2021 Mercedes Benz GLA250 4Matic Review
Life is getting harder for premium brands.
For instance the small crossover market is flooded with snazzy options — the Lexus UX & Volvo XC40 being two I’ve tested — while the pressure is coming from the likes of Mazda’s near perfect CX-30 along with Subaru’s Forester.
Into this market plops this week’s tester, the Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic. It’s similar in size and performance to those mentioned above, also packing all-wheel drive. It’s sporty looking and performs well, but is on the higher end of starting prices compared with the others and sadly the test crossover was saddled with 18 options. That’s right, 18!
Those took what started as a moderate entry-level crossover of $39,280 up to a premium mid-size crossover or SUV price of $55,585.
But let’s move beyond price as you could scrimp by adding just a couple options, maybe.
Power is good and handling is light and sporty. The GLA is Mercedes’ smallest crossover but handles like one of its higher-end cousins. Toss it into tight winding turns out near Holy Hill locally and it behaves like a small sport sedan.
Power comes from a respectable turbocharged 2.0-liter I4 (very common now) that pumps out 221 horses and is rated 258 for torque. A driver can add some oomph by adjusting to the Sport drive mode from Comfort. Power increases and steering effort firms. The overall ride is already pretty firm and can become a bit jiggly at times with its short wheelbase.
By comparison, the luxurious Volvo XC40 has 248 horsepower and the modest cost Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus tested earlier this year knocks out 227-250 horses depending on what octane fuel you use. Both handle well, like the Mercedes.
GLA uses a fine 8-speed automatic to engage that engine and the 4Matic AWD system provides good traction, putting 80% of the power to the front wheels in Comfort and Eco drive modes. Sport mode shifts 30% of the power to the rear.
At just 3,494 lbs. the Mercedes feels light and nimble.
Braking is excellent with big drilled rotors up front — a part of the AMG line package that adds $2,240 to the price tag. If you are into performance this may be worth it. It also adds an AMG diamond block grille and some AMG styling touches to the body for spiffiness purposes.
From a looks standpoint the AMG black multi-spoke 20-inch wheels certainly looked great on the white tester. Note only black and white paint are standard, all other shades add $720. The fancy wheels are $1,050, but again, if style matters as much as performance, a reasonable add-on.
The tested GLA250 also added a $400 Night package to make the grille trim a high-gloss black, and likewise the outside mirror covers and window trim.
The small Mercedes was sharply styled on the inside with five round satin chrome air vents spread across the lean dash. Seating was a titanium gray leather with similar black to gray dash and door trim. Natural grain black linden wood trim spiffed the dash and doors too, a $325 addition. Trim is mostly satin chrome and gloss black around the 20-inch wide instrument panel and info screen, looking much like a giant cell phone. I like the look, but that leather is a $1,450 option.
Those bigger screens cost extra, too. A 7-inch screen is standard for the touchscreen, but the Premium package boosts that to 10.25-inch info and instrument cluster screens, merged as one unit. The $1,750 package also includes a Keyless-Go package, auto-dimming rearview and driver-side mirrors that will fold flat against the doors.
Dash buttons and the screens are simple enough to use as there generally are two or three ways to engage the radio, navigation system, etc. A touchpad on the console replaces the former clumsy knob there. The pad is slightly easier to use, but not while driving. There are many buttons on the steering wheel hub to access these functions too, but that and its leather covering cost an extra $360.
An Alexa-like system that the driver must address as "Hey Mercedes," will answer your time and temperature questions, among others, just like Alexa. I stumped her as often as not, or had to rephrase my questions. Still, it can be fun to play with this on a long drive. On the electronics front, an SOS emergency system is mounted overhead.
Seating is firm (one friend called it hard), but well-shaped for hip and lower back support, and I like that Mercedes puts the seat adjustments on the door. Very easy to reach! The power lumbar button is still on the driver’s seat side, and the seats feature a lower-cushion extension for a long-legged driver. That extension’s control knob beneath the cushion sticks out a bit far though. Seats here were heated too, a $500 option. As our climate warms it would make sense to have cooled seats, especially with leather surfaces.
Other goodies on the tested GLA250 included a panoramic sunroof ($1,500), Sirius XM radio ($460), a laudable Burmester surround sound system ($850), wireless phone charger ($200) and a cool 64-color interior ambient lighting system ($310) that is adjusted through the info screen. I liked the indigo lighting for the dash trim and air vents, very relaxing and classy!
The new GLA’s interior is roomy too, easily carrying four adults. The redesign for 2021 lengthened the wheelbase by an inch, boosted rear seat legroom by 4.5 inches and raised the roofline by 3.5 inches to maximize front seat headroom. Tall drivers fit well.
Likewise there’s more cargo room under the power hatch. With seats in place it's 15.4 cubic feet and with the rear seats folded flat it grows to 50.5 cubic feet. The seats also include a fold-down pass-through for folks carrying skis or other long, thin items.
Here’s as good a spot as any to mention that the power hatch did not always latch properly. It seemed to, but once the vehicle was started a tiny red light flashes for the hatch area and the rear-view camera will not engage. So, I had to climb out and manually re-latch the hatch. Might be a problem only on the tester, but still.
A few other glitches or things I question include an odd feature where a front-view camera engages at intersections. It only seemed to turn on if there were other cars coming at you from the opposite direction. Since a driver can clearly see out the front window I’m not sure of its purpose as the screen is obviously smaller than the real view out the windshield. The screen also makes the vehicles coming at you appear much further away.
I also found the lane departure assist system quite abrupt. If I let the GLA fade to the center or road’s shoulder lines the crossover would brake and groan much harder than any other vehicle I’ve tested. Most tug at the wheel to re-center the vehicle in its lane and do not brake or groan.
And this is just a heads up, but the slim transmission shift lever extends from the right of the steering column. That’s an unusual location as of the past 25 years or so. This is where one usually finds the wiper lever. So if you purchase, just be aware you’ll need to retrain yourself as to the shifter’s location.
Speaking of safety, the majority of safety features here were included in option packages (see the stat box below). Everything from blind-spot assist to adaptive high-beams and the navigation system are in packages totaling $3,895.
Which brings us to gas mileage, something of concern as three dollars for a gallon of gas is pretty much the norm now. I managed an excellent 28.2 mpg in about a 50-50 mix of city and highway driving with up to four aboard, and I didn’t go easy on the throttle a lot either. High octane fuel is preferred and the EPA rates the GLA250 at 24 mpg city and 33 highway.
If 221 horses aren’t enough there are two other GLA models with more oomph. The GLA350 touts a horsier turbo 2.0 I4 at 302 horses from an AMG-tuned motor and the GLA450 delivers 382 horses. This engine is hand-built by the Mercedes AMG performance factory.
Those models start at $47,550 and $54,500, respectively, and reflect mid-level luxury prices. Ironically the tester actually cost more than those horsier trims, once all its options were ladled on to this wundercar!
Overview: 2021 Mercedes Benz GLA250 4Matic
Hits: Good power and sporty looks and handling, plus AWD. Mercedes version of Alexa, panoramic sunroof, heated seats, five round dash air vents, wireless charger, stereo upgrade, power hatch, four drive modes, 10.25-inch screen, SOS overhead, lower seat extensions and excellent braking.
Misses: Firm ride, power hatch doesn’t always latch properly, knob to release lower seat extension sticks out too far, odd front-view camera engages at intersections, console touchpad for screen adjustment, abrupt lane departure correction with braking, shift lever in unusual location on the right of steering column.
Made in: Rastatt, Germany
Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4, 221 hp
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Weight: 3,494 lbs.
Wheelbase: 107.4 in.
Length: 173.6 in.
Cargo: 15.2-50.5 cu.ft.
MPG: 28.2 (tested)
Base Price: $39,280 (includes delivery)
Major Options: Titanium gray/black leather interior, $1,450
Natural grain black linden wood trim, $325
Multi-function leather steering wheel, $360
20-inch black AMG multi-spoke wheels, $1,050
Panoramic sunroof, $1,500
Suspension w/adaptable damping, $990
Sirius XM radio, $460
Burmester surround sound system, $850
Heated front seats, $500
64-color interior ambient lighting, $310
Wireless charging, $200
USB-C adapter cable, $25
Driver assistance package (active brake assist w/cross-traffic function, distance assist, steering assist, blind-spot assist, lane-keeping assist, lane assist, speed limit assist, emergency stop assist, evasive steering assist, Pre-Safe Plus, route-based speed adaptation, extended restart in Stop-Go traffic), $1,700
Exterior lighting package (active LED headlights, adaptive high-beam assist), $900
Multi-media package (navigation and nav services, MBUX augmented reality nav, speed limit assist), $1,295
Night package (high-gloss black grille trim, exterior mirror covers, window trim), $400
AMG line (AMG body styling, perforated front discs, MB lettering, AMG diamond block grille), $2,240
Premium package (10.25-inch info screen, 10.25-digital instrument cluster, Keyless-Go package, auto-dimming rearview and driver-side mirrors, power fold mirrors), $1,750
Test vehicle: $55,585
Editor's Note: Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.