2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 review: A smarter starter

The AMG Line and Night packages make the GLA look pretty mean.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

Just as Mercedes’ new CLA-Class is a huge improvement over its predecessor, so too is this GLA-Class SUV. Starting at $37,280 including $1,050 for destination, the GLA250 is an excellent entry point into the Mercedes-Benz lineup, and finally has the style and tech to really stand out in the subcompact SUV class.

LikeExcellent powertrainPlenty of driver-assistance techTop-notch MBUX infotainment

Don’t LikeSmaller cargo area than competitorsGets very expensive with options

Stylish and powerful

Despite being roughly the same size, visually, the new GLA really works. It’s got a 1.1-inch longer wheelbase but is shorter in overall length than before, though it’s nearly 4 inches taller and just a smidge wider, too. The sculpted hood gives the GLA250 an aura of strength and I like the LED running light signature. My tester has the $2,240 AMG Line appearance package and the $400 Night Package, giving the SUV a different grille, gloss-black exterior trim and slightly more aggressive styling. Those options normally get you 19-inch wheels, but this GLA250 takes things up a notch with larger 20s, a $1,050 option.

The GLA250’s turbocharged 2.0-liter I4 pushes out 221 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, and while front-wheel drive is standard, all-wheel drive is optional. These numbers are competitive within the class — the GLA250 is as powerful as an Audi Q3 or BMW X1, and it tops the Volvo XC40’s base T4 powertrain.

Mercedes’ eight-speed dual-clutch transmission is a joy, especially in the SUV’s Sport mode, where it holds gears longer to wring out all the engine’s power. There are paddle shifters, but the transmission works fine on its own. The steering is a little light for my tastes, even in Sport, but it’s accurate and quick to respond.

In Comfort mode, the GLA delivers a nicely composed ride. My only complaint is that the 2.0-liter I4 sounds kind of rough, though the smooth, easy delivery of power makes up for that. The optional Burmester sound system easily drowns out the engine, too.

All-wheel-drive GLAs get an Off-Road mode, not that this thing really begs to be taken off the beaten path, especially with 20-inch wheels. The Off-Road setting alters the parameters for the engine, all-wheel-drive system and anti-lock brakes, allowing the GLA to better handle dirty terrain. The GLA also comes with hill-descent control, which is sort of like a downhill cruise control, keeping the GLA anywhere between 1 and 11 mph on steep grades.

The GLA’s fuel economy is pretty decent, with the EPA estimating 25 miles per gallon city, 34 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined for front-wheel-drive models. Adding AWD reduces those numbers to 24, 33 and 27, respectively.

A huge amount of tech

Mercedes-Benz has really upped its tech game over the past few years and the GLA certainly doesn’t skimp on the good stuff. A pair of 7-inch screens for the instrument cluster and infotainment are standard, but my tester increases those to 10.2-inch displays. The upgraded screens are part of the $1,750 Premium Package and totally worth it.

MBUX is the best.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

MBUX software is the star here, and it can be controlled by thumbpads on the steering wheel, a touchpad on the center console or simply by touching the screen. You can also wake up the system by saying, “Hey, Mercedes,” at which point the voice command allows you to do just about anything. I can just say, “I’m cold,” and MBUX responds, “I’m increasing the temperature to 74 degrees.” Thanks, lady!

The $1,295 Multimedia Package adds augmented reality navigation overlays that can display information like addresses and directional arrows onto an image captured by the forward-facing camera. I’ve used this tech before and look forward to it every time — it’s a rare instance where I don’t just plug in my phone and rely on Apple CarPlay (or Android Auto, if that’s your bag).

The tech hits keep on coming with a number of driver-assistance systems. The only bummer is the good stuff is part of a $1,700 Driver Assistance Package, though it’s well worth the price. The adaptive cruise control brings the car to a smooth stop and the car uses GPS to slow down for curves in the highway, toll booths and the like. The steering assist does a good job at keeping the GLA centered in its lane along the highway, and lane-departure warning is there in case you start to veer off to the side.

The cabin isn’t quite as flashy as the A- or CLA-Class.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

But while the tech roster is rich, the rest of the GLA feels a little downmarket. The materials are all of decent quality, mind you, but the design is just kind of bland, with not a lot of attention to detail. Thankfully the seats are comfortable and there’s lots of storage. I love the thick, flat-bottomed steering wheel and Mercedes’ dual-color ambient lighting never ceases to impress.

The GLA’s larger dimensions means there’s a lot more space inside, even for second-row passengers. There are 4.5 more inches of rear legroom compared to the outgoing model, and there’s more headroom for front seat passengers as well. Even with the panoramic sunroof my 5-foot, 9-inch frame has plenty of space. My pandemic-tall hair doesn’t even come close to touching the headliner.

Where the GLA suffers slightly is with cargo space, which is smaller than other cars in the class. There’s only 15.4 cubic feet of space behind the second row, while a BMW X1 has just over 27 cubes and the Audi Q3 gets nearly 24. Fold those seats down and the GLA gets a bit more competitive with 50.5 cubic feet. Again, that’s less than the X1, but the seats-down spec surpasses that of the Q3.

It certainly looks a lot better than the old GLA.

Emme Hall/Roadshow
Raising the entry-level bar

The 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 may start at $37,280, but things can get pretty crazy if you aren’t careful with the options. All-wheel drive costs $2,000 and my tester has a crazy amount of bells and whistles, bringing the final price to $55,585 including destination. That’s a lot of money for this entry-level GLA, so you’d be smart to go easy with the add-ons.

Even so, the higher price really feels worth it considering how much nicer the GLA is than before. The driver-assistance tech is really quite good, the powertrain is peppy and the cabin is comfy. Those who want a little more oomph might want to wait until the end of the year for the AMG versions, but as it stands, the GLA250 is an excellent starter SUV for folks looking to get some luxury in their lives.


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