Behind the Wheel

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA Review: Improved but still not worth the price tag

The Mercedes-Benz GLA was redesigned for the 2021 model year.

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

The Mercedes-Benz GLA was completely redesigned for the 2021 model year, taking it from a mundane tuna can-like hatchback to a zippy, more traditional small SUV. Everything about it fits into the modern Mercedes SUV lineup. It's a mini Merc. It's formulaic and perfectly fine but it's just not that nice compared to what else you can get for around $40,000 (starting price is just over $36,000)

Mercedes sells the GLA in three variants with another on the way. There's the traditional GLA 250 and GLA 250 4MATIC, and the AMG GLA 35. A more high-performance version of the model, the AMG GLA 45 is coming soon. Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is available on most models. A variety of drive modes allow the driver to choose how much torque they want to allocate to what wheels and additional setup options for suspension and dynamics are available on pricier GLAs.

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250The car's infotainment and driver information screens are housed together as one unit.Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250

As tested, the GLA 250 was powered by the standard 2.0-liter turbo-four that is paired with an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. It delivers 221 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The SUV had trouble off the line during daily driving. The GLA's turbo lag added together with low-end gearing confusion to make the mundane drive from stop sign to stop sign in a neighborhood a comfortable creep followed by a robust burst of energy. Once out of the neighborhood and up to full speed on the highway, the powertrain performed far better, however, there was nothing elegant about it.

The model's steering is numb, which is typical for its class. It's steering circle isn't as tight as is optimal.

Any promise of a tranquil ride that you would think would be relatively standard with a Mercedes is not something the GLA possesses. However, for as much road noise that permeates the cabin, it's still less than the awful rattling the previous generation GLA allowed in. For that we can all be thankful.

The added height of the GLA gives the vehicle a more SUV-like seating position than its crossover predecessor. Ingress and egress is easy, as it should be with a model of these proportions. Head- and legroom for front passengers is fantastic for a vehicle of the GLA's size.

Seats in the GLA are not uncomfortable, and certainly not the worst that Mercedes offers.Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes wins points for the GLA's tech, which is easy to use, responsive, and pleasing to the eye. The GLA comes standard with the Mercedes-Benz two screens, in one large housing. Its Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) operating system runs two 7.0-inch screens. The centrally located screen, which controls the infotainment system, reacts to touch and can also be operated by a touchpad controller on the center console. The list of standard equipment also includes four USB ports, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto.

Buyers can upgrade their model to include a 10.25-inch infotainment touch screen, 12-speaker Burmester audio system, wireless device charging, a Wi-Fi hot spot, head-up display, and navigation.

Mercedes gives every GLA a reasonable amount of active safety features. The list includes a rearview camera, blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning, vehicle exit warning, automatic emergency braking, driver drowsiness monitoring, and crosswind assist. To get the most desirable safety features, GLA buyers need to add on two packages, which drive up the price $2,800.

The SUV has ample space in the second row for adults.Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

The GLA's interior materials, cabin noise, and unrefined powertrain make it seem like a less-than premium SUV. The car's tech offerings give it a boost, but other models offer a longer list of standard and available safety technology.

Buyers who are savvy and looking to get the most bang for their buck will want to test drive similarly sized models like the 2020 Buick Encore GX, Jaguar E-Pace (it was refreshed for the 2021 model year with major changes), and Mazda CX-30 before committing to the GLA. They have interiors that are just as nice and offer price tags that are more wallet-friendly.

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The Hyundai Palisade got a mild refresh for 2023.

Hyundai

Earlier this year, Hyundai announced changes to the Palisade for 2023. The list includes a new front fascia, an updated grille with new headlights and daytime running lights, a 12-inch touchscreen with navigation, and more. A new XRT trim joined the lineup as well, bringing brawny off-road styling and dar exterior trim. Today, Hyundai announced pricing for the SUV, which starts at a little more than $32,000.

2023 Hyundai PalisadeA new XRT trim adds rugged styling. Hyundai

The Palisade's powertrain carries over from 2022, which includes a 3.8-liter V6 that makes 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. It's paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and either front- or all-wheel drive. Inside, the SUV got several new and updated technology features, including a more powerful wireless device charging pad, an updated digital key system, and a larger infotainment display.

As Hyundai's flagship SUV, the Palisade edges on luxury territory, with plush leather upholstery and a serene cabin that offers excellent noise cancellation and comfort. Captain's chairs and seven-passenger seating are available, but a second-row bench comes standard and brings eight-passenger capacity to the SUV.

Muscular SUVs are more popular than ever before, so Hyundai gave the posh Palisade an outdoorsy treatment with its XRT trim. The new Palisade XRT builds on the SEL trim with 20-inch wheels, a more rugged bumper and lower body cladding, a sunroof, and leatherette upholstery. To be clear, XRT is an appearance package that does not improve off-road capability to a large degree.

2023 Hyundai PalisadeTop trims border on the quality and design of some luxury brands. Hyundai

Standard safety equipment is generous, and includes forward collision warnings with avoidance, lane keep assist, lane following assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts, driver attention warnings, high beam assist, and adaptive cruise control.

Pricing for the base Palisade SE starts at $36,245, which includes a $1,295 destination charge. The top Calligraphy AWD model starts at $52,095 after destination. All-wheel drive is available for all trims as an added-cost option.

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The Ascent got updated styling and fresh tech.

Subaru

Subaru's lineup is full of useful, adventure-ready vehicles, but most are not accommodating for full-size families. The Ascent solved that issue for the automaker a few years ago, and has been a popular family option since. It got a mild update for 2023 with a facelift and new tech. The Ascent comes in five trims: Base, Premium, Onyx Edition, Limited, and Touring. It's expected to go on sale in fall 2022.

The Subaru comes with a new front fascia design that adds a new grille and aggressive styling up front. Lower air ducts help improve aerodynamics, and in higher trims the components come with chrome trim. The SUV's C-shaped taillights got a refresh as well, and now feature a sharper shape to better match the vehicle's overall styling.

2023 Subaru AscentThe new front fascia design is more aggressive than before. Subaru

The Ascent's powertrain remains in place, which is a turbocharged 2.54-liter four-cylinder making 260 horsepower. It sends power to all four wheels through a continuously variable transmission that offers a simulated eight-speed manual shifting mode. Subaru's X-Mode driving mode comes standard, which alters throttle response and other vehicle behavior to maintain traction in slippery conditions. Torque vectoring, which allows the vehicle to shift torque between wheels that need it most, also comes standard.

A new Onyx Edition trim joins the Ascent line for 2022. It brings a standard 11.6-inch touchscreen with navigation, a Harman Kardon sound system, power seats, and a panoramic sunroof. The base Ascent comes with features such as 18-inch wheels, USB inputs, tri-zone automatic climate controls, three rows of seating, and a whopping 19 cupholders. Subaru also offers an optional Cabin Connect system, which allows the driver or front passenger to communicate to people behind them through the stereo using a front-cabin-mounted microphone.

2023 Subaru AscentThe Ascent's interior is available with great tech, such as an 11.6-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Subaru

Subaru EyeSight safety equipment comes standard with every Ascent. The system is improved for 2023 with a wider field of vision and new software. A new wide-angle camera joins EyeSight's existing two-camera setup to provide better pedestrian and cyclist detection when approaching intersections. Blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts, and lane change assist are available.

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