2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 at a glance
|Turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder
|Automatic climate control, trackpad UI navigation, dual 10.25-inch screens, MBUX infotainment, integrated track analytics
|Price as tested MSRP Canadian (estimate)
Mercedes-Benz Canada provided a 2021 AMG GLA 35 and a tank of fuel for this review
Compact SUVs, like the 2021 Mercedes-AMG 35, are a bit of a funny thing. Every manufacturer seems to have a different way to approach how to build this segment. But, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 sets itself apart from others in this price range in such a way that makes it nearly need a category all its own. The GLA 35 isn’t a car that got inflated, and it isn’t a larger SUV that shrunk in the wash, either. Our test is AMG-tuned, with a ride and handling more in line with a hot hatch. But the roofline makes for impressive leg and headroom on the inside, not unlike what an SUV has. The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 manages to be fast and fun without sacrificing the refinements that the Mercedes nameplate demands.
An SUV for car enthusiasts
The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 manages to combine elements of a car and SUV in a way that doesn’t fail at being either. Those who are fans of larger vehicles find themselves at home in the spacious interior. Adults easily fit into the rear seats, even tall ones. But from the outside, the GLA 35 doesn’t look like a tall SUV. It doesn’t drive or ride like one either. On the road, the AMG tuning fits the size perfectly. AMG tuned the turbos in a way that makes any lag hard to detect. Navigating through highway traffic is a joy in the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35, especially with the drive-mode selector dial set to Sport+.
But for all the interior space and size, there isn’t much about driving that will intimidate people who prefer cars. Sightlines are excellent, and you have no problem getting a feel for where your tires are. The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 cockpit feels compact without being tight, like a small car. People who don’t typically notice SUVs had much interest in the GLA 35. That speaks louder to what Mercedes has accomplished with the GLA than any spec sheet rundown can. On the downside, the GLA 35 has trunk space more in line with a small car than a larger SUV. A golf course or grocery store trip will require at least one of the rear seats to get folded down.
Packing an AMG punch
At the heart of the 2021 GLA 35 is how AMG turns this capable little SUV into a bit of a rocket. Their reinforcement of the body and adjustments to suspension make it feel way more like a car than its size should allow. Seats are racing-inspired, which means some comfort gets sacrificed to hold people firmly in place. The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 rides on thin rubber, which means you get to feel just how much the Canadian highways degraded over the winter. But it’s not as bad as that sounds; the GLA 35 still does an admirable job in comfort mode, taking the edge of even the most jarring of bumps. Crank the dial to Sport+, and the story is a little different. But it’s in Sport+ that the GLA 35 reveals its hidden personality.
Mercedes-AMG squeezes as much power as they can out of the turbocharged four-cylinder engine. At 2L, it’s impressive that there is 302 hp on tap. It climbs quickly up to speed and doesn’t have that nagging turbo lag we’ve experienced in other smaller turbocharged four-cylinders. Even more impressive than the engine, however, is the transmission it puts the power through. The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 uses an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic. That’s much technical speak which means the gears change almost instantly. It’s a snappy fast you don’t find in this segment, and it makes the GLA 35 fun to drive.
It can still daily, too
Unexpectedly, for the author at least, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG is more than a capable daily driver. It’s a Mercedes-Benz, an AMG at that, with a personality and price that’s almost within reach. While the racing tech AMG uses might seem like it comes at the cost of practicality, but it doesn’t. The shape of the 2021 Mercedes-AMG makes the interior livable. Sporty seats aren’t jostling you about in the drive around town. Even the high-performing engine and transmission are tame, almost economy car in their performance – albeit a quality one.
The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 is missing because of the high refinement expected from a Mercedes product. The GLA 35 feels so drivable daily because it’s not filled with crazy amounts of soft leathers, suede, exotic wood trim, and expensive metal accents. Usually, that would be a good thing, and perhaps the GLA 35’s AMG focus cut the luxurious fat out. Maybe my expectations were way off; this is the first Mercedes of any kind I’ve driven. There are no adaptive cruise control or advanced driver aids to be found. While Burmeister makes the sound system, it wasn’t easy to tune and often sounded too quiet for the road noise.
The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 Venn diagram
But, the Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 makes up for these perceived drawbacks with a personality that brings fun back into driving. The GLA 35 is fast enough to give the average driver a taste of genuine AMG performance. And the turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder manages a reasonable enough mileage that the cost of ownership is accessible to most. At $60,750 (CAD) as tested, the 2021 Mercedes-GLA 35 is the second least expensive vehicle we’ve tested this year and the quickest. It represents a unique vehicle in the market since it’s not an a-typical SUV like an Audi Q3 or BMW X2.
In summary, there’s little to fault the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 for, and it does what it’s supposed to do. It’s hard to recommend over an A-Class, given their similarities, or maybe the more powerful AMG GLA 45. But the AMG GLA 35 is the Venn diagram that crosses through all those options, capturing just enough of each to make for a unique experience. So, if you’re an AMG shopper looking for the best value or an A/GLA-Class buyer in need of some fun, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 is going to be precisely that.