2021 Mercedes GLA250

GREENVILLE, S.C. — The redesigned Mercedes-Benz GLA250 puts a little more emphasis on “utility” in this, the smallest of Benz SUVs. Make no mistake, there is still a certain amount of fun-to-drive in the GLA250, but in its re-imagining, Mercedes added some traditional SUV cues resulting in a more mature, more substantial carryall.
I recently spent a week with a front-drive GLA250. The price of admission to the GLA-Class is $37,280, including the $1,050 factory delivery charge.

Mercedes added several optional goodies to the tune of $11,340, for a total price as tested of $48,620. Contributing to the options cost was a $2,500 up-charge for the Grey Magno exterior paint. It was uniquely handsome, but oddly, I couldn't find it listed among the GLA250 available colors on the Mercedes consumer website.

For 2021, the GLA-Class is externally larger in every regard, other than length, where it shrinks by a half-inch. Of particular note is its spike in height of 3.6 in. Mercedes wisely dumped the previous model's hatchback styling for a look much more inline with SUVs. Other evidence of the carmaker's effort at a more SUV-like appearance is the GLA250's new face. Mercedes blunted the snout, making for a wider, beefier look. With the wheels on each axle placed farther apart and a small (1.2 in) bump in overall width, the effect is a more stable, well-planted stance.

As the starter model in the GLA-Class — Mercedes also offers two AMG versions — the GLA250 employs a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine to spin the front wheels. (All-wheel drive — 4Matic in Benz speak — is available for a $2,000 up-charge.) This turbo cranks out 221 horsepower and 258 lb ft of torque. Switching the cogs falls to an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. If steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters are a must have, you will need to pony up $2,600 for the AMG Line package to get them. Otherwise, a small stalk mounted on the right of the steering column operates the transmission.

Mercedes claims a 0-60 miles-per-hour time of 6.8 seconds. Opting for 4Matic scrubs a couple of tenths of a seconds off that time. In everyday driving, the GLA250's powertrain provides enough get-up-and-go to satisfy the vast majority of drivers. I found it to be all I needed on city streets and freeways. It has plenty of gusto for merging into freeway-speed traffic or getting around poky vehicles. Although the engineers placed the up shifts to conserve fuel, when a burst of acceleration is required, this 8-speed is not shy about kicking down a gear to get things done.

Mileage is impressive. In addition to the tranny tuning to maximize fuel economy, the engine has an automatic stop/start feature. Stop/start operation is fairly discreet. Government estimates place mileage at 25 miles-per-gallon in the city, 34 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg in combined driving. Fuel economy won't be among the reasons for not opting for the 4Matic. That choice barely makes a difference with 24 mpg city/33 mpg highway/27 mpg combined.

Although Mercedes puts more emphasis on the utility of the 2021 GLA-Class than the previous model, it's still a small SUV, suffering from that segment's space limitations. Cargo room behind the second-row seat, for example, is a somewhat puny 15.4 cu ft. This is a bit less than offered by the trunk of a Chevrolet Malibu. Fortunately, the split rear seat folds down, expanding cargo-carrying capacity to more than 50 cu ft. Furnished for five, the redesigned GLA provides more passenger space fore and aft than the 2020 version.

Thirty years ago, Mercedes wouldn't have dreamed of building a retail SUV, let alone a small, entry-level one. But, that's exactly what the GLA250 is. So, if you are looking for S-Class luxury, you need to move a few links up the Mercedes-SUV food chain. What the GLA250 does provide is a comfortable, user-friendly environment. The seats aren't covered in leather, but they are comfy and look inviting. There are a fair amount of plastic pieces scattered around the cabin, but there are some soft-touch surfaces, as well.

Overall, the layout of controls and gauges is logical and nicely woven together. Everything is easy to spot and operate. It's worth noting the HVAC controls are consolidated into a tidy strip of toggle switches located immediately below the three round center air vents. Controlling the multi-adjustable front seats falls to the familiar door-mounted controls.

Right out of the box, the GLA250 has an acceptable amount of connected technology. Overseeing it all is the Mercedes-Benz User Experience infotainment system. Featured in this standard package is a 7-in touchscreen mounted upright in the center of the dashboard. Other standard features are Bluetooth connectivity, four USB ports, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a 6-speaker audio system with HD radio. Connectivity optional upgrades include a 10.3-in touchscreen, navigation, wireless charging, Wi-Fi hot spot, satellite-radio capability and a 12-speaker Burmester audio system.

Standard GLA-Class safety/driver-assist technology includes a rearview camera, forward collision warning, auto emergency braking, driver attention assist and blind spot monitoring. Available options include adaptive cruised control, lane keep assist, lane centering assist, lane change assist, intersection assist, traffic sign recognition, head-up display, 360-degree surround-view cameras and park assist.

The 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 is a good place to begin an affair with this German automaker or with luxury SUVs, for that matter. If you want something a bit larger, there isn't much daylight between the price of the GLA250 and the larger GLB250. Roughly $2,000 separates them. What you get in the GLA250 is a solid luxury SUV with decent performance, a comfortable ride, a fair amount of cargo or people space and good fuel economy. And, of course, the cachet that comes with driving a Benz.

— Russ Heaps