2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 Review: First Drive

By Shivank Bhatt | on September 28, 2021

Is it an SUV, or a hot hatch, or even a proper AMG? The all-new GLA 35 has a lot of questions to answer. Let’s find out if it gets them right.  

Not too long ago, the term ‘AMG’ translated to ‘MAD' in the automotive verse. AMG-badged cars were holy terror in the minds and hearts of enthusiasts. They were a bit like a punch-drunk knuckle-dragger – high on horsepower but with a rear-end that was as wayward as a hungover teenager. You had to be mad to buy an AMG back in the day, but you'd be a lunatic if you didn't love them for their insanity. AMG cars had a brutal and ungodly appeal, something which rival BMW M and Audi RS cars lacked.

But times have changed now. Earlier, AMG used to handpick select Mercedes cars that it deemed worthy of its engineering wizardry. Today, it has become a sort of ritual for every Merc to get the AMG treatment before leaving the factory. That’s not to say that they are any less brutal, though. If anything, high-end cars from Mercedes-AMG are meaner and madder than before.

But now there’s a new range of mild-mannered AMGs that aims to thrill and terrify you in the same manner as their bigger brothers. The good news is that some of these mid-line AMGs are assembled right here in India, which means relatively lower price tags than those that follow the CBU route.

One such AMG that ticks all the right boxes is the all-new Mercedes-AMG GLA 35. However, a couple of questions need to be answered first. Is it an SUV or a hot hatch? Is it even a proper AMG? Well, we spent a couple of days with it to.. well, you know the drill, so let’s find out. 

Keep the pot boiling

2021 Mercedes AMG GLA35 engine

First things first, the GLA 35 is not a full-fat AMG like the GLA 45, which is the real deal. Having said that, let me add that with an AMG-fettled 2.0-litre four-cylinder twin-scroll turbo petrol motor delivering 302bhp and 400Nm, the 35 is no slouch. Coupled with an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic, 4Matic all-wheel drive, and a cracking launch control system, the GLA 35 AMG hits 0 –100km/h in just about 5 seconds.

Its performance is sprightly. It does, however, lag a bit at low rpm – a constant bugbear in turbo engines – but once it spools, which happens around 1,500 – 1,800rpm, the GLA 35 is quite vicious. There’s a relentless pull from 2,000 to 6,000rpm. The mid-range surge is intoxicating, as the 35 keeps shooting forward without any delay. The engine never runs out of steam – the progress only slows down when either self-preservation instinct kicks in or you run out of empty roads.

There are five modes on offer – Slippery, Comfort, Individual, Sport, and Sport +. Each alters the throttle response, damping (adaptive AMG dampers are standard), steering feel, and gearbox response. In Comfort mode, the engine and gearbox are quite mellow, but in Sport and, especially, Sport +, the exhaust valves open up, the steering and suspension firm up, gear-shifts become violent, and the throttle response becomes much sharper – it’s like Margot Robbie turning from Sharon Tate to Harley Quinn in no time. You got to love it!

That said, it does have a few things that aren’t perfect. The 8-speeder is quick and shifts at will – upshifts through steering-mounted paddle-shift are quick and smooth; however, manual downshifts through the left paddle are a bit slow. For instance, before a corner entry, this gearbox won’t let you downshift in time if you rely on engine braking. Sometimes, it would downshift in the middle of the corner instead – not good when you want to be in complete control.

On firm ground

The other problem is that its ride is always firm – regardless of the mode you choose, it’s a little too rigid over bumps and bad roads. The 35 somehow makes even the smoothest stretch of the tarmac feel a bit rough. Unbearable? Well, not really, but if you drive it daily on our roads – especially during monsoon season – you’ll realise it’s a bit of a task. Even rear-seat passengers won’t be too comfortable because of the ride either, albeit they won’t complain about the lack of space in this new-gen GLA.

2021 Mercedes AMG GLA35 rear

If there’s one thing that you can’t complain about, it’s the handling. Thanks to its stiff springs, the GLA 35 goes around corners like nobody’s business. It doesn’t corner flat like a sedan or a hatchback – the body roll here is minimal, but evident. It’s almost a hot hatchback though.

While the AWD setup primarily favours front wheels, it can split the torque equally between the front and the rear if it needs to. If you’re too clumsy with your inputs – pushing it too hard around bends, giving too much steering input, and pressing the throttle too early – you’ll be greeted with heaps of understeer. But get it right, and you will literally fly through corners with immense grip. The steering, however, feels a little numb – it weighs up in Sport and Sport+ modes, but the variable-ratio rack isn’t as sharp or responsive as you would expect in a car like this. Special props to the AMG brakes on this car – they’re full of feel and offer a sharp bite every time you drop the anchors.

Sleeper SUV

When it comes to its outer appearance, the GLA 35 doesn’t look that different from the regular GLA. You can even say that it’s a little subdued for an AMG. Things that differentiate it from its lesser siblings include a Panamericana grille with vertical slats, 19-inch 5-spoke AMG alloy wheels, AMG brakes with silver callipers, aluminium-look roof rails, oval exhaust pipes, and a body-coloured roof spoiler. I still feel it’s more of a hatchback than an SUV.  Sure, it’s not an outright boy-racer, but it sits on the road rather aggressively.

2021 Mercedes AMG GLA35 design

The interior of the 35 is a bit more sporty than its exterior, which is something that you’d want and expect in an AMG. The cabin gets all-black leather sports seats with contrast red stitching and aluminium trim all around. In terms of features, it’s well kitted out, too – you get Mercedes’ signature dual screens, a Burmester sound system, a panoramic sunroof, electrically adjustable front seats with memory function, 64 colours ambient lighting, and so on. The quality and fit and finish of the interior are top-notch, but there are a few things niggles that need mentioning. The seats, even though they are quite supportive, are hard and, coupled with the stiff suspension, can get uncomfortable after a while. Another thing I want to point out is that the GLA still doesn’t get wireless Android auto or Apple CarPlay. In this day and age, it's a bit of a miss in a car that demands 60 lakh. 

Verdict

If you think about it, the GLA 35 AMG is a compromise on all fronts. It’s neither an SUV nor a fully dialed-up hot hatch, nor a white-knuckled AMG. But that’s one way to look at it. The other way, which is more logical, given our road conditions – is that it has the best bits of all the aforementioned worlds. There’s enough ground clearance for our bad roads; the performance and handling are mind-blowing, as it’s nothing short of a hot hatch in that respect; plus, it’s got the racy AMG bits to make every drive special – loud exhaust, stiff suspension, sporty seats, and so on. Most importantly, it’s not priced exorbitantly either. And if you consider all this, the GLA 35 seems to have all the bases well and truly covered.

  • 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35

Engine: 1,991cc / 4-Cylinder / Twin-Scroll Turbo

Transmission: 8-Speed DCT Automatic / All-Wheel Drive

Fuel: Petrol

Power: 302bhp @ 5,800rpm

Torque: 400Nm @ 3,000-4,000rpm

Price: ₹58.80 Lakh (Ex-Showroom)

X-Factor: An AMG for all occasions. It’s fast, fun, and practical.

Pros           
• Performance

• Handling

Cons
• Too Stiff

Also read,

Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 4MATIC: Top 5 Highlights 

Mercedes-AMG A 35 Review

Tags: Mercedes-AMG Mercedes-AMG GLA 35

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