IF you’ve ever wondered what a seriously warmed up, almost hot hatch would be like if it were turned into a compact SUV, then look no further than the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35. You see, that’s exactly what it is.
It’s a compact SUV, with all the goodness that brings, including extra ride height and more headroom, with a heart beat that’s pure performance car, right down to the beefy, agile 2.0-litre 4-cylinder direct-injection turbocharged engine.
That powerplant is offering up 225kW of power and 400Nm of torque, and is mated to an exceptional AMG SPEEDSHIFT DCT 8-speed transmission. It also comes with Mercedes-AMG’s outstanding 4MATIC+ all-wheel drive system, which delivers superb handling.
That combination means the GLA 35 offers a driving experience that’s akin to a cross between average sporty performance and unleashed anger. It features a variety of driving modes including Comfort, Sport and Sport+. There’s an Individual mode as well.
Sport+ is is proper AMG stuff, making the compact SUV a little twitchy, but raucously vocal. It’s a tonne of fun but not where you want to spend all your time unless you’re keen to burn petrol at around 12.7-litres/100km.
Sport in reality, is the best of the modes, because it offers a combination of performance and comfort. Actual Comfort mode is the least great, mostly because it makes the car feel like a floaty box. We spent a lot of time playing with the settings in Individual though.
It’s there you can find the perfect balance between all of the modes. Fuel economy is a claimed 8.0-litres/100km. That’s pretty accurate in Comfort; we ran mostly around 8.4-litres, but saw as low as 7.7-litres. Sport was more like 9.9-litres.
In its ‘as tested’ form, with the optional black open-pore wood trim, AMG’s Aerodynamics package (which includes the funky rear wing and additional flics in the front and rear apron) and the Vision package, it retails for $87,705 plus on-roads.
That Vision package includes Adaptive High Beam Assist Plus, multibeam LED headlights, and the Mercedes-Benz high-end parking package, which features a 360-degree camera.
And although ours was dressed in the standard Polar White, you can also choose fellow non-metallic colour Night Black, Designo Patagonia Red Metallic, Digital White Metallic, Cosmos Black Metallic, or Denim Blue Metallic.
There’s also Iridium Silver Metallic and Mountain Grey Metallic. It’s an abundance of choice that extends beyond just paint colours, and into wheels, with ours featuring 20-inch AMG five-spoke bi-colour alloys, in high sheen silver.
If we were buying it, we could have opted for them in high sheen black, or have gone up a gear and chosen 21-inch wheels, with Mercedes-AMG offering multi-spoke alloys in high sheen silver or high sheen black.
Inside, we were greeted by Titan Grey Pearl and Black Lugano leather (with Classic Red and Black Lugano leather available as an alternative choice), and that wood trim we spoke about already. It adds a real touch of class to the sporty Mercedes-AMG compact SUV.
There are choices here too, in the form of Brushed Aluminium or Carbon Structure (aka the carbon fibre look). Which means, if you haven’t guessed by now, Mercedes-Benz and Mercedes-AMG are all about customising your ride to suit your tastes.
Standard features include incredibly clear dual 10.25-inch screens for the infotainment and instrument cluster, with the former controlled by either touch or a pad in the centre console, or some nifty touch sensitive squares on the steering wheel.
These are a proper cool bit if gear, but take some serious getting used to, as they’re essentially gesture controls that you touch. It’s worth pausing a moment to say that the interactivity of the infotainment system is world class. It’s that good.
With one exception. Hey Mercedes. It’s a cool thing to be able to say “Hey Mercedes” in the car, and have a voice respond, like you’re talking to a friend, and do whatever you want, including adjust temps, find songs, call people – all the fun stuff.
But when she interrupts because you’re raving to your passengers how much you love the Mercedes you’re testing, that gets annoying real quick. That said, there’s a tonne of cool features, including ambient lighting, and an outstanding 9-speaker sound system.
There is of course Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (both wired via USB), wireless phone charging, satellite navigation, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, and active cruise control.
Our Lugano leather wrapped, powered front seats were heated, and while they’re damned nice to look at, as are the rear seats, they’re not all that comfortable. They feel luxurious enough, but for want of a better word, are a bit meh.
The rear seats offer an abundance of head room, and good leg room too, but again, feel like they have the same comfort issue. On the plus side, there’s a leather steering wheel, auto parking, power tailgate, and auto wipers on a pretty damn long features list.
The catch is many of the non-standard items, like better sports seats, a head-up display, or additional speakers, form part of add on packages, and each one of those pushes the price skyward, making for a potentially very expensive exercise.
Tyre noise on the Continentals is also pretty average on rougher roads (anything with rocks in it basically), and it drowned out the beautiful engine note. AMG’s RIDE CONTROL sports suspension might be a little harsh for some too.
It is after all a warmed up, almost hot compact SUV, as we said. The body kit’s a little boy racer too, especially in glossy piano black (don’t tell anyone we really liked it though).
The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 completes directly with BMW’s X2 M35i – and probably Audi’s RS Q3, although that’s a bit of a stretch, as it’s more on par with the Merc’s angrier and even more expensive brother, the GLA 45 S.
It comes with a 5-year unlimited kilometre warranty and somewhat expensive capped price servicing. There’s a bevy of safety tech too, including three-phase electronic stability control, multiple airbags and autonomous emergency braking.
In addition, there’s traction control, forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist, cross traffic alert and road sign recognition. All-in-all though, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 delivers a fantastic combination of performance and comfort.
And if you’re in the market for a beefed up warm hatch that’s been fertilised and cared for until it has grown into a proper compact SUV, then it’s hard to go past the GLA.
Our test vehicle was provided by Mercedes-Benz Australia. To find out more about the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35, contact your local Mercedes-Benz dealer.