First Drive: 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA Is an Improvement Over Flawed Predecessor

Mercedes doubles down with a second entry-level luxury compact SUV offering

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA front three-quarters view

The German automaker made some significant changes to the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA, the smallest SUV in its lineup. The model still serves as an entry-level option for buyers who want to get into a luxury-level vehicle at an “affordable” price. We were happy to find that the redesign addressed a number of the weaknesses we found in the first-generation GLA.

It’s smaller than the boxier, more upright GLB, which has a longer wheelbase and overall length. The two SUVs also share the same front-wheel-drive-based platform as Mercedes’ A-Class and CLA small sedans.

Prices start at $36,230 for the front-wheel-drive GLA 250; the all-wheel-drive GLA 250 4Matic costs $2,000 more. Both models are powered by a 221-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission. The main competitors for the GLA are the Audi Q3, BMW X2, Jaguar E-Pace, and Volvo XC40.

So far we’ve been driving the GLA for its 2,000-mile break-in period, after which we’ll put the GLA through the instrumented portion of our test program, such as determining overall fuel economy and wet and dry braking distances, among many other tests.

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If you’re a Consumer Reports member, our initial assessment of the Mercedes-Benz GLA is available to you here. We plan to put it through more than 50 tests at CR’s Auto Test Center, including those that evaluate acceleration, braking, fuel economy, handling, car-seat fit, and controls. CR members will get access to the full road-test results as soon as they’re available.

If you haven’t signed up yet, click below and become a member to access this full article and all our exclusive ratings and reviews for each vehicle we buy and test. Joining also gives you full access to exclusive ratings for the other products our experts evaluate in several categories, including electronics and appliances, among others.

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What we bought: 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic
Powertrain: 221-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine; 8-speed automatic transmission; all-wheel drive
MSRP: $38,230
Options: Iridium Silver metallic paint, $720; heated steering wheel, $250; garage door opener, $280; Adjustable second-row seat, $360; heated front seats, $500; 64-color interior ambient lighting, $310; USB-C adapter cable, $25; Premium package, including 10.25-inch center display, 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, power folding side mirrors, keyless entry, and auto-dimming mirrors, $1,750
Total options: $4,195
Destination fee: $1,050
Total cost: $43,475

CR's Take

Even though it has sleek styling, the GLA still delivers a good dose of practicality. Like the more boxy GLB, it’s a path to Mercedes-Benz ownership at a reasonably low price. The model is targeted at buyers who want a small SUV that’s easy to maneuver and park, along with the prestige of a luxury nameplate.

Much like the GLB, the GLA delivers a mostly-enjoyable driving experience, although its firm ride on all but the smoothest roads leaves something to be desired. So far, the drivetrain has proved to be a mixed bag. The eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission is an improvement over the seven-speed used in the A-Class and CLA, but we’ve experienced some initial acceleration lag when starting up from a stop, and also some clunks from the transmission at low speeds.

The cabin is dominated by a wide screen that stretches across most of the dashboard, serving as both the instrument cluster and the infotainment system. This setup is cumbersome and distracting to use while driving. But drivers have noted that there is a surprising amount of passenger room, front and rear, and the second-row seat is significantly more comfortable than the one in the GLB.

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