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Driven: 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4Matic [Review]

New From The Ground Up, The New GLA is a Strong Intro to The Mercedes Crossover Lineup

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250

Redesigning vehicles is risky business. If automakers implement too dramatic a change, people will spend all of their time waxing poetic about even the most pedestrian models. Play it too safe and another crowd will crow about a lack of creativity. The best updates walk a fine line between innovation and tradition, which is a balance Mercedes-Benz got mostly right with the 2021 GLA-Class. Let’s dive into what the entry point on this vehicle has to offer, specifically the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4Matic.

2021 Mercedes GLA 2500 4Matic

I recently spent a week testing the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4Matic, which, along with a front-drive version, forms the entry point to the Mercedes-Benz crossover lineup. Beyond the 250, there are two high-performance models tuned by AMG. All GLA models get some version of a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four.

Lively But Not Sporty

The 2021 Mercedes GLA 250’s inline-four produces 221 hp and 258 lb.-ft. of torque.  The AMG GLA 35 sees 302 hp and 295 lb.-ft. of torque from its AMG-enhanced engine, while the top-spec AMG GLA 45 gets 382 hp and 354 lb.-ft. of torque from its handcrafted turbocharger 4-cylinder.

Our tester GLA 250 sports the same turbocharged 2.0-liter engine that is seen in the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, which is more than enough to move a vehicle that checks in at 173.6 inches long, 72.2 inches wide before mirrors, and that weighs around 3,500 pounds with urgency. The vehicle comes standard with front-wheel drive, but our test car was equipped with Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel-drive system.

Lively around town and able to make its way through tight gaps in traffic without issue this little Merc crossover is a pleasure to drive at speed. At low speeds, the dual-clutch 8-speed automatic transmission feels slow to engage at times. This is especially noticeable in stop-and-go traffic, and at times, the transmission takes a few beats between the press of the throttle and actually engaging a gear to accelerate. This can lead to over-zealous stabs of the gas pedal and jostled passengers with the jerk of unintended acceleration when the power does finally get to the wheels.

Beyond that, the Mercedes GLA 250 is every bit the upscale cruiser. The 2021 model rides on a longer wheelbase than its predecessor, which serves to improve ride quality and smooth out the rough edges of broken pavement. Road and wind noise are both largely held at bay by the GLA 250’s sound insulation, though there’s more to be heard here than in larger Mercedes-Benz crossovers.

New Crossover Looks

The previous GLA-Class looked and felt like a hatchback – a hot hatch in some of its forms – but this new model is different. The 2021 model year brought a look that is decidedly more SUV than hatchback, and the resulting styling is more mature than the previous vehicle. Though it’s taller and more upright than its predecessor, the 2021 GLA-Class’ exterior is still curvy and swept-back, making it interesting to look at from nearly any angle.

Cozy or Cramped, You Decide

The GLA 250’s cabin is small, but in a way that feels cozy instead of cramped. The front seats can be adjusted for a low driving position, but the center console expands outward as it gets closer to the dash. The shape made an excellent knee rest for me at 6-feet tall, but it’s easy to see how taller drivers might grow negative feelings about the available legroom.

That said, the back seat is where the GLA 250’s passengers will be most affected by its size. The roof doesn’t slope off dramatically toward the rear as it does in Mercedes-Benz’s “coupes,” but with the vehicle’s small size there wasn’t that much headroom to play with. That means a tight fit for anyone over 6-ish feet tall and an annoying time getting kids into and out of car seats, no matter the size.

Big Screens But Confusing Software

The GLA 250 comes standard with dual 7.0-inch displays, but our test vehicle came with the available dual 10.3-inch setup. The system allows for a variety of input methods, which include touchscreen controls, a center console-mounted touchpad, or voice commands. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both standard, and our tester also carried optional navigation, SiriusXM satellite radio, and a Burmester audio system.

The latest MBUX infotainment system is more complex than the software that runs in other vehicles’ dashboards, but its idiosyncrasies become easier to live with over time. One early challenge with using the system revolved around changing audio input sources, which requires multiple taps of the touchscreen and absorbs the driver’s attention for short periods of time. Further frustration comes with the touchpad, where it can be difficult to hone in on the right location to press to achieve the desired action. Voice controls work surprisingly well, and the ability to use Google Assistant or Siri with the included smartphone interfaces is a big bonus.

Much of the available advanced safety tech is held back in added-cost options packages, though the GLA does get more than the basics. Standard kit includes active brake assistance, crosswind assist, blind spot monitors, and a driver attention assistance system. Crash-testing agencies, such as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) haven’t yet had a chance to get their hands on the 2021 GLA at the time of this review.

Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class: Divide To Conquer

Mercedes’ move to make multiple AMG-tuned versions of most of its vehicles may seem like overkill to some, but it has allowed the automaker to focus on what matters in most in its “standard” offerings, like comfort and everyday usability. The GLA-class’s compact dimensions could make for a miserable experience if the ride quality or interior furnishes leaned too far to the sporty side, but that’s not the case. If you’re looking for that sort of thing, opt for the AMG GLA, but for everyone else, there’s a refined, comfortable compact crossover to be had in the GLA 250.

Without the pressure to make a “hot” crossover, Mercedes-Benz instead built one that is comfortable and mostly a pleasure to live with on a daily basis. The base GLA 250 starts at $36,230 and adding all-wheel drive pushes that price up by $2,000. The range-topping AMG GLA 45 starts at $54,500. Of course, it’s easy to spend more than those amounts on any GLA, as my tester landed at $46,630 after the addition of a $1,500 panoramic sunroof, a $3,000 AMG/Night Package, and a $900 exterior lighting package.

The AMG GLA 45 (shown here) is a sportier and more expensive counterpart to the GLA 250 we tested.

Click HERE to find a local dealer and/or build out your own 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA.

About Chris Teague

After working in the technology and software industry for several years, I began writing as a way to help people outside of that world understand the sometimes very technical work that goes on behind the scenes. With a lifelong love of all things automotive, I turned my attention to writing new vehicle reviews, detailing industry trends, and breaking news. Along the way, I earned an MBA with a focus on data analysis that has helped me gain a strong understanding of why the auto industry’s biggest companies make the decisions they do.