Entry-level luxury vehicles walk a tightrope. Manufacturers must maintain the illusion of luxury while offering a high-end vehicle at a popular price. But more often than not, consumers must add options to get any luxury, rendering the initial “reasonable” price a work of fiction.
Yet luxury goods have never been a value proposition. For every 5% in improvement in quality, you’re greeted with a 50% improvement in price. Certainly, that’s always been the case with the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 4Matic, a premium performance variant of its redesigned entry-level 2021 GLA 250 and 250 4Matic crossover.
Overview: Once a rarified trim on a handful of vehicles, AMG performance models are now far more common, accounting for 12% of Mercedes-Benz’s U.S. sales. Like the CLA-Class sedan, with which the GLA-Class shares its platform, the GLA 35 gets the same AMG treatment as the CLA 35, with a $11,230 premium added to the GLA 250’s $36,230 base price.
An even hotter GLA 45 is also available, allowing you to reach 60 mph 0.8 second faster, but it will cost you an additional $6,950, or $54,550 – a 50% premium from the base model’s $36,320 starting price. And that’s before adding options.
That’s why the GLA 35 is the better deal; you get upgraded performance, but without the nosebleed pricing.
Exterior: The redesigned GLA-Class is more handsome and imposing than the first generation. It certainly seems worthier of its price, despite being 0.6 inches shorter.
But the new styling comes at a cost, since the GLA has grown 3.6 inches taller.
“… Lost is the previous generation’s aggressively sporty stance, derived from its low roof and high ground clearance. Certainly, the new GLA is handsome, but a bit less distinctive …”
Interior: Nevertheless, the added height does provide more interior space, as does the GLA’s wheelbase, which has been lengthened by 1.1 inches. Now, there’s usable back seat with enough legroom to be practical every day.
Material quality also seems far better than the GLA it supplants. Three large air-conditioning vents framed in shiny black plastic give the interior a sophisticated visual punch.
That feeling is enhanced by the $400 AMG Performance steering wheel wrapped in Nappa leather, and the gray and black MB-Tex seats, as the $47,550 base price isn’t enough for Mercedes-Benz to provide leather seats.
Surprisingly, items like heated front seats ($500), AMG steering-wheel buttons ($460), and a navigation system with augmented reality ($1,295) are not standard.
And the test car’s $53,220 price didn’t include ventilated seats, which are optional, or a heated steering wheel, which isn’t offered at all.
Powertrain: All GLA-Class models come with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine connected to an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. Mercedes-Benz describes the GLA 35’s engine as “AMG enhanced,” distinguishing it from the GLA 45’s “AMG handcrafted.”
The difference? Eighty horsepower. And whereas the GLA 35 reaches 60 mph in 5.1 seconds, the GLA 45 does the deed in 4.3 seconds. GLA 250s can be had with front-wheel or all-wheel drive, GLA 35 and 45s come solely with all-wheel drive.
Technology and Safety: Surprisingly, many of the driver-assistance features you might expect are absent. That said, you do get stability control, brake assist, blind-spot assist and a rearview camera. An optional $1,700, Driver Assistance Package adds many of the missing features.
Like many recent Mercedes-Benz products, a horizontal MBUX touchscreen is visually incorporated into the digital instrument cluster. The display can be configured in one of three modes, Classic, Sport and Supersport.
The striking high-definition graphics and user interface are easy to use, either by touching the screen or using the touchpad on the center console. Processor speed is impressive. The GLA offers Bluetooth audio streaming, four USB-C ports and is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible.
Driving Impressions: Its engine may not be handcrafted, but it still packs a wallop. It’s a fantastical fun mill, generating huge power the nanosecond after you punch the throttle. Throw the GLA 35 into a corner, and you’ll find it to be a very fun dance partner. The steering is accurate, if numb, and the brakes are up to the task of bringing this party to a halt.
The stiff, unyielding suspension is tuned for German roads, not American ones, so imperfections are uncomfortably magnified, and accompanied by an incredible amount of road and tire noise that drown out any conversation, not to mention the audio system. The combination makes any long-term drive an exercise in endurance.
Wrap Up: How badly do you want an AMG? While the GLA 250 makes a convincing case as a premium commuter, the GLA 35’s punchy engine is compromised by a stiff unyielding suspension and symphony of road and tire noise that seem out of place given this car’s premium price tag.