Just about half a decade ago, when the subcompact crossover craze was barely getting started, Mercedes-Benz wanted a piece of the pie and introduced the GLA to the global market. The original GLA-Class did what it was supposed to do; bring down the price point of getting into a Mercedes crossover, and brought plenty of buyers to the brand. However, the last GLA 250 was by all standards a pretty poor vehicle, especially for the money it commanded. This year marks the introduction of the second generation model. With fairly low expectations, we borrowed a 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4MATIC to see if the Germans were able to improve it.
Since the last GLA’s introduction, nearly every other competing brand has come up with their own entry using the same formula. The BMW X1 is fairly good, the Audi Q3 is in its second generation, and the Volvo XC40 is pretty well a class leader – until now. In the same way the second generation CLA 250 gave its predecessor a turnaround, the new GLA 250 exceeds all expectations and is actually quite a good little crossover, providing decent value and all of the safety features we have come to accept.
The second generation GLA 250 is a full redesign, and not a mid-cycle refresh. What the outgoing model did right was the exterior styling – it was modern in 2014 and has aged quite well. This new one is more subtle, but uses the same design language we have seen in the current A-Class, and that’s not a bad thing. The LED lighting is crisp, and fades out as the driver locks up and walks away – a particularly nice touch. The GLA is handsome and is likely to age better than the current Audi Q3 and definitely the Lexus UX.
This GLA 250 has the entry level powertrain in the GLA lineup, a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. It packs 221 horsepower at 5,500RPM and 258 lb-ft. of torque from 1,800 to 4,000RPM. This translates to a 6.7-second 0-100km/h time, which isn’t shabby at all; it’s impressive how far mainstream four-cylinders have come. The engine has quite a bit of direct injection grumble and sounds raspier than we’d like, but this is only at idle and lower speeds.
Get the GLA onto the highway and its road manners begin to seriously impress. The chassis ensures excellent ride quality and the cabin is very quiet. Like other Mercedes-Benz models, the GLA 250 has an impressive ability to mask the speed at which it’s traveling, and that’s something that shouldn’t be taken for granted in the subcompact segment. The 8G-DCT eight-speed dual-clutch transmission does a good job changing gears crisply, and makes itself invisible in operation.
Inside the cabin, the GLA 250 has topped the Volvo XC40 for layout and design. The open-pore wood trim is lovely to look at and touch, and the Artico leatherette is comfortable. An impressive touch is how quickly the heated front seats get toasty and the seat controls are on the door in typical Mercedes-Benz fashion; a welcomed touch. Four will be reasonably comfortable in the GLA but it’s important to remember that this is a subcompact. Cargo capacity is an average 435-liters with the rear seats in place, and grows to 1,430-liters when folded down. The configurable ambient lighting is once again one of the main highlights and adds to the premium touches in the GLA.
Our test vehicle was equipped with the optional screen layout, a pair of adjacent 10.25-inch screens with plenty of customization. The screen on the right is a touchscreen and controls the MBUX infotainment system, while the one on the left is directly in front of the driver and is one of the cleanest, most intuitive instrument clusters in the business. MBUX has Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and USB-C connectivity. It’s designed to work best using voice recognition, but the touchpad is clunky to use and requires more commands than it should to execute simple tasks.
Canadian pricing for the GLA 250 4MATIC starts at $42,400. Our tester was pretty well loaded with a Sport Package (19-inch wheels, paddle shifters, sport seats), Technology Package (LED headlights, DISTRONIC, automatic high beam control), Black Linden open-pore wood, a Premium Package (10.25-inch screens, Blind Spot Assist, keyless go, Apple CarPlay, wireless charging), and navigation ($1,000). The aforementioned Premium Package also includes things like a power tailgate, ambient lighting, and voice control. The total as-tested sticker on our car came to $53,600.
A package we suggest every Mercedes-Benz buyer opt for is the Intelligent Drive Package. On the GLA 250 this will cost $1,900 but adds all of the active driving assist features that have become commonplace on today’s vehicles. This includes Active Steering Assist, Active Lane Change Assist, route-based speed adaptation, PRE-SAFE PLUS and more. Mercedes does this extremely well and we would go as far as to say that their Intelligent Drive Package is class-leading technology. If tech isn’t your thing, Mercedes-AMG also offers two hot variants of this crossover in the GLA 35 and GLA 45 variants, with more power and sharper handling.
With an observed 8.6L/100km in combined driving, the GLA 250 is a fairly good choice in the segment, and if you’re easy on the options, isn’t hard to keep under the $50,000 mark. The last BMW X1 we tested topped that without blinking, and same goes for the Audi Q3. The value buy in the segment is the Acura RDX, which is a touch bigger in size but is priced in the same range as the European subcompacts. If you require more practicality and prefer boxier styling, the new GLB-Class has a lot to offer, as well, and shares its platform with the GLA.
The only real flaws seen in the new GLA are some cheap-feeling plastic buttons on the interior, and a clunky infotainment interface. Aside from that, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4MATIC does everything asked of it as a subcompact crossover in the luxury segment, and feels considerably more upscale than the model it replaces. It’s no more an obvious move downmarket, but moreso an appealing way to get more new Mercedes-Benz buyers into showrooms to experience what the brand has to offer.