2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 Review

Ron Sessions, Independent Expert | Sep 03, 2021

Introduction - Find the best Mercedes-Benz deals!

There are nine models in the vast Mercedes-Benz SUV universe, with starting prices ranging from $36,230 to more than $160,000. At the lower end of this lineup is the subject of this review: the diminutive, 5-passenger 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250. Bumper to bumper, it's just 2.6 inches longer than a Mini Countryman and more than two-thirds of a foot shorter than a Toyota Corolla sedan.

The GLA 250's mission is much larger than its size. It's a gateway to the brand, providing a relatively affordable vehicle for buyers looking to upgrade from a mainstream brand to the luxury space. The GLA 250 is also significant because, according to J.D. Power data, 63 percent of its buyers are women, an important and growing demographic. The smallest Mercedes-Benz SUV also makes sense with urban buyers dealing with traffic-choked streets and limited parking. In 2020, the GLA was the third-best-selling Mercedes-Benz SUV and nearly outsold the brand's top-selling passenger car, the E-Class.

Mercedes-Benz doesn't offer trim levels based on increasing comfort and convenience content. There are just two GLA 250 models based on powertrain—one equipped with front-wheel drive (FWD) and the other with the company's 4Matic all-wheel drive. The GLA 250 is, however, customizable with a wide selection of extra-cost options and option packages that allow buyers to mix and match to personal tastes. Also, two limited-production performance variants—the Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 and GLA 45—offer significant horsepower and chassis upgrades at proportionally substantial cost premiums.

All-new this year, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 grows in size with a taller, more SUV-like roof, longer wheelbase, roomier passenger space, and increased cargo room, but remains the luxury brand's smallest SUV offering. As with the compact Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class 4-door coupes and GLB-Class SUVs with which it shares its powertrain, chassis componentry, and basic layout, the new GLA 250 also upgrades to the latest iteration of the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) infotainment system as well as updated optional safety and driver-assistance technology trickling down from the S-Class flagship sedan.

What Owners Say About the Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 - Find the best Mercedes-Benz deals!

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 White Front Quarter View

Photo: Ron Sessions

The Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 competes in the Small Premium SUV segment. According to data collected from verified new-vehicle buyers for the J.D. Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, 63 percent of new Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 buyers are female (vs. 58 percent for the segment), and the median age of a GLA 250 buyer is 53 years (vs. 54).

As part of the APEAL Study, owners rated the GLA 250 in 10 primary categories. Listed below in descending order, you'll find their preferences from their most favorite thing about the vehicle to their least favorite:

  • Exterior design
  • Driving feel
  • Feeling of safety
  • Setting up and starting
  • Driving comfort
  • Powertrain
  • Interior design
  • Getting in and out
  • Infotainment system
  • Fuel economy

In the 2020 APEAL Study, the GLA 250 ranks 7th out of 8 Small Premium SUVs.

What Our Independent Expert Says About the Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 - Find the best Mercedes-Benz deals!

In the sections that follow, our independent expert provides an analysis of a front-wheel-drive 2021 GLA 250 equipped with the following options:

  • Premium package (10.25-inch infotainment display, 10.25-inch driver display, keyless entry with push-button start, auto-dimming mirrors, power-folding side mirrors)
  • Multimedia package (imbedded navigation with three years of updates, augmented reality for navigation, speed-limit assist)
  • SiriusXM satellite radio with free 6-month service trial
  • Heated front seats
  • 64-color interior ambient lighting
  • 18-inch 5-spoke wheels
  • USB-C adapter cable

The price of the test vehicle came to $41,620, including the $1,050 destination charge.

Getting In and Getting Comfortable

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 White Front Seats

Photo: Ron Sessions

First off, the GLA 250 is based on passenger-car mechanicals, so you don't need a step stool to get in. Ride height is passenger-car friendly, yet the GLA 250 still provides that slightly elevated seating position coveted by crossover SUV buyers. For 2021, Mercedes-Benz reworked the GLA 250, literally raising the roof 3.6 inches, which gives front- and rear-seat occupants more headroom and improved outward visibility. The company also stretched the GLA 250's wheelbase 1.1 inches, granting rear-seat passengers another 4.1 inches of legroom, which they can now access more easily through wider rear doors. If those rear passengers are adults, two can now sit back there in greater comfort—three for short distances.

Keeping in mind that the GLA 250 is the least-expensive Mercedes-Benz SUV offering, buyers may still be surprised that in standard form, it lacks many of the brand's typical luxury fitments found in the company's pricier models. So, there's plenty of hard plastic trim inside. That said, the basic GLA 250 standard kit does include a brightly colored, high-resolution 7-inch driver information display, a leather-wrapped tilt/telescopic steering wheel with shift paddles, dual-zone automatic climate control, basic cruise control, heated side mirrors, push-button start, and rain-sensing wipers.

The GLA 250's front bucket seats provide firm but comfortable support and include manual bottom cushion extenders in typical German fashion. The front seats are power-operated with electric controls on the door panels and have 3-position memory settings. The standard synthetic MB-Tex seat coverings can be upgraded to leather ones ($1,450). Other front-seat upgrades include multi-contour front buckets with adjustable lumbar and side bolsters ($760), heated front cushions ($500), or heated and ventilated front seats ($950), ca-ching, ca-ching.

Moving down the options list, there's a panoramic sunroof ($1,500), a heated steering wheel ($250), and a choice of Black Linden or Brown Walnut accent trim ($325).

The relatively basic GLA 250 test vehicle was equipped with the optional interior ambient lighting package ($310). During a long drive at night, this proved to be an entertaining addition. There are LEDs embedded in the instrument panel, console, doors, audio speakers, even the climate control vents that can be programmed to emit up to two of the available 64 colors simultaneously or sequence through all of them in a festive light show.

Storage inside the cabin is on the skimpy side. The controller pad for the MBUX infotainment system hogs some console-top space, leaving just a pair of cupholders, a bin with dual bomb-bay doors under the center armrest, a small, flat area under the center dash, a compact glove box, and limited door pockets for in-vehicle electronica and detritus.

The 40/20/40 split rear seat can handle differing cargo and passenger needs. A $360 option adds 5.5 inches of rear-seat fore-aft adjustment and a 7-position recline function, as well as a fold-down center armrest with a pair of cupholders. The rear seat has a pair of ISOFIX and TOP tether anchor locations for attaching child safety seats.

2021 Mercedes-Benz User Experience Infotainment System Review

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 White Interior Dashboard

Photo: Ron Sessions

The 2021 GLA 250 features the latest rendition of the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) infotainment system. Standard elements include:

  • 7-inch landscape-format high-definition color digital multimedia touchscreen
  • Console-mounted remote infotainment controller touchpad
  • Wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring
  • Voice control with natural-language understanding and keyword activation
  • AM/FM stereo with HD Radio

MBUX infotainment options include:

  • A 10.25-inch landscape-format multimedia touchscreen upgrade (part of a $1,750 Premium package)
  • Embedded navigation with three years of map upgrades, MBUX Augmented Reality, and Speed Limit Assist (included in $1,295 Multimedia package)
  • 12-speaker, 590-watt Burmester surround-sound premium audio system ($850)
  • SiriusXM satellite radio with free 6-month trial ($460)
  • Console-mounted wireless phone charger ($200)

Although the interior of the new GLA 250 is not as luxurious as most other Mercedes-Benz models, a pair of dual high-definition full-color landscape-format displays for the driver and infotainment system give it some pizzaz. Standard fare perched on top of the dash is a pair of 7-inch screens, but when optioned up with the $1,750 Premium package, screen size increases to 10.25 inches for both. In the larger size, the two screens butt end to end, creating a colorful digital wall of information and entertainment.

Drivers can access the audio, phone, and system content for the standard MBUX system via the center console touchpad, steering wheel controls, directly on the center touchscreen, or using the keyword-activated natural-language-enhanced voice control, the latter of which is one of the coolest features in the GLA 250. After giving the system a name (the default name is "Mercedes"), you can ask it to do things like select an audio source by station, artist, or genre, check the weather in any city around the globe, or adjust the climate control settings. The artificial intelligence in the system knows where you are on the map and even where you are sitting. So, after pushing the voice control button on the steering wheel, if the driver says, "Hey Mercedes, I'm cold," the MBUX system will increase the climate control temperature by 2 degrees and only on the side of the vehicle from which the voice came. Pretty slick.

Smartphone pairing for Bluetooth hands-free phone and streaming functions is simple with standard NFC capability.

Another neat feature is Augmented Reality, which comes with the $1,295 Multimedia package. When active, it provides a split-screen display of the selected navigation route and, in conjunction with the SUV's front camera, shows a wide-screen, real-time view of the road and traffic ahead. Then, layered on top of the camera view, Augmented Reality adds animation showing navigation instructions, lane guidance, major cross streets or highways, and the direction of the upcoming turn.

What It's Like to Drive the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 White Side Profile View

Photo: Ron Sessions

Under the hood of the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 is the same 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine that powers the CLA 250 4-door coupe and larger GLB 250 SUV. For 2021, Mercedes boosted output by 13 horsepower to 221. Maximum torque, which arrives at 1,800 rpm and hangs in to 4,000 rpm, is a satisfying 258 pound-feet.

Upgrading from last year's 7-speed automatic is a new, quick-shifting 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that adds a shorter first gear ratio for better low-speed response. From rest, the 2021 GLA 250 can accelerate to 60 mph in slightly less than 7 seconds, according to Mercedes.

Chassis details include a MacPherson strut front/multi-link rear suspension layout, electrically boosted steering, and Autobahn-worthy 4-wheel disc brakes. A 1.6-inch increase in track width gives the 2021 version a wider, road-ready stance than the previous model. The GLA 250's chassis setup provides nimble, drama-free handling and confident control on winding back roads. Overall, the suspension offers a good balance of ride comfort and handling precision. Even with the standard run-flat tires, ride quality is firm but not harsh over less than ideal pavement.

Around town, however, the GLA 250's small-car roots begin to show. For one thing, the GLA 250 is noisier than your typical Mercedes-Benz. There's the clatter of the direct-injection system (more noticeable from outside than inside the vehicle), a whirring sound from the transmission, and the flat, hollow droning from the 4-cylinder's exhaust, amplified by the open cargo area behind the seats. These aren't big sounds, and the excellent audio system easily drowns them out, but they're not the rich auditory treats many buyers have come to expect from plush Mercedes sedans powered by rich-sounding V6 and V8 engines. Also, the power flow through the gears is uneven; you have to work at it to have smooth acceleration.

That said, the GLA 250's 4-cylinder turbo and slick-shifting 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission give the diminutive SUV a peppy demeanor, if not as smooth and hushed as that of its larger corporate siblings.

Safety and Driver-Assistance Systems Review

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 White Reversing Camera Display

Photo: Ron Sessions

Because the GLA 250 is a Mercedes-Benz, it's available with a long list of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS), much of it shared with the flagship S-Class sedan. However, because the GLA 250 is the brand's least expensive SUV, just about all of it is optional at extra cost. The only items included as standard equipment are nine airbags, automatic emergency braking, a reversing camera, driver attention assist, and Mercedes-Benz emergency call service.

Most of the GLA 250's driver-assistive tech is bundled in the $1,700 Driver Assistance package. Its main content includes:

  • DISTRONIC adaptive cruise control with lane-centering assistance and speed adaptation ahead of curves, exits, and tollbooths
  • Active Brake Assist with Cross-Traffic Function (upgrades the standard auto emergency braking to include cross traffic at intersections)
  • Active Speed Limit Assist (automatically adjusts to the posted speed based on navigation map data)
  • Active Lane Change Assist (can execute a semi-autonomous lane change with DISTRONIC activated on a 4-lane highway if the lane is clear with turn signal application)
  • Active Blind-Spot Assist (a blind-spot warning system that can pulse single-side braking if an unsafe lane change is attempted)
  • Active Steering Assist (lane-centering based on lane markings and vehicles traveling ahead)
  • Active Lane-Keeping Assist (can buzz the steering wheel if the vehicle drifts over lane markings and pulse single-side braking to pull the vehicle back into its lane)
  • Active Emergency Stop Assist (can detect a disabled driver and slowly bring the vehicle to a stop)

Automatic high-beam headlight assist is included in a $900 Exterior Lighting package.

A $1,090 Parking Assistance package brings:

  • Surround-view camera display (gives a 360-degree overhead view of the vehicle and its immediate surroundings)
  • Active parking assist (can semi-autonomously move the GLA 250 into a perpendicular or parallel parking spot while operating the steering, gearshift, and brakes)

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 FAQ - Find the best Mercedes-Benz deals!

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 White Cargo Area

Photo: Ron Sessions

How much cargo space does the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 have?

Not only does the 2021 GLA 250's new taller, more squared-off shape aid rear-seat room, but it also increases cargo capacity over that of the previous-generation 2020 model. For 2021, cargo space behind the rear seat increases by almost a third to 15.4 cubic feet. That's enough space to stash five or six roller bags on a run to the airport. Fold down the 40/20/40 split rear seat, and cargo space jumps to 50.5 cubic feet—room enough to ferry a bicycle after removing its front wheel.

Owners can find more space for small items under the cargo floor in the spare tire well, which has no spare as the GLA 250 uses run-flat tires. There are also gallon milk jug-sized pockets behind the wheel wells. The height of the cargo floor is also adjustable, with a lower position for accommodating larger items. Standard fare is a power-operated liftgate.

Does the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 get good gas mileage?

The short answer is, by SUV standards, yes, it does. In EPA testing, the FWD version of the GLA 250 gets 28 mpg in combined city/highway driving while the 4Matic AWD GLA 250 achieves 27 mpg. More expensive premium unleaded fuel is required.

In a week of mixed in-town and highway driving, the front-drive GLA 250 test vehicle managed an indicated 29.5 mpg over 145 miles. With the car's 14.8-gallon fuel tank, the driving range for this trip would have topped 435 miles.

Aiding fuel economy is an automatic engine stop/start system that temporarily turns off the engine when stopped or idling in traffic. It automatically restarts when the driver lifts a foot off the brake. Stop/start can be deactivated by the driver if desired.

Is the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 safe?

Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has published results for the crashworthiness of the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250.

How much is the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250?

Pricing for the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 ranges from $36,230 for the front-drive model to $38,230 for the one with 4Matic AWD. The destination fee is $1,050.

What are the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 competitors?

In the J.D. Power 2020 Initial Quality Study (IQS), the Jaguar E-Pace ranks highest in the Small Premium SUV segment. The Lexus NX and the BMW X2 are the next highest-ranked models.

In the 2020 APEAL Study, the Jaguar E-Pace ranks highest in the Small Premium SUV segment. The Volvo XC40 and the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque are the next highest-ranked models.

Other competitors to the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 include the BMW X1 and Audi Q3.

Independent Expert Opinion - Find the best Mercedes-Benz deals!

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 White Rear Quarter View

Photo: Ron Sessions

While keeping the compact exterior dimensions that make it an acceptable choice for urban buyers dealing with traffic congestion and limited parking, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 now has the elevated seat height and more generous passenger and cargo space expected of an SUV.

The GLA 250's base price (under $38,000) will draw buyers keen on making the jump from a mainstream brand to a premium one. However, checking off too many boxes on the GLA 250's long options list for such must-haves as leather seats, navigation, a sunroof, and a premium audio system, plus the brand's extensive roster of driver-assistance technology and maybe a few AMG appearance upgrades, will quickly swell the total to more than $50,000. For that sum, other, larger premium-brand SUVs such as the Acura RDXInfiniti QX55, and the new Genesis GV70 might be worth cross-shopping.

Ron Sessions is a seasoned vehicle evaluator with more than three decades of experience. He has penned hundreds of road tests for automotive and consumer websites, enthusiast magazines, newsletters, technical journals, and newspapers.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2021 J.D. Power

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