Cute suits a basket-full of chubby Lab puppies just fine.
I’ll take two.
But I’m still adjusting to small and warm and fuzzy in near-luxury vehicles like the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35, a $56,000 compact crossover about the size of a Ford Escape.
When I think Mercedes-Benz, I envision something square-shouldered, hard and Teutonic – a stylish, big-wheeled vehicle with a polished snarl.
Clearly, I need to right-size that expectation.
As Mercedes and BMW seek more sales while also dealing with increasingly stringent regulations, they will likely keep pushing into lower segments with smaller vehicles.
So much for the special exclusivity of luxury vehicles, I suppose.
Still, this Baby Benz – all 3,700 pounds of it – actually offers some pretty impressive content.
And you can buy a GLA-class Benz for far less than $56,000. As you probably know, AMG is Mercedes’ hot-rod division, charged with turning every model of Mercedes into a profitable performance vehicle.
Opt for an entry-level GLA250 and you can be Benzing for a base price of about $40,000.
If I were stroking the check, though, I’d prefer the more-spirited AMG models, especially the hottest version, the 382-horsepower AMG GLA45.
You’ve got to be able to outrun those Escapes, after all.
My reddish-maroon GLA 35 arrived with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine packing 302 horsepower, an eight-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive and a sport-tuned suspension.
Get past the GLA’s dimensions – it is Benz’s smallest sort-of SUV -- and it even flashes some toughness in its refreshed styling for 2021.
A big, familiar-looking AMG grille and sleek headlamps, for example, looked plenty aggressive, as did a fairly long hood – both of which suggest power.
Short overhangs front and rear keep the GLA’s proportions tight, while the sides of the vehicle sported a subtle but appealing muscular roll to them.
Black cladding around the fender arches and on the rocker panels added some off-road bling and the body settled on odd 19-inch, 10-spoke wheels wrapped with 235/50 tires. (The wheels had rings behind the spokes.)
Although not the sort of flash-and-dash vehicle to attract big attention, the GLA is a handsome crossover with a bit of attitude in it.
Most of that stems from the vehicle’s turbocharged 2-liter engine, which slots in between the entry-level 221 horsepower GLA250 and the hot GLA 45 – and no, I don’t know why the base car gets the biggest model number.
It’s German, I guess. For most drivers, the 35 should be plenty adequate.
Though the engine was a bit sleepy down low, it sprang to life at about 2,500 rpm and pulled hard past 5,000 rpm with a convincing growl.
Acceleration was strong, though in city driving, I sometimes had to push deeply into the accelerator to find it.
Still, 60 mph arrives in about five seconds, giving the 35 the power to easily merge with fast-moving traffic.
It was reasonably economic as well, rated at 25 miles per gallon overall.
Like many modern vehicles, the GLA’s eight-speed automatic could be a little slow to downshift, but it handled upshifts crisply. Some of that may be turbo-lag, some might be warranty considerations.
While not the most sporting model in the GLA class, the 35 still turned into corners pretty eagerly with good grip and average body lean, assisted by quick, albeit numb steering.
Probably most surprising was the 35’s ride, which tended to be kind of stiff, but offered lots of compliance and felt premium.
Likewise, my 35’s much-improved black interior looked much like what you would see in any Benz.
A flat upper dashboard, for instance, dropped down onto twin horizontal 10.25-inch panels side-by-side – one housing the instrument panel and the other for infotainment.
Included in the infotainment side were Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as safety features such as speed-limit and brake assist.
The interior also featured Benz-like detail, with slender lighting accents around the vehicle’s climate vents and on the dashboard and door-panels.
Unfortunately, the small crossover also got Mercedes’ awful touchpad on the console, a device so overly sensitive that it would change the stereo if just slightly brushed.
The black seats, though, reflected the good side of Mercedes with supportive bolsters and smooth, sectioned centers.
As you might expect in a compact crossover, leg- and head-room in the back seat was limited but reasonable.
Meanwhile, my GLA arrived with more than $5,000 in options, including the black-leather interior ($1,450); the reddish-maroon paint ($720); the 10-spoke black wheels ($300); a multimedia package with navigation ($1,295); and a “night package” of black exterior trim ($750).
None of that is likely to pump up the vehicle’s cachet, however, an issue Mercedes will probably face with all of its smaller, less expensive vehicles.
And let’s be blunt here: If I’m not getting a full load of pop and glitter, what exactly am I paying for?
2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35
- What I liked most: The GLA’s mix of good straight-line performance, above-average ride and attractive styling.
- What I would change: I’m tempted to say the terrible touchpad, but what the GLA really needs is more distinction, more wow.
- MSRP: Base price, $47,550; as equipped, $55,950.
- Official color: Patagonia Red Metallic.
- Fuel economy: 23 miles per gallon in the city, 29 on the highway and 25 mpg combined with filler on the left.
- Odometer reading when tested: 2,278 miles.
- Spare tire: None.
- Weight: Approximately 3,700 pounds.
- Length-width-height: 174.6 inches long/72.0 inches wide/62.5 inches tall.
- Fuel-tank capacity: 13.5 gallons.
- Towing capacity: 3,300 pounds.
- 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA35 4Matic in a few words: A capable near-luxury crossover with good performance and styling, but lacking in German magic.
- Warranty: Four-year, 50,000-mile overall warranty
- Final assembly location: Rastatt, Germany
- Manufacturer’s website: www.mbusa.com
- E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Up next: 2021 Toyota Highlander XSE AWD