Mercedes-AMG GLA 35: Hot Hatch Hidden Inside A Little Crossover
This pocket rocket is redesigned and got some love from the AMG parts bin.
Throw a stick in the car park of your local supermarket, and you're likely to have it bounce off of dozens of basic-looking crossovers that are about as exciting to drive as standing in line at the post office. Mercedes-AMG is trying to provide drivers a sportier small crossover alternative, as an upgrade to Mercedes' cute-sized GLA crossover.
Looking too entry-level in the luxury marque's fleet of crossover options, Mercedes freshened up the 2021 model with cleaner exterior styling and a full slate of interior upgrades that the help the GLA fit in with its bigger siblings. With Mercedes-AMG offering loads of new models sporting milder performance tuning, suspension, and braking packages, is this GLA 35 a real AMG model, or is it just a money grab? I had to see what was up, so I gave it a comprehensive test.
(Apologies for exterior pictures not being up to my usual standard. It was rainy and gray for the vast majority of my test week, and I barely got to sneak out between storms to snap some shots.)
The Key Numbers
The Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 packs 302 horsepower and 295 lb-ft (400 Nm) of torque with the same 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that powers the CLA 35 four-door coupe I tested and liked tossing around last year. Through an 8-speed DCT and AMG's performance 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system, the GLA 35 sprints from 0-60 in 5.1 seconds, which is pretty damn quick for a little crossover.
With some compact packaging, the Mercedes-AMG GLA's dimensions are 175 inches long, 80 wide, and 62 tall, with a 107-inch wheelbase. Curb weight for the GLA 35 is 3,653 pounds (1,657 kilos). For comparison's sake, the GLA is only a couple inches longer and wider than a VW GTI. EPA fuel economy estimates are 23/29/25 (city/highway/combined), and aren't bad for a punchy turbocharged crossover.
Pricing for the Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 starts at $47,550, and after ticking a bunch of options boxes--including leather interior, AMG's performance steering wheel with Drive Unit controls, satellite radio, multimedia package with navigation and speed limit assist, AMG exterior night package, and a premium package that includes keyless go and auto-dimming folding side mirrors--my Patagonia Red Metallic tester's total MSRP was $55,950.
A Quick Errand Runner
Daily driving is fun in the AMG GLA 35, thanks to that potent powertrain stuffed into a small crossover package. If you're buzzing between dropping the kids off at soccer practice and hitting up the shops, the turbocharged four-banger zips around with ease, and the all-wheel-drive system works nicely to make quick work of any turns you want to tackle. I'm glad my tester was equipped with practical 19-inch wheels and tires some thick sidewalls, which nicely coped with any bumps and potholes around Austin's downtown area which is perpetually under construction.
Due to its compact size, parallel parking the GLA 35 is a breeze, but that same tidy packaging comes at the cost of cargo space in the rear hatch. I swapped cars in the middle of a trip out of town, and quickly found that I couldn't fit much in the rear storage area, having to turn my roller bag to the side, due to the hatch's shallower depth. You can technically put five occupants in the GLA's cabin, but the back seat is tiny, and I'd suggest only tossing two adults back there for short trips. Legroom back there is a bit cramped.
Cabin appointments benefit from a stack of updates including Mercedes' MBUX infotainment system. To complete the interior coolness, there are tons of ways to tweak the ambient lighting to either calm the nerves or turn the GLA 35's cockpit into a Las Vegas nightclub. The base sound system isn't bad at all, but having tested plenty of Mercedes models over the past few years, I recommend dropping some extra cash to get the Burmester system that not only thumps, but also has some of the coolest looking speakers on the planet.
Taking On The Twisty Stuff
Buzzing around a fun farm-to-market road is a treat in the Mercedes-AMG GLA 35. The turbo four comes alive at higher RPMs, but still has gobs of torque at any rev. Toggle the AMG Drive Select into Sport or Sport+, and the little crossover bolts around like a pissed off terrier. Suspension damping from AMG's 3-stage ride control is definitely on the firm side, so I set up my individual mode to have the suspension in comfort, but put the engine and drivetrain modes in the most hardcore settings available.
Accelerator pedal travel is strangely short in the GLA 35, so any typical throttle input you're used to will seem like you're flooring it, even in the comfort drive mode. Gear changes from the 8-speed dual-clutch 'box are super quick, and there's a nice bark from the exhaust on any shift up or down if you're having some fun. When you're absolutely caning the GLA on a back road, that throttle sensitivity can make the crossover a bit jumpy when you exit a bend.
The GLA 35's electric steering is a bit over-boosted for my liking, so smooth out your hands when you're tossing it around, otherwise you'll find that quick rack and short wheelbase giving you a bit of snap oversteer. The 235/50/19 Pirelli P-Zero tires did a fine job of providing plenty of adhesion, and were grippy enough when I had to make a long drive in a torrential downpour too.
Because of the extra ground clearance versus a fun hatchback, there's a hint of body roll exhibited by the Mercedes-AMG GLA 35, but never did it feel like it wanted to topple over when I flicked it around a fast sweeper. AMG's 4MATIC AWD system does a great job of distributing power to the wheels you need for your best handling in the twisty stuff without feeling too mechanical. As you're approaching a corner too quickly, be confident in AMG's ventilated and cross-drilled rotors paired with massive monoblock calipers to scrub off any speed.
Some Pros And Cons
While updated inside, the GLA's base seats are a bit basic, and look downmarket for a car that starts off at just under $50,000. Thankfully there are AMG's sportier buckets available, but you're spending some cash for those optional seats. The base seats are decently supportive, and are comfortable on longer days behind the wheel. I'll also gripe about having to drop an extra $1,450 to get leather interior in a car in this price segment.
MBUX is a great update over the old Mercedes COMAND infotainment system, and I appreciate the new system that gives you a pair of 10-inch screens--one as the instrument cluster, and the other as the main infotainment touchscreen--that pack high resolution and loads of ways to customize the look and data displayed.
The GLA's revised appearance is more in-line with the current overall Mercedes styling language, but it does look a bit more fluffy than the outgoing GLA that looked more like a shooting brake with a couple inches of lift. I like AMG's fascia and grille treatments applied to the GLA, which give it a noticeably sporty look. As an AMG model, the GLA 35 will smoke nearly any other little dull crossover you encounter at as you're getting in queue to pick up the kids at school.
A Bit To Spend On A Quick Pint-Sized Crossover
As a complete package, the Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 is a fun crossover. The challenge is looking at the sticker price for a car that's way more expensive yet not much more functional than a hot hatch. If I want to drop that much of my hard-earned money on a quick, compact AMG model, I'll opt for the four-door coupe package of the Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 I had fun with last year.
If you absolutely need a crossover, and still want it to be tuned up for fun, take a look at AMG's GLB 35. The GLB has a slightly longer overall length and a much longer wheelbase which translates into way more usable space inside for your occupants and all your stuff, and it costs nearly the same money as this GLA 35.