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2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 220d road test review

Tuhin Guha Updated: July 09, 2021, 09:59 AM IST
In a place like India where making a statement goes a long way, it's very easy to see the appeal of small, entry-level luxury cars like this 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA. No wonder then that the last-gen GLA singularly accounted for 10 per cent of all Mercedes-Benz India sales between 2014 and 2019. But this second-gen model has been a while coming(you can thank the pandemic for that) since its global debut in late 2019, causing Mercedes to leave a good chunk of cash at the table. Now that it is finally here, does it draw that fine but critical line between being more attainable while still offering a genuine Mercedes experience?

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 220d, 220d 4Matic dimensions, styling, architecture

It doesn't take more than a passing glance to know that this is a ground-up revision of the Mercedes-Benz GLA, sharing its MFA2 front-wheel-drive architecture with the new A-Class Limousine. The SUV is now 14mm shorter, 30mm wider and 104mm taller than the outgoing GLA. Combined with the 46mm increase in track widths, the GLA has lost its slightly lanky, jacked-up hatchback look for a squatter, more proportioned stance. It's more sophisticated to the eye but those who want to be seen in something with a traditional SUV's presence may have to look elsewhere.

As for the GLA's styling, it draws heavily from the new crop of Mercedes SUVs. The more organic LED headlamps give it a unique face in the family but the concave grille, dotted with chrome on the top AMG Line version, the large Mercedes logo and the wide air dam are all familiar Mercedes design cues. Similarly, there is more restrained bodywork all around with simple surfaces and minimal cuts or creases. The rear-end with the wide two-part LED taillamps and the sharp sill below the raked rear windscreen accentuate the GLA's width quite well, even if it can sometimes look a bit familiar.

These elements make for a machine that captures much of the richness you expect from any other Mercedes and the AMG Line design pack on the top GLA 220d 4Matic seen here heightens this sense further with its straked bumper elements, the subtle chrome accents on the cladding and the faux exhausts and vents at the rear. The 19-inch AMG wheels, unique to this version and finished in gunmetal grey, make the GLA look especially intentful.

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 220d, 220d 4Matic interiors, features, practicality

Again staying true to recent Mercedes tradition, the GLA makes the biggest impact with its interiors, Mercedes-Benz has managed to recreate much of the plushness of its larger cars in this scaled-down version. It's a familiar layout highlighted by the pair of 10.25-inch MBUX screens with their crisp graphics, the voice assistant and fairly easy functionality. The wide centre stack with the touchpad and toggle switches shored up by the tasteful ambient lighting highlights are typical of a current Mercedes as well.  The tubular air vents carry that same damped and tactile feel as in the brand's other cars and there is a similar sense from most of the controls and switchgear.

Much of this is shared with the new A-Class but some thoughtful distinctions have been made. The layered dash layout of the A-Class has been replaced with a flatter face and a contrasting panel on the passenger side. Also different is the tubular design for the door handles which is finished in cold stainless steel. This section highlights the very thoughtful use of materials and finishes that is a standout with these entry-level Mercedeses. But if we had to be picky, the bank of piano-style switches on the dash could have felt a bit less plasticky and the plastic around the footwell seemed to miss the softness that you would find in something like an E-Class.

The Mercedes-Benz GLA 220d AMG Line is done up in an all-black theme and feels particularly rich with its brushed aluminium highlights, the flat bottomed steering wheel, contrasting stitching and well-placed suede patches. The Progressive Line(there are no 'base' variants as such) is more in the mould of a traditional luxury car, with textured wood and beige that adds a greater sense of space. Although, the large dual-pane sunroof doesn't make the AMG Line feel too hemmed in either. Both versions get many large storage spaces, especially in the centre console with its neat wireless charging pad, and under the armrest. The front seats are very supportive and fully powered if a bit too stiffly padded. They even get the seat kinetics function usually reserved for the likes of the GLE. This works well by making minor adjustments to the seatback and base to keep you from feeling stiff after a long journey.

The new architecture has brought with it a 30mm longer wheelbase, although improved space management has freed up a significant 114mm of rear legroom. Elbow room and shoulder room have also seen sizeable increases here but three abreast will still be a tight fit, and the bulged door cards make ingress/egress a tad difficult for some. The enlarged dimensions have brought the GLA up to speed with rivals and should keep all but the tallest passengers comfortable, the large space below the front seats useful at eking out a bit more legroom. We would have liked the bench to offer a tad more under-thigh support though and again slightly softer cushioning. A separate climate zone here would have been nice too, there is a two-zone climate control on offer otherwise.

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 220d, 220d 4Matic Engine, gearbox, performance

Expectedly, the new GLA uses the same engine-gearbox combinations as the A-Class Limousine. The petrol is the 1.3-litre turbo co-developed with Renault-Nissan and makes the same 165PS and 250 Nm, paired with the seven-speed DCT. The diesel is again the familiar OM654 unit but unlike the A-Class is offered here in its higher 190PS and 400 Nm tune. We drove the diesel paired with the AWD system on the top-spec GLA 220d 4Matic and immediately striking is the performance advantage over the detuned A-Class. There are some mild vibrations through the pedals in the first two gears, and while not too apparent in isolation, some diesel clatter finds its way into the cabin at lower revs. But get past this and there's a surprisingly undiesel-like growl past 3,500 rpm.

The motor's performance matches this aural surprise too. Combined with the eight-speed DCT, revs are kept well below 2,000rpm in most daily driving situations so it's always a calming experience whether you are crawling along in traffic or making quick ground on the highway. There is a confident surge of torque when you need it to help you along throughout this. But switch to the Sport mode, and this motor shrugs off this prim character very easily. The gearbox, about as intuitive as any DCT out there, now holds revs longer so you have more of the powerband to play with. It'll even engine brake quite aggressively when needed and put you smack in the middle of the powerband on downshifts. The paddle shifters offer that extra degree of control but are largely unnecessary if you aren't one to drive your GLA hard.

Ironically, the few grouses we have here is with the DCT. It holds downshifts a tad longer than ideal in the Eco or Comfort modes, so slowing down from speed can take a bit more attention. And as is typical of many such DCTs, shifts in the lower gears can feel hesitant and jerky sometimes. The OM 654 has consistently topped our fuel efficiency tests for any segment it finds itself in and with a combined fuel efficiency of 14.32 kmpl for the AWD and 14.72 kmpl for the FWD, we think this could be the GLA to get despite the higher upfront cost.

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 220d, 220d 4Matic Ride and handling

With this impressive motor tugging it along, the Mercedes GLA feels largely confident on the move. In normal operation, there's very little to belie its front-driven architecture. Even with the 4Matic AWD, only 20 per cent of the available torque goes to the rear wheels, increasing to 30 per cent in the Sport mode. This assistance is largely imperceptible in regular driving but offers a nice sense of composure when you need grip like when accelerating hard or around a twisty section on your road trip.

The GLA feels most poised on the highway with the large tyre sizes and well-judged suspension keeping it confident over cracks and undulations. There are some untoward body movements over undulations but nothing out of the ordinary for something with over 180mm of ground clearance. Anyway, the GLA settles quite easily once faced with such obstacles. The GLA also holds up well around corners, there is some lean as expected but the largely precise steering, even more so in the Sport mode, keeps the small SUV in check. Only more spirited drivers will miss the added poise a rear-driven platform brings with it.

As for regular city use, the GLA can feel a tad stiff over bad patches of road with thuds quite audible over bumps and potholes. This sense is heightened by the 50-profile tyres on the AMG Line version but with quite a soft rebound this doesn't become especially uncomfortable. The Progressive Line trim with its 18-inch wheels softens out the rough edges further. Some of the dynamism of the 4Matic is lost with this version, but this is hardly evident in regular use.

The 4Matic version also comes with an off-road mode that splits torque 50:50 between the two axles, but with its low profile wheel and tyre combinations and crossover shape, the GLA is best restricted to the odd dirt road.

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 220d, 220d 4Matic Safety

The India-spec Mercedes-Benz GLA now gets an active braking function alongside the brake assist function already seen on other Mercedes cars. This rounds off a strong suite of safety features that includes seven airbags including a knee bag, a bonnet that pops up to protect pedestrians on impact, the pre-safe system as well as TPMS and for the AWD version, hill-descent control.

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 220d, 220d 4Matic Verdict

Prices start at Rs 42.10 lakh for the petrol Mercedes-Benz GLA. This goes up to Rs 43.7 lakh for the GLA 220d while the 4Matic diesel is priced at Rs 46.7 lakh. A further Rs 1.5 lakh increase in prices come into effect post-June 30 so the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA will come at a premium over rivals like the BMW X1 and Volvo XC40. But this hike seems justifiable, to an extent, the 4Matic diesel is a bit too close to the Rs 50 lakh mark for our comfort. We would have liked a more pliant ride and a bit more aggression in the looks but with the very capable diesel drivetrain and the segment-best interior and features list, the GLA does a very convincing job of bringing the full Mercedes SUV experience to a lower price point.

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 220d 4Matic real-world mileage and performance

0 to 100 kmph - 7.51s
30 to 50 kmph - 1.5s
50 to 70 kmph - 1.9s
60 to 80 kmph - 2.1s
100 to 0 kmph - 40.5m, 3.1s

City fuel efficiency - 13.36 kmpl
Highway fuel efficiency - 17.20 kmpl
Overall fuel efficiency - 14.32 kmpl

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 220d real-world mileage and performance

0 to 100 kmph - 7.67s
30 to 50 kmph - 1.7s
50 to 70 kmph - 2.1s
60 to 80 kmph - 2.1s
100 to 0 kmph - 40.8, 3.3s

City fuel efficiency - 13.38 kmpl
Highway fuel efficiency - 18.14 kmpl
Overall fuel efficiency - 14.72 kmpl

Images by Anis Shaikh

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Price (Ex-Delhi)
Starts Rs 42.1 Lakhs
Displacement
1950cc
Transmission
Automatic
Max Power(ps)
163
Max Torque(Nm)
400
Mileage
-NA-
Price (Ex-Delhi)
Starts Rs 35.9 Lakhs
Displacement
1995cc
Transmission
Automatic
Max Power(ps)
190
Max Torque(Nm)
400
Mileage
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Starts Rs 63.6 Lakhs
Displacement
2925cc
Transmission
Automatic
Max Power(ps)
194
Max Torque(Nm)
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Mileage
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Price (Ex-Delhi)
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Displacement
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Transmission
Automatic
Max Power(ps)
245
Max Torque(Nm)
700
Mileage
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Price (Ex-Delhi)
Starts Rs 2.17 Crore
Displacement
2999cc
Transmission
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Max Power(ps)
330
Max Torque(Nm)
500
Mileage
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Price (Ex-Delhi)
Starts Rs 39.9 Lakhs
Displacement
1969cc
Transmission
Automatic
Max Power(ps)
190
Max Torque(Nm)
300
Mileage
-NA-
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