by Frank A. Aukofer

Some autophiles, likely including buyers and intenders for the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 4MATIC crossover sport utility vehicle, gravitate toward the best performing vehicle in the class. 

That attitude is what prompted the development of more expensive ultra-performance machines like the BMW M series, Audi S, Cadillac V, Lexus F, and, of course, Mercedes-AMG. The last started as an independent tuner outfit that massaged standard Mercedes automobiles and gave them supercar transplants.

Mercedes eventually bought AMG, and now it is the hot rod division of the German manufacturer, tweaking existing models and adding styling touches, some of which became options that made standard models look like AMGs but without the performance innards.

That’s what happened with the Mercedes GLA 250, the company’s entry-level crossover SUV. It was redesigned for the 2021 model year and can be ordered with a $2,240 AMG appearance package. 

The one reviewed here earlier had the AMG package, front-wheel drive, and a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 221 horsepower 258 lb-ft of torque. A quick-shifting eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission enabled a 0-to-60 acceleration time in the six-second range. It had a competitive base price of $37,280, including the destination charge and, with options, a bottom-line sticker of $48,620.

Moreover, the GLA250 had a sporting personality that made it a candidate for an AMG makeover, which has become a substantial niche for Mercedes. In 2020, the company sold 294,916 passenger cars and crossovers and 50,999 vans. AMG versions of the passenger vehicles totaled 34,079, or 12.4 percent.

The AMG GLA 35 and the GLA 250 are lookalike, fraternal twin athletes, about the same size but with different orientations — getting the performance job done with brute force instead of finesse.

The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 4MATIC tested here came with all-wheel drive and a 302-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged engine with 295 lb-ft of torque, enough for a stated 0-to-60 acceleration time of five seconds. Its starting price of $48,600 is close to the as-tested price of the GLA250. A substantial list of options, including $1,500 for a panoramic sunroof and $1,450 for leather upholstery, brought the tested price to $54,455.

Standard equipment included blind-spot monitoring in a full suite of active and passive safety measures, as well as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, dual-zone automatic climate control, SXM satellite radio,  LED headlights and taillights, digital instrument cluster and center display, heated front seats, and auto-dimming inside and outside mirrors.

A couple of negatives: the sun visors did not extend to block sunlight from the side entirely, and a flimsy cloth sunshade allowed too much sunlight inside.

Aficionados might argue that the $5,835 higher price for the AMG GLA 35 is acceptable, given its increased horsepower, faster acceleration, tighter suspension system, and luxury appointments. 

But unless you’re a buyer who craves the top of the line no matter what, you can easily justify choosing the less expensive GLA 250. It has exceptional handling for a small crossover and enough power for any situation on the nation’s increasingly traffic-choked and pockmarked streets and highways.

The AMG GLA 35 4Matic, on the other hand, acts more like an aggressive racer with distinct sounds from under the hood that loudly advertise the surplus of power. 

With its stiffer suspension system and bigger wheels and tires, the GLA 35 has a choppy ride, even in the Comfort driving mode, on all but pool-table smooth asphalt surfaces. Bumps and indents send shock waves directly to passenger tailbones. Seats are reasonably comfortable with good support and bolstering, though the lumbar adjustments could use improvement.

The GLA 35 has five drive modes: Slippery, Individual, Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus. The last two tighten up an already stiff chassis and change the shift points for more aggressive acceleration. 

The outboard seats are supportive and comfortable in the back, with ample knee and headroom for averaged sized adults. However, think of the GLA 35 as a four-passenger vehicle. As usual in many vehicles these days, the center-rear seat is compromised by a high, hard cushion and intrusion of a big floor hump. There’s a cargo area of more than 15 cubic feet that expands to 51 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded.

From an economic standpoint — though who buys either machine for economy? — there’s not much difference. The GLA 250 front-driver has a city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 25/34/28 miles to the gallon compared to 23/29/25 for the GLA 35.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 4Matic four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 302 hp, 295 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 7 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 98/15 cubic feet. (51)
  • Weight: 3,653 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/29/25 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $48,600.
  • Price as tested: $54,455.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz