2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA45 review: Small footprint, big character
The first generation Mercedes GLA45 AMG sucked. It was an expensive heap that was perpetually uncomfortable and looked as good as it drove. Thankfully, Mercedes-AMG has learned a few lessons over the years. Now, the new Mercedes-AMG GLA45 for 2021 is a fully crafted compact luxury crossover with a crazy little powertrain tucked under the hood for good measure, creating a hell of a second act.
- Gobs of power
- Car-like handling
- Well furnished interiors
I do not like
- Ride a little stiff
- Unstable low-speed transmission
- Tiny trunk
The original GLA-Class looked like a surprise sedan that wore high shoes. The gist is the same this time around: the second-generation GLA-Class is still basically a sedan with a lift kit – but I think the look is more consistent. The wide-open face has been swapped in favor of something a little more aerodynamic, but I think the GLA45 looks better from behind, where a short overhang and those ever-present quad AMG tailpipes create an aggressive aesthetic.
The interior of the GLA no longer feels sadly cheap. There isn’t a tiny screen floating atop a menagerie of dated buttons; instead, everything is mounted beautifully and low, and borrowing many different design points from larger and more expensive Mercedes models means the interior looks much more valuable than before, even if the dashboard is still mottled vinyl and there are still a few hard plastic cases scattered around. As an AMG, I’m not surprised to see carbon fiber make an appearance on the dashboard and door panels, but thankfully, there’s not so much of it that I feel like I’m headed for Hot Import Nights. Pair it with some more premium touches like the appropriate metal on the optional Nappa leather wrapped steering wheel ($ 400), and you’ve got a nice place to hang out.
Small cars need to prioritize function, as there isn’t a lot of excess space floating around. The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA45 has solid interior packaging in this case, with a sufficiently deep compartment under the armrest, large pockets on the doors and a large storage tray in front of the cup holders. The crossover roof is pretty flat, meaning rear row occupants have plenty of room, and it feels much more airy when the $ 1,500 panoramic glass roof is thrown into the mix. Rear seat storage options are limited, as the center seat doesn’t convert to a foldable armrest (unless you pay $ 360 for the privilege) and the door pockets are a bit small, but the people in the side rear get cargo nets on the front backs along with two USB-C ports and a two-prong 115-volt socket, which is nice. However, despite being a hatchback, cargo space is on the meager side; The GLA45’s 15.4 cubic foot trunk pales in comparison to that of the Volvo XC40 (20.7), Audi Q3 (23.7) and BMW X1 (27.1).
Under the hood of the GLA45 is one of my favorite automotive engineering marvels: the M139 engine. Capable of producing over 400 horsepower in some current European-only applications, this 2.0-liter high-voltage I4 turbo is integrated, and it deserves that royal treatment. While the noise fluctuates somewhere between “mad hive” and “mad farm equipment”, the 382 hp and 354 pound-feet of torque this engine delivers in the GLA45 is perfect.
It is also a strange engine; sure, it’ll sit low in revs and spit torque if needed, but there’s some old-school Honda VTEC action here, because the M139 loves rev. It will stay between 4,000 and 7,000 rpm throughout the day, generating more power than any Michigan secondary road can tolerate. The GLA45’s eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission is affected or not, though; while it offers near-instant shifts (and a bit of extra exhaust theater) under heavy load, it’s not very smooth at lower speeds. If you give it a little more acceleration than necessary, especially when the stop-start system is activated, it will leap forward loudly. A few sharp thrusts of the throttle are also met with a “hurry up and wait” attitude, as the transmission searches for the gear it wants and then takes its sweet time to pull it up.
The rest of the GLA45 driving experience largely depends on the mode. The car is surprisingly cool in its default Comfort setting. The standard adaptive suspension is still sports car stiff in this mode, but it’s smooth enough on pleasant roads where I could imagine long journeys more than manageable. Flip the switch to Sport and the GLA45 is ready for the party; body roll disappears underfoot, steering weight increases to almost comical proportions, and the transmission finally knows what gear it wants to be in ahead of time. His far too aggressive for any road that wasn’t paved yesterday, especially in post-snow Michigan, where thaw cycles have put smaller holes inside last year’s as-yet-unrepaired big holes, but it’s still a blast.
Fuel economy is also not in the absolute pits. The EPA rates the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA45 at 20 miles per city gallon, 27 mpg on the highway and 23 mpg combined. For a nearly 400-horsepower performance car, that’s not bad at all, and in real-world driving I’m capable of surprisingly close to 30 mpg on the highway. A light foot will take you far.
While the first-generation GLA-Class felt more like a tech punishment, the opposite is the case with the 2021 GLA45. MBUX, the automaker’s latest and largest infotainment system, comes standard and resides on a 10-inch touchscreen. 3 inches with redundant physical controls on the steering wheel and center console. It’s a fabulous system, with a menu layout that doesn’t take long to master, responsiveness even shortly after a cold boot, and all the usual built-in din like a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot,is . The “Hey, Mercedes” natural language speech recognition works great too. Charging is done via four USB ports in total: one USB-C for the cup holders, one USB-A in the center armrest, and a pair of USB-C ports in the back. Make sure the cables are up to date, however, as the USB-A port on the front doesn’t support smartphone mirroring. Built-in navigation is a $ 1,295 option, and while it includes the turn-by-turn augmented reality display, it might not be worth it if you’re a smartphone fanatic.
While safety technology may not be at the fore in a high-performance car, Mercedes-Benz makes sure it’s there, as long as you feel like paying for it. Standard driver assistance is limited to blind spot monitoring, front collision warning and automatic emergency braking. Drop $ 1,090 to add a surround camera and parking sensors, or drop $ 1,700 for Adaptive Full Speed Cruise Control, Lane Keep Assist, Active Blind Spot Monitoring, and Speed Adaptation based on path.
Despite all the cool stuff picked from the tallest branches of the Mercedes-Benz tree, the 2021 AMG GLA45 isn’t all that expensive. It will cost $ 55,550 including destination to set foot in the door, and most of the options available are contained in budget upgrade packages. My tester stockpiles that, including enhanced leather, metallic paint, larger 20-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, and the navigation package, leaving the factory with a $ 62,150 window sticker. Not too run down.
The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA45 doesn’t really have much competition. Its small footprint places it in a lower class than other more powerful luxury vehicles such as the BMW X3 M40i and Audi SQ5, and there are no comparable variants of the BMW X1 / X2 or Audi Q3: the BMW X2 M35i could be close, I guess, but closer to the slightly less lively GLA35. That’s arguably for the best, though, because any automaker would have a hard time getting past the GLA45’s equal doses of entry-level luxury and all-out powertrain madness.