2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4MATIC Review - GLAd to Have Choices
2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4MATIC
Much ink has been spilled in the automotive press over the decades making reference to the “same sausage, different lengths” philosophy of product planning prevalent within the premium German marques. Generally, that’s been a rap on the highly-derivative styling between the three (or more) varieties of sedan each automaker would offer.
Today, sedans don’t matter. I mean, of course, they matter – but not so much as the almighty SUV. Who knew that when Dearborn slapped leather and a wagon body on their compact pickup truck those many years ago, it would evolve into Mercedes-Benz offering eight sorta distinct tall beasts across the lineup?
Today, we drive the smallest such offering from the three-pointed star, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA250. With a starting price under $37K, it’s attractively priced to woo customers looking up from mainstream brands. Is it enough to keep them from wandering the lot?
Attractively priced when you look at the top line of the Monroney, that is. Before delivery, this all-wheel-drive GLA 250 has a starting price of $38,230. Loaded as many such cars are at the dealership was my tester, ringing the bell at $54,515. And these aren’t all trivial options. I can live without the $1,500 panorama sunroof. $2,240 for the AMG Line package (diamond black grille, AMG body styling, and perforated front brake discs), and another $750 for the AMG-branded wheels are both unnecessary on a crossover with no real sporting intentions.
But tacking on $1,700 for the Driver Assistance package – a suite of safety features that one finds standard on most modern cars for half as much – is a bit absurd. I can see charging extra for special paint – but $720 for this Mountain Grey Metallic? It’s a nice enough, if boring, color – but MB charges extra for any color other than black or white. That’s another two months of lease payments if you want the privilege of a car that has any sort of interesting color to it.
Enough complaining about the price – if you’ve gotten this far, you’ve acknowledged that there are many crossovers in the world available for lower sticker prices. You’re considering a Mercedes-Benz for reasons that are beyond purely rational – and that’s OK. Car buying doesn’t need to be completely rational – buy what you can afford and what you like.
The styling is fine. Handsome, even, if not a bit anonymous. This is the second generation of the GLA, with styling that hews more toward a more traditional, somewhat upright crossover styling than the first, which was squatter and hatchback-like. It’s a subtle difference, but the 2021 GLA is better looking to my eyes.
The interior is a great place to sit. Mercedes-Benz is nailing interior design lately, and it all starts with the excellent pair of 10.25” digital displays integrated into one broad panel. It looks spare and unadorned and works very well. Whether using the touchscreen, the touchpad at your right hand, or the steering-wheel controls, managing every function of the car while on the move is incredibly simple. Similarly, the single row of HVAC controls below the trio of round central air vents works intuitively.
I’ll mention a minor annoyance with the integrated voice assistant that will likely only apply to those who regularly discuss automobiles while driving. You see, much like Siri, Google, and Alexa, you summon the assistant by saying “Hey Mercedes.”
My wife and I tend to discuss the pros and cons of the various vehicles I bring home while we take a long drive.
Thus, in the middle of a talk, one of us mentions the brand of the vehicle and the killer song you’ve been quietly humming along to while ignoring what your spouse is saying is interrupted by a voice from deep within the dashboard.
The kids caught on and started shouting “Hey Mercedes” in an effort to annoy me. They succeeded. I eventually pulled over, sorted through the menus, and disabled the voice activation. Not before testing whether a song played via Spotify would activate the voice assistant. You guessed it – seems the engineers made sure that Janis Joplin’s plaintive cries for the Lord to buy her a Mercedes-Benz would not trigger a voice from the future.
The seats, lined in black MB-Tex and paired with a suede-like material called Dinamica, are beautifully firm and supportive. There is plenty of seat comfort front and rear – even in this smallest crossover, the legroom in the rear was more than adequate. Cargo area is decent – MB doesn’t have updated figures for the cargo hold with the rear seat up, but I was able to fit four camp chairs, an overstuffed softball gear bag, and a mid-sized cooler in the hatch area without restricting my rearward vision.
My biggest concern with the GLA250 comes from the driving experience. Best I can tell from the suspension engineering books I bought in high school, before my dreams of becoming an automotive engineer were cruelly obliterated by Advanced Placement Calculus – leading to entry into college as an aimless political science major and, ultimately, to me writing about cars rather than making them – the GLA suffers from a serious lack of roll stiffness. The car does have anti-roll bars – I checked – but they seem to not make a whit of difference in ride quality. The car feels significantly taller and more top-heavy than it really is. Gentle undulations in the road surface will send your head – and those of your passengers – side to side.
Ride quality in terms of impact harshness is fine. Crashing over the ubiquitous pothole is a non-event. Driving over a two-lane that rises where a cross-street enters, lifting the right side of the car up higher than the left briefly, sends noggins a-swaying.
Engine and drivetrain performance is decent. The transverse 2.0-liter turbo puts 221 horsepower down to all four via an eight-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission – shifts are nearly imperceptible when the drive mode selector is in comfort, while they are quicker and a bit more firm when switched to sport mode.
Sport mode seems silly, again, in a car with no sporting intentions save the swath of AMG logos. But flicking the switch does seem to help – though not eliminate – the cranium sashay described above. Modes can be mixed and matched to give the soft shifting of the comfort mode along with the better damper control of the sport mode, but it shouldn’t be this way.
My biggest concern with the GLA 250 lies in the next row of the Mercedes-Benz dealership – or in the next letter of the alphabet, if you will. The GLB 250 uses much the same drivetrain and is indeed built on the same architecture as the GLB – but rides on a longer, taller, more substantial vehicle. Four inches of wheelbase, about nine inches of extra wheelbase, and two more inches of height – along with at least four hundred pounds of additional heft – make for a much better ride. EPA combined fuel economy figures are quite similar – 27 combined for the GLA, versus 26 for the GLB (both referring to the 4MATIC all-wheel-drive models) but the driving experience is so, so much better on the GLB.
I drove the GLB earlier this summer, perhaps not coincidentally painted identically, with the same wheels and substantially the same level of trim. That GLB 250 (pictured below) stickered at $55,340 – look above at the GLA priced about eight hundred dollars less. The only significant points one might put in the GLA column – slightly better fuel economy, and if the country of origin is a deciding point, the GLA is built in Germany while the GLB comes from Mexico. Otherwise, I can’t see buying the GLA 250 when the GLB 250 is better riding, better driving, and arguably looks better.
This is NOT the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250. It is the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB 250.
I mean, look at it. That’s a really good looking trucklet.
Like I said above, car buying doesn’t have to be rational. Buy what you fancy. For my money, however, please ignore any entendre when I tell you that I’d choose the slightly longer sausage rather than the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250.
[Images: © 2020 Chris Tonn]
Some enthusiasts say they were born with gasoline in their veins. Chris Tonn, on the other hand, had rust flakes in his eyes nearly since birth. Living in salty Ohio and being hopelessly addicted to vintage British and Japanese steel will do that to you. His work has appeared in ebay Motors, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars, Reader's Digest, AutoGuide, Family Handyman, and Jalopnik. He's currently looking for the safety glasses he just set down somewhere.
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