    2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA: What is it?

    It’s 4:30am. The start of the 2020 Auto Expo is only hours away, but nothing seems ready. Many of the stalls are only partly finished, some look like they are days behind schedule, and then everywhere I look there are construction workers and forklifts scurrying about like squirrels.

    Then I see it, tucked away in a corner of the Mercedes stall. The nose gives it away instantly. I don’t quite have the right ID, but I stroll in anyway; the activity is so frenzied that no one would notice even if (insert name of favourite actress here) walks past in a bikini.

    Chrome pins or studs look cool; GLA gets radar-based Active Brake Assist.

    What’s clear is that Mercedes’ second-generation GLA has grown up. More SUV and less coupé-SUV now, with an upright cabin and more usable space on the inside, this is an altogether different animal. Even the basic stance of the car is different. That low-slung look of the previous-gen GLA is clearly gone. I close in to get a better look, but my one-on-one session is rudely interrupted; the Mercedes crew walks up and pulls the covers over. There’s no doubt, however, this Merc SUV is loaded with potential.

    2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA: exterior

    Now, more than a year on, I’m looking at the new GLA again. Sitting squat on a dry lakebed in the soft morning sunlight, it clearly looks larger and more substantial than the previous-gen car. A lot of the added visual bulk comes from the higher roof, which is now a huge 10cm up. While it’s more SUV-like now, it isn’t all straight lines in profile. The cowl isn’t as ‘stand-up’ as something like a GLS and the roof starts to drop down towards the rear.

    Four-wheel-drive or 4Matic will only be available on the 220 diesel version.

    What does help give it a fair amount of bulk is the resolute chin up front, squared wheel arches (with big 19-inch wheels), and the smoothened shoulder line, with a sharp crease along the bottom of the doors. Merc’s designers have also used creases on the bonnet to good effect, the upright grille with its chrome pinheads catches the light nicely, and then there’s the wide-open bumper on this AMG Line trim. It isn’t quite as exciting at the rear, but the wide base and the individually sectioned LED lights do give it a fair amount of character.

    2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA: performance

    It’s still quiet and the roads are empty, so I set off for an exploratory drive. The road I’m on is a cemented four-laner with a wide median. This is, however, no arrow-straight expressway that carries on endlessly. Yes, it has many long straights, and some of them good enough to really open the taps, but it also follows the nap of the earth like a ground attack aircraft locked on to its terrain-following radar. It curls around hillocks, it sweeps into shallow valleys and there are tighter mountain sections en route too.

    At first, my attention is drawn by the GLA’s punchy 190hp diesel. Set in Sport, throttle responses are so strong, the diesel delivers a lusty tug as soon as I put my foot down; no delay, no long pause. The 400Nm from just 1,600rpm clearly has a direct impact here. What also helps keep it on the boil is the quick-to-respond eight-speed twin-clutch gearbox that always seems to keep you in the powerband by snapping up to the next gear in a flash. Acceleration, as a result, is relentless. First comes a push in the back post 2,000rpm, this is soon followed by an even stronger shove, and hit 4,500rpm and BANG, the gearbox snap shifts you up, back into the thick of the powerband again. Having that extra eighth gear to play with sure does help. With its 4Matic system helping with traction off the line and the rear axle chiming in when the weight transfers to the back happens on hard acceleration, the GLA 220d hits 100kph in a seriously quick 7.4sec, almost half a second quicker than the BMW X1.

    The engine is extremely responsive; put your foot down and it just shoots forward.

    Working along with the engine and the gearbox is the uprated chassis. Now considerably stiffer and more rigid, despite the 30mm longer wheelbase, the new GLA also gets uprated suspension components. The steering knuckle and wishbones are finished in aluminium to help reduce unsprung mass, the rear multi-link suspension is mounted on a separate subframe, and to help give it more stability, the track is now wider. In addition, the 4Matic system, in Sport, can now send 30 percent of power to the rear wheels.

    The 8-speed twin-clutch gearbox is quick too.

    The GLA does roll a bit in corners when driven with a sense of verve, but because the brakes allow you to feel your way into a corner and the direct steering is accurate, placing the car exactly where you want is easy. Once in the corner, there’s a fair amount of grip and the GLA even feels quick when driven in a extremely committed manner, the rear axle chipping in on longer corners.

    Mercedes-Benz GLA 220d Acceleration (from rest)*

    *Performance not to Autocar India standards 

    2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA: ride and handling

    Set in Comfort, the GLA is also easygoing and relaxing to drive in urban conditions. Progress, when you get on the throttle, is immediate, the gearbox only slurs and hesitates occasionally, and the steering is light and easy to twirl. There is some amount of rattle from the diesel at idle, with a bit of vibration creeping up from the floor too, but rev the engine and it smoothens up nicely.

    It rolls a bit in corners, but it’s still agile and entertaining to drive on a winding road.

    The ride is comfortable. There’s suppleness and a hush here that’s quite gratifying – the GLA rides silently and without much body movement over poorly surfaced roads. Drive over regular potholes and there’s no real kick from the suspension, and that’s despite the large 19-inch wheels. The suspension, however, does get tripped up by deeper potholes and sharp-edged bumps, over which a sharp thud is felt. Once you go quicker, the ride smoothens up and then nothing really fazes the GLA.

    2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA: interiors

    With its longer wheelbase, wider track and taller roof, space inside the cabin is also much improved. This is especially true at the rear, where there now is a surprising amount of space. Legroom, at a premium on the previous-generation GLA, is more than sufficient here; you can place your feet under the seats up front and there’s ample headroom too, even for tall individuals. You are sat a bit lower than in other Merc SUVs, and the seat isn’t as large, but will the GLA make for a good chauffeur driven car? Absolutely.

    Seats generously proportioned, supportive and built tough; but are a bit hard.

    You even get a pair of sunroofs that help brighten up the cabin, a pair of nicely placed vents between the front seats and a comfortable elbow rest. However, the rear doors aren’t too large and ingress and egress could have been easier. Still, the new GLA feels like a larger, more substantial SUV, and that’s exactly what the doctor ordered.

    Deconstructed dash has an attractive blend of surfaces and materials; coloured LEDs help lift mood.

    Boot space isn’t class-leading, however. The new GLA has a maximum of 435 litres (without the spare), and cars in India will get a space saver placed in a purpose-built compartment, which will eat up some amount of space. Still, you can enhance luggage space by sliding the rear seats forward and straightening the backrest. And you can fold and flip the seats too.

    Production cars will get a flat space saver tyre placed under floor.

    The GLA impresses up front as well. With its pair of large flat-panel screens placed in the same plane, high-quality flat-bottom steering wheel, luscious twist-to-close vents, and customisable LED mood lighting, the cabin shares many bits with more expensive Mercs and this lends a considerable upmarket feel. Then there’s the attractive ‘deconstructed’ dash. Rather than being fixed in place, many of the elements appear to be freestanding and this looks cool. Merc’s designers have also used piano black on the centre console for greater separation, and the panel of brushed aluminium above the glovebox also works well. The elbow box isn’t too large, but the glovebox is of a fair size and the door pads can hold large bottles, both at the front and rear.

    There’s plenty of rear legroom by class standards; GLA only has Type-C USB sockets.

    2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA: features

    What the new GLA also has, and in abundance, is that tough Mercedes build. A core part of the Mercedes-Benz intrigue, that ‘thump’ you get when you shut the door is a good indicator of the solid build. And then what also impresses is that the dash is also robustly put together. Some of the plastics lower down on the dash, like the speaker enclosures in the door pads, don’t feel quite as solidly built, the seats feel a bit stiff and there is some kit missing. You don’t get any audio warning when you are reversing, for example, you need to take the key out of your pocket to unlock the front doors, and while there are half a dozen or so USB ports, they are all Type C, so you need to carry an extra adapter. Also, while there is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, it’s not wireless.

    Twin sunroofs brighten up cabin, especially at the rear, where extra light is welcome.

    Still, there are features that delight as well. The GLA gets ‘kinetic seats’ that, when switched on, make tiny movements on their own every few minutes to help take the load off pressure points on your back and thighs. The MBUX system reduces the AC fan speed when you are on a call or are using the ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice prompt, and since you can vary the intensity and colour of the LED mood lighting strips, customising them is easy. You also get all the benefits of connected tech and here you can use Alexa and Google voice commands from home to source all sorts of information about your car. This includes remote start, so you can pre-cool the cabin. This version of the GLA also gets radar-based Active Brake Assist that brakes for you if it senses you are going to hit an object.

    An inclinometer is part of digital suite.

    2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA: first verdict

    Mercedes’ new GLA, straight off the bat, is a more accomplished luxury SUV. This is true in practically all areas. Space and comfort are much better to begin with, performance is stronger, it’s more enjoyable to drive and even quality and kit on the inside are superior. There is some kit missing and the boot isn’t very large, though. The diesel versions of the GLA are a bit more expensive than rivals, with the GLA 220d priced at Rs 43.70 lakh and the GLA 220d 4Matic priced at Rs 46.70 lakh (ex-showroom, India). Still, if you are looking for a compact luxury SUV that delivers a strong all-round performance, Merc’s new GLA has what it takes to be the best SUV in its class.

    Also see:

    2021 Mercedes GLA launched at Rs 42.10 lakh

    Mercedes-Benz sells 3,193 SUVs, sedans in Q1 2021

    Tech Specs

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