2021 Mercedes Benz GLA 250

I could feel it within seconds. The high eyeline. The hefty steering. How the body keeled around corners; the redesigned 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 drives like a proper SUV.

“Sport Utility Vehicle” is a somewhat ambiguous term these days, but my time in the 2021 GLA 250 showed that it fits that category more convincingly than its predecessor. In its transformation from that tall-ish hatchback, it lost some fun-to-drive attitude, but what it gained is a refined, authoritative demeanor that feels bigger than its subcompact sizing suggests.

How Big Is the New Mercedes GLA 250?

 

The dimensional changes indicate its mission. Most significant is height, a full 3.6 inches taller than before. Width increases by 1.2 inches, with 1.8 inches of track added front and rear. The wheelbase is extended by 1.1 inches, but overall length is actually 0.6 inches shorter. Its new proportions, plus design factors like tight overhangs and a compact greenhouse, make this GLA look more substantial. It ain’t a G-Wagen, but it has some real SUV presence.

There’s similar resizing inside, too. Front headroom increases 0.8 inch, though rear headroom shrinks by 0.3 inch. Front legroom loses 0.8 inch, but rear legroom grows by a whopping 4.5 inches. That big boost makes this GLA more livable. Despite my excessive stature, I fit comfortably with the driver’s seat forward of its aft stops. So positioned, there was space for a 6-foot colleague to hop in back. Places swapped, I had a decent amount of space behind him. NBA players take note: You don’t need a GLS-Class. Everyone else, too: You and some passengers will fit well in this baby Benz.

Another key measurement: a 3.8-inch higher front seating position, which targets practical and psychological aspects of SUV appeal. To the former, it provides a broad view of the road ahead (though that pinched D-pillar window limits rear visibility). To the latter, it imparts a feeling of looking down on your surroundings—a sense of roadway superiority. In either case, it supports the new GLA 250’s SUV-esque sensations.

How Does the GLA 250 Drive?

 

That taller seating position is apparent at a standstill, but becomes more obvious in the very first corner; the height increase contributes to plenty of body roll, even at neighborhood speeds. After a reasonable numb spot on-center, the steering weights up rapidly; this isn’t a car to be driven with a pinky. These dynamics are common among midsize or full-size SUVs, yet they’re present in this subcompact, too. That isn’t to say handling is poor. With its tires pushed to the corners and accurate steering, the GLA 250 is easy to place. It’s certainly not the fun high-riding hot hatchback its predecessor was, but it’s predictable and confident on a curvy road.

Part of me lamented the decreased fun, but I also appreciated the improved comfort. Whereas we criticized the previous GLA-Class’ overly firm ride, this one is quite pleasant. It damps out cracks and coarseness, while rounding off potholes and larger impacts. The wheelbase is now slightly longer but remains rather short in the grand scheme of things, so rapid undulations can cause the car to buck around. In these conditions, the GLA needs a moment to gather itself, but it’s otherwise a smooth cruiser. I didn’t find road or wind noise bothersome, as we have in the earlier GLA.

Every 2021 GLA model—even the AMG 35 and 45—is powered by some type of 2.0-liter turbo-four engine. The GLA 250’s unit is tuned to produce 221 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque; ours was paired with 4Matic all-wheel drive, a $2,000 option. Unexciting yet inoffensive, the engine felt totally adequate for my daily city driving needs. Extenuating circumstances kept us away from our testing facilities, but expect a slight improvement over the 6.9-second 0-60 mph time we recorded from the equivalent 2018 GLA.

The eight-speed dual-clutch automatic likes to upshift early for efficiency, but it remains ever-ready to drop a gear when asked. Still, like many transmissions of this type, low-speed behaviors could be improved. Off-brake creep impresses, but jabbing the gas from a standstill can catch the clutch unready. The first-to-second upshift isn’t as invisible as the others. Slowing to a stop, I could hear and feel ratios clunking down. These aren’t dealbreakers, but a conventional torque converter automatic might feel more natural to most.

Is the GLA 250 Luxurious?

 

If you’re after relatively inexpensive luxury, the GLA won’t disappoint—it’s markedly better than the outgoing model. That car’s unsightly dashboard button panel is gone, with functions now integrated into the infotainment touchscreen. Gone too are its plain-looking HVAC controls, replaced by a suave strip of toggles, which press with nice tactility. In contrast to the comfortable ride, seat cushioning feels unsupportive and much too firm. All told, however, hard plastics are better concealed, and materials are generally better detailed and more attractive.

Sure, Mercedes improves quality in any redesign. But I was surprised by how luxurious the GLA 250 felt compared to the GLB 250 I drove a few months ago. Their cabin layouts and starting prices are darn near identical. Both reveal some cheap bits if you poke around. What makes the difference?

It wasn’t our GLA’s $850 Burmester audio system. That sounded great, but the standard setup in the GLB was nice, too. The GLB I drove lacked the $1,500 panoramic sunroof fitted to our GLA. Big deal; I opened it about twice. Also absent from that GLB was this GLA’s $310 multi-color ambient lighting setup, an amusing bauble at most. Both cars had $325 natural grain wood trim, which reminded me of hardware store flooring samples in each. Neither had a technology advantage, as both featured Mercedes’ capable and sometimes confusing MBUX infotainment system on the optional 10.3 inch touchscreen (part of the $1,750 premium package), and excellent $1,750 driver-assist suite, which adds adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, emergency evasive steering, and more.

Is the GLA 250 an SUV?

 

That luxurious atmosphere comes down to the subtleties present regardless of the options chosen. The GLA 250’s supple, quiet ride makes it a deft everyday cruiser. That elevated eyeline provides a commanding, assured position on the road. The space it offers in any seat defies its exterior dimensions. Factor in its weighty steering and yes, even body roll, and the result is a redesigned GLA that feels bigger than it is.

It’s now more of an SUV than ever, and it’s better for it. You’re only reminded of the truth when you see how much space it leaves in a parking spot.

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4Matic
BASE PRICE $39,280
LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.0L/221-hp/258-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 8-speed twin-clutch auto
CURB WEIGHT 3,500 lb (MT est)
WHEELBASE 107.4 in
L x W x H 173.6 x 72.2 x 63.6 in
0-60 MPH 6.6 sec (mfr est)
EPA FUEL ECON 24/33/27 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 140/102 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.71 lb/mile
ON SALE Currently