Cars/ First-drive/ 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 220d 4MATIC - First Drive Review

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 220d 4MATIC - First Drive Review




If you are someone who is looking to make an entry into the big league and get yourself that plush, luxury badge that you've always wanted, you're probably looking at the BMW 2 Series and the Mercedes-Benz A-Class. That means you have probably watched Ramesh and Roshan's video as they compare the two. However, while the video is rather good, it attempts to keep sedans relevant at a time where high ground clearance and a jacked-up stance is what it all comes down to. What you need then, is the entry to the luxury SUV segment and the all-new GLA is a fine starting point. Let me tell you why.

The GLA has always been criticized for its non-SUV appearance. It always seemed like an A-Class hatchback, that was raised and slapped on with some plastic cladding. And rightfully so, because by no means, was the previous version an SUV. But this new one? Well, for starters, it sure looks like one. The design is, of course, in line with modern Mercs, and you can notice the massive three-pointed star from a good distance. It yells at the onlookers about how you have a Mercedes-Benz SUV and you are above the crowd in some way. Sitting in the center surrounded by the chrome studs that make up the grille, it does full justice to the term ‘badge value’. Then you have the full-LED headlights that are sharp and look nothing like the ones on the A-Class Limousine. That in itself is a testament to them not being based around each other. Lower down, you have the bumpers with a fair bit of cladding to be passed as an SUV and as you move over to the side, you will sigh in relief as well. Sigh, because there is no low-slung roof or woeful ground clearance. The new GLA is an SUV in the truest sense.

The roofline, although tapering towards the end, is raked enough to satisfy the SUV-lover in you and is a sign of good headroom in the rear. Something you wouldn’t have said about the previous-gen version. The ground clearance measuring 147mm might not seem boastful, but even with four, rather healthy occupants on board, I never heard the mortifying sound of the bump scraping the underbelly. The wheels are particularly impressive with the AMG cues on them. The 19-inch twin five-spoke wheels do a good job of filling up the wheel-wells and give the GLA a proportionate look.

The rear of the GLA is where the slightly embarrassing design cues are. The cladding-heavy bumper, a spoiler that is purely aesthetic, and fake twin exhaust tips wrapped in chrome. However, it all seems to work along with the wrap-around LED tail lamps, and you are left a lot more satisfied than you would have been with the older car. Clearly then, a big leap ahead in terms of design.

Step inside the GLA, and you’d be pleased. I have, for quite some time now, advocated the fact that nobody makes a better interior than Mercedes-Benz. Of course, this is true for the segment only, but in terms of giving a premium experience, Mercedes is at the top. The design, quality, and use of materials are fantastic. There isn’t any open-pore wood or cream upholstery with double stitching, but what you get instead on this 220d 4MATIC, is an all-black upholstery with man-made leather and generous use of Alcantara. The dashboard is clean and uncluttered with the touchscreen infotainment housing most of the controls.

There is a nice blend of piano black and brushed aluminum and the oh-so-gorgeous turbine vents with ambient lighting adding to the special effect. Although, it's not all vanity in here. There are plenty of features on this top of the line GLA like the panoramic split sunroof, fully digital instrument cluster, MBUX infotainment with ‘Hey Mercedes’ assistance, wireless charging, a bunch of type-C ports, kinetic seats for better comfort, and even radar-based active braking assist which is quite useful. In terms of connected tech, the GLA is as good as they come thanks to the ‘Mercedes me’ app which gives you access to all sorts of info about the car on your smartphone and can also pre-cool the car before you set off. Now all this is very impressive and by now you have enough reasons to get this over the sedans. But, there is another crucial bit, that makes a big difference. The drive.

The GLA on test was the top of the line 220d 4MATIC and what that means is that it is powered by a 2.0-liter turbo-diesel engine mated to an 8-speed automatic gearbox that drives all four wheels. The engine churns out 187bhp and 400Nm that enables the GLA to move swiftly. And while the AWD system helps in acceleration, the star here is the 8-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. The shifts are quick and seamless and power delivery is excellent in every gear. What isn’t excellent, is the refinement of the engine. The clatter is a bit too prominent and as you gain speed, it only gets louder.

Performance though is aces. The GLA leaps ahead with every flex of the right foot and even handles well in the corners. The steering is well-weighted and can be adjusted to preference, but the sheer number of functions on it often gets in the way of an enthusiastic drive. A quick left-right maneuver will often result in you skipping the current song and changing the infotainment screen while making a call to the boss. Let go of the PlayStation steering wheel Mercedes, please.

In terms of comfort and ride quality, the GLA is mighty impressive. The tune on the suspension is just right, and you can rant about the poor road conditions without being tossed around in the cabin. For those who will be in the back seat, there is plenty of space here thanks to the longer wheelbase in comparison to the older version. Space, in general, is plenty and even if you measure over six feet, there will be no struggle in the rear. Priced between Rs 42.10 - 46.7 lakh, the GLA is a solid entry point to the world of luxury and badge value. And if all this hasn't convinced you yet, and you are still obsessed with the low-slung looks of a sedan (just like I am), do check out the AMG GLA 35. That should be the best of both worlds, right? Now there is a penny for your thoughts. 

TopGear Magazine May 2024