We drive the all-new Mercedes Benz GLA to find out what has changed…
Words: Neeraj Padmakumar Photography: Amal
Mercedes Benz had launched the all-new GLA in India in May 2021. Based on an all-new platform, the 2021 GLA has quite a lot to talk about. It has become a worthier competition for the new BMW X1, upcoming Audi Q3, and Volvo XC40 with the update. However, the new GLA clearly has a fair premium in price over the car it replaces. More on that later, let’s stick to what’s being offered for now…
There are a total of four versions to the new GLA: GLA 200 petrol, GLA 220d Diesel, GLA 220d 4MATIC diesel, and the mighty GLA 35 AMG 4MATIC with a significantly high price tag and matching specs. The most sensible could be the GLA 220d for many but we think the perfect balance of performance and luxury would be found on the AWD-equipped GL220d 4MATIC, which we drive today.
Platform, Dimensions And Styling
One look at it, and you will get to know that the 2021 GLA incorporates extensive revision in the overall design and dimensions. The actual changes however are deeper. The new GLA is built on the new-generation MFA2 platform. This Front-Wheel-Drive architecture is the same that underpins the recently launched A class limousine as well.
Overall dimensions have been decently revised. The vehicle has become slightly shorter (by 14mm to be precise), even as the wheelbase went up by around 30mm. It is 30mm wider (with around 46 mm hike in tack width) and over 100mm taller than the previous model. All these tweaks have added notable visual bulk to it. The GLA gains more SUV stance with the update and no longer looks like a ‘hatchback on steroids’. This is very evident from the sides and the rear.
In terms of its overall design, the new GLA keeps the moniker’s styling essence safe. GLA220d 4MATIC being the top-spec diesel, comes with an AMG Line kit that gets an aggressive Chrome pin grille, fancier bumpers with wider air dams, and sporty 19-inch wheels (18-inch units are offered on the regular car). Bigger wheels also render more off-road usability to the SUV. 2021 GLA gets LED headlamps that look fairly like the ones from bigger Mercedes SUVs, gorgeous Two-part LED tail lamps, and a familiar roofline.
On a very personal note, I loved the side profile of the new GLA. Owing to the bump in height, it looks more mature and is interestingly super-clean! There is no clutter of body lines or creases. The design is clean and complete with the squared-out wheel arches and classy roofline in place.
Interior : Space And Design
The first thing you would notice inside the new GLA would be the sense of space, especially if you have had stints with the previous car. The new GLA’s cabin feels fairly roomy and airy. The seats are fairly large and offer ample space. The new car is definitely a handsome improvement over the previous one and the extra wheelbase does help a lot in keeping things sweet inside. But, have all those upward revisions in overall dimensions translated to equivalent room additions on the inside? Well, I doubt…
The legroom, headroom, and knee room have grown considerably from the previous car. The rear knee room is the best in its class, but the backseat as such is not something you would end up calling ‘immensely spacious. Many non-luxury SUVs with identical pricing could offer you better rear-seat experiences, but again, a Mercedes is a Mercedes!
You sit a tad lower in the new GLA than you would in other Mercedes SUVs. In-cabin storage needs are well addressed. The glovebox is decently spacious, the elbow box has ample space inside, and the door pads too can afford fair-sized bottles. At 435 liters, the boot has grown from what it was before and is decently spacious on paper. However, the space-saver spare wheel eats a fair share of its capacity. The rear row can be flipped and folded for more boot space.'
A little disappointment, however, would be the size of the rear doors. Many might find them a bit under-sized for easy ingress and egress of ‘plus’ body sizes.
Features And Equipment
There is no compromise on the overall sense of plushness inside. The cabin has a dark theme to it and there are a number of premium/ luxe bits inside. The most noteworthy among these would be the ‘Alcantara-like’ upholstery material called DINAMICA. Finished in Black with contrast Red stitching, this microfibre looks and feels almost as good as Alcantara. In fact, I had initially taken this for Alcantara and wondered what something as premium as Alcantara was doing in an entry-level Merc! It took me quite some time to cope with the reality. The only complaint, however, is that the seats lack ventilation.
The next big thing inside is the customizable 64 color ambient lighting, which imparts a sense of being inside a bigger Merc to the occupants. These look extremely appealing during night drives. Another key thing is the ‘deconstructed dashboard’ which strikes your eye instantly. Many of its elements are detached from the main unit and are freestanding. The new GLA also has a pair of 10.25-inch flat-panel screens placed on the same plane, like what we have recently been seeing on many Mercedes models.
Other premium touches include stylish twist-to-close air vents, flat-bottom steering wheel, panoramic sunroof, multiple touches of brushed Aluminium and Piano Black etc.
The infotainment unit on the new Merc GLA sports the latest generation MBUX infotainment engine offering multiple connectivities like (wired) Apple Carplay and Android Auto, Alexa and Google Voice commands integration etc. The audio quality is great as well. To access the touchscreen and its options more conveniently, there is a touchpad on the central tunnel which offers haptic feedback too, a familiar bit of many Mercedes cars. The elbow box has a great tactile feel to it, and there is a little wrist support (that some might confuse for a shifter!) so that one feels at home while driving around and operating the touchpad. There are also a number of USB ports spread across the cabin, but are all Type-C units, demanding you to always have an adapter handy.
Mercedes Benz has provided something called ‘ Seat Kinetics’ for the front seats, on the updated GLA. When activated, this slightly tweaks the seat positions every now and then, to let the load off the pressure points on the occupant’s back and thighs. We found these to be extremely comforting on our long drives. Budget massaging? Well, kinda!
The 2021 Mercedes GLA220d 4MATIC is powered by a 2.0L turbocharged diesel engine producing 190 hp and 400 Nm, channelled to all four wheels via an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The 4MATIC AWD system provides mouth-watering acceleration and even has a dedicated mode for slight off-roading. There are also paddle shifters to aid the automatic gearbox.
The new GLA 220d 4MATIC feels quick off the line. Floor the pedal and the vehicles sprints forward with much enthusiasm. You get to access the torque from 1,600 rpm onwards. The mid-range is the sweetest part of this powertrain. Post 2000 spins, the delivery is strong and flattering! The engine offers ample juice till 4,500-4,600 rpm. 0-100 kph is completed in just 7.4 seconds. This is fairly quick for a car of this class. The BMW X1 often considered a benchmark for performance in this segment, is almost half a second slower at 7.8 seconds.
The gearbox feels great and responsive. Overall gearing seems wise and practical. The 7th and 8th gears are tall while the lower ones are mostly city-friendly.
The 4MATIC AWD system is in great sync with the rest of the drivetrain. While starting off the line, power is sent to all the wheels, with the major share of it going to the front wheels. As it gains momentum, the drive shifts to the front wheels alone. The rear wheels regain power as and when a need for quick acceleration arises. In Sport mode, the system sends up to 30% power to the rear wheels.
Overall refinement is decent. There is some amount of rattle from the diesel engine, and a fair bit of vibrations felt at idles, both of which tend to smoothen up as the revs go up.
Ride And Handling
The new platform has improved the overall ride and handling of the updated GLA. Courtesy of its wider track and updated springs (the rear now gets a multi-link unit instead of the previous torsion beam), the new GLA feels much better and mature around corners. You can chuck this vehicle into corners and come out fast. Owing to its added height, there is some amount of body roll felt, which is never intrusive. The steering offers a decent connection with the road and the tyres have great grip. The AWD plays a key role in ensuring ample traction around corners. Braking is decent, but I feel they are just enough to match the output of this powertrain. A set of slightly better brakes would have been wonderful.
The new GLA is more or less a balancing act on the ride and handling front. It offers decent ride quality along with mature corner manners. Low-speed rides are quite sorted, even with the 19-inch wheels. Small potholes and humps are almost flattened while going slow. As you gain momentum, the ride smoothens up further.
Off Road Capability?
The GLA is still not something you would want to take to medium or hardcore trails. It can handle minor off-roads and ruts, with the new design tweaks and powertrain revamps. The ground clearance feels friendly on rough roads and ruts. The 4MATIC system has a dedicated ‘off-road’ mode to it, which offers favorable power delivery on mild terrains. It is rare that you would get stuck with this car, thanks to the effective torque vectoring. The large wheels also contribute greatly to the terrain handling abilities.
Safety And Assist Functions
The new GLA packs a decent array of safety equipment including 7 airbags, radar-based Active Brake Assist (automatic emergency braking) etc. The build quality has also improved from the previous car, giving it a 5 star Euro NCAP rating. An inclinometer and a gyro monitor are part of the instrument cluster.
What Could Have Been Better?
Even when it continues to be an appealing package, the new GLA does fall back on certain fronts. There are a few key omissions/ misses on the equipment array. Then SUV does not get audio warnings for reversing and comes just with the camera feed. Also, there is no keyless entry- you need to take the key out of your pocket and unlock the car, each time you would wanna get in. These are not things you would want to endure in a Mercedes and are in fact, things you would get on many non-luxury competitors.
Price And Verdict
2021 Mercedes Benz GLA 220d 4MATIC is priced at 48.10 lakh (ex-showroom). This is admittedly a slight premium over the nearest German rival with a diesel engine. So, should you buy one? Well, the GLA has grown up considerably. It is not a ‘Baby Mercedes’ anymore. It has gained character, become mature on the road, and is more luxurious inside. If you are looking for a compact luxury SUV (a hatchback nomore!) with a sweet performance-comfort balance, consider this a high-priority option.