Since its founding in 1926, Mercedes-Benz has been synonymous with style, quality and performance. The German manufacturer has long been a leader in the automotive industry and its range of GL SUVs are no exception. 2021 has brought with it a range of new models, catering to a variety of needs and desires for those in the market for a luxury SUV.
The subcompact GLA and the compact GLC bring a lot to the table, as you would expect from luxury SUVs in their classes, but which is right for you? At first glance, there are key differences in price and size, but what really sets these two vehicles apart? Let’s take a look at how the two SUVs compare across in different aspects.
The Mercedes GLA is a subcompact SUV and the smallest in the manufacturer’s SUV lineup. The Mercedes GLC is a compact SUV and is therefore slightly bigger both inside and outside. However, the GLA has been the subject of more recent improvements.
The size difference between these SUV’s shows immediately when comparing prices. The subcompact GLA, the most affordable member of the Mercedes SUV family, comes in at a modest $36,230. This will get you a 2.0L inline-4 turbo engine, with an automatic 8 speed, dual clutch transmission. For an additional $2000, you can get the AWD GLA 250 4MATIC.
The compact GLC, is larger than the GLA, which is reflected in the sticker price. The base model GLC 300 comes in at $43,200. Similar to its compact counterpart, you can upgrade to the GLC 300 4MATIC for $2000. The GLC has a similar engine to the smaller GLA, packing a 2.0L inline-4 Turbo engine. However the GLC has a 9G Tronic, 9 speed automatic transmission, providing you with more control behind the wheel.
Unlike the GLA, the GLC is also available as a plug-in hybrid in the GLC 350e 4MATIC SUV. This costs over $50k right off the bat, though long-term fuel savings will make the purchase less painful.
Styling – Interior
There isn’t much to separate the interior of these two vehicles, from a functional point of view. Compared to their predecessors, less buttons have made room for digital instruments and controls, giving the interior a fresh feel.
However, from an aesthetic point of view, there are some differences. The GLA’s interior received a more recent makeover, and it features LED color strips and illuminated vents, giving it a modern, if not futuristic, touch. It also has one single panel that houses both the digital instrument cluster and infotainment.
By contrast, the GLC’s interior is slightly more traditional, but does have a more premium feel thanks to its luxurious center console and selection of natural wood trims to choose from at no additional cost (the GLA only offers a walnut grain option, and it will cost extra).
Styling – Exterior
Viewed from the exterior, both are very well designed. Given its modest price tag (in comparison to the C class) the A class has attractive lines and a lower profile which plays into its more compact nature. The C class, the larger of the two, manages to hide its bulk relatively well but not to the same effect. Despite these subtle differences, however, these SUVs could easily be mistaken for one another to the untrained eye.
Whilst both the GLA and the GLC pack a 2.0L inline-4 turbo engine under the hood, when it comes to output, the numbers don’t match up in the same way. The more compact GLA generates 221 horsepower and 258lb-ft of torque which although impressive in its own right, falls short when compared to the larger GLC.
Power is where the bigger GLC comes into its own. The GLC produces 255 horsepower and 273lb-ft of torque, giving it more towing power and the upper hand when it comes to acceleration. The GLC can do 0-60mph in 6.1 seconds, nearly a full second faster than the GLA’s 0-60 in 6.8 seconds.
The GLC also takes the lead in handling. The 9 speed transmission not only gives the driver more control but also provides the flexibility to drive the car to your tastes.
Of course, both SUVs deliver a quiet and smooth ride, even more so than some other key rival luxury SUVs like the equivalent BMWs.
However, since engine options are limited, spirited drivers will need to look into the pricier AMG range which really puts the two SUVs into a league of their own.
From the outset, it would be fair to assume the compact C class would offer more space than the subcompact A class. Whilst both are 5 seater vehicles, the Mercedes GLA offers more leg room for its front and rear passengers. This comes as a result of a 2021 overhaul which reconfigured the interior layout. Expect the GLC to reclaim its legroom advantage at some point in the future.
The Mercedes GLC does however offer more cargo room with a maximum 56.5 cubic ft of cargo volume when the seats are folded. The subcompact GLA has a smaller, but respectable, maximum 50.5 cubic ft of cargo space.
Both are excellent daily drives, offering space and comfort to both driver and passengers.
Technology and Features
When it comes to tech, both the Mercedes A and C class SUVs come with a large amount of impressive features as standard. This includes Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX), voice control and the ‘Hey Mercedes’ activation phrase.
You’ll also get a touch pad controller for the car (allowing passengers to adjust their comfort without hassling the driver), Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and touch controls on the steering wheel.
The only thing setting these two vehicles apart in this category is their displays. The Mercedes GLA has a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment whilst the GLC offers a larger 10.5 inch screen. To get the larger display in the GLA, you’ll need to option the Premium Package which will set you back a further $1750.
As is often the case, engines with a smaller output tend to be more economic. The subcompact Mercedes GLA delivers a respectable 25mpg in the city and 34mpg on the highway on a 13.5 gallon tank. Whereas the more powerful GLC, with a larger 17.4 gallon tank, will get you 22mpg in the city and 29mpg on the highway.
Given the recent release date of both of these vehicles, both the GLA and GLC are yet to receive safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA). They do however both feature a wide range of modern safety features with many extras available, plus, both the GLA and GLC come with 7 airbags as standard.
The Mercedes GLA competes against other luxury subcompact crossover SUVs, like the BMW X1 and Audi Q3, Lexus NX and Volvo XC40. The Mercedes GLC’s key rivals, on the other hand, are luxury compact crossover SUVs like the BMW X3 and Audi Q5.
Sticking with Mercedes, we can’t forget the relatively new subcompact GLB SUV. The GLB sits in between the GLA and GLC, and while closer to the GLA in size, is capable of fitting seven people. You can read our Mercedes GLA vs GLB comparison to learn more.
There’s also the GLE, which is a larger, midsize SUV and the next step up from the GLC within the German automaker’s SUV lineup.
When weighing up the two SUVs, it’s hard to split the pair. The Mercedes GLA costs less, but the Mercedes GLC SUV nets slightly improved performance, a stunning center console and a larger infotainment as standard. It also comes with some optioned extras that are unavailable on the GLA, such as a massive 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster display or hands free tailgate opening “kick” sensor.
Overall, though, the decision should come down to the need for a larger car. The GLA gets our vote right now, because of recent changes which manage to make passenger space very comparable to the GLC, and the LED color strips and illuminated vents which add some futuristic pizazz. In any case, a test drive at your nearest Mercedes Benz dealer is the best way to settle the matter.