2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4MATIC Review - GLAd to Have Choices

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
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Fast Facts

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4MATIC

2.0-liter turbocharged four (221hp @ 5500 rpm, 258 lb-ft @ 1800 rpm)
Eight-speed, dual-clutch transmission, all-wheel drive
24 city / 33 highway / 27 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
27.4 (observed mileage, MPG)
Canadian market fuel economy not available at press time.
Base Price: $39,280 US / $42,400 CAN
As Tested: $54,515 US / $56,165 CAN
Prices include $1,050 destination charge in the United States. Canadian pricing without destination/delivery charges, as these are dealer defined and, as such, vary.
2021 mercedes benz gla 250 4matic review glad to have choices

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]

Chris Tonn
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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2 of 16 comments
  • ThomasSchiffer ThomasSchiffer on Oct 01, 2020

    The GLB looks very good. It is an SUV which I would not mind owning, however I still prefer the big bad SUVs like the G-Klasse and especially the GLS-Klasse. The new GLA is an improvement over the original model. Strangely, the new GLA does not look interesting or beautiful in the press photos, but in person they come across as quite handsome, if a tad boring. I found them to be spacious for both the driver and front passenger, and the rear is good enough for small children or at best a short trip when driving with adults.

  • SPPPP SPPPP on Oct 02, 2020

    Chris Tonn, there's one part of your article that seems a little mixed up. I will explain why it seems that way to me. "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." The situation where driver and passengers experience "head toss" over one-wheel bumps is actually a sign that relatively stiff anti-roll bars are present. If there was no anti-roll bar, then the side of the car hitting the bump would be free to absorb that impact without imparting as much tilt to the vehicle. The anti-roll bar, however, transfers some of that force to the opposite side wheel using two levers, and using the body of the vehicle as a fulcrum, which also transfers some of the force to the body. "Relatively stiff" means that the anti-roll bar is stiff relative to how stiff the springs and shocks are. Installing a bigger anti-roll bar without changing springs and shocks leads to more head toss. Installing stiffer springs and shocks without changing the anti-roll bar may reduce head toss (though the effects of the stiffer springs and shocks may also cause head toss after a certain point). This article talks about active anti-roll bars, which BMW and Mercedes do offer on some vehicles, which aim to reduce the trade-off by enabling continuous control of the stiffness of the bar. When cornering, it can be stiff (a la Sport Mode), but when riding along, it can be soft. Page 23 discusses head toss briefly. https://kth.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1183313/FULLTEXT01.pdf

  • Lorenzo A union in itself doesn't mean failure, collective bargaining would mean failure.
  • Ajla Why did pedestrian fatalities hit their nadir in 2009 and overall road fatalities hit their lowest since 1949 in 2011? Sedans were more popular back then but a lot of 300hp trucks and SUVs were on the road starting around 2000. And the sedans weren't getting smaller and slower either. The correlation between the the size and power of the fleet with more road deaths seems to be a more recent occurrence.
  • Jeff_M It's either a three on the tree OR it's an automatic. It ain't both.
  • Lorenzo I'm all in favor of using software and automation to BUILD cars, but keep that junk off my instrument panel, especially the software enabled interactive junk. Just give me the knobs and switches so I can control the vehicle, with no interconnectivity of any kind.
  • MaintenanceCosts Modern cars detach people from their speed too much. The combination of tall ride height, super-effective sound insulation, massive power, and electronic aids makes people quite unaware of just how much kinetic energy is nominally under their control while they watch a movie on their phone with one hand and eat a Quarter Pounder with the other. I think that is the primary reason we are seeing an uptick in speed-related fatalities, especially among people NOT in cars.With that said, I don't think Americans have proven responsible enough to have unlimited speed in cars. Although I'd hate it, I still would support limiters that kick in at 10 over in the city and 20 over on the freeway, because I think they would save more than enough lives to be worth the pain.