It’s easy to deliver a great luxury vehicle when money is no object. It’s much harder to deliver one for the entry-level buyer. Harder still is the highly-competitive small luxury crossover segment. So let’s see if this all-new Mercedes-Benz GLA is up to the task.
We often suggest that many small crossovers are simply hatchbacks with added all-wheel-drive. Indeed, the first gen Mercedes-Benz GLA was exactly that, a jacked-up version of the A-class hatchback that we didn’t get here in the U.S. It’s hard to argue with the process, as it proved to be quite successful. Still, for the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250, Mercedes wanted to go in a different, more true-to-form SUV direction.
It was designed to be a crossover utility from the get-go; and it truly looks the part now. It’s over 3-inches taller, has a more upright face, and grows in every dimension except for overall length; though there is more wheelbase; 107.4-inches. Add a tasteful amount of chrome trim, and you’ve got a progressive looking SUV.
So, yeah it looks more like what we expect in a utility, but the real transformation has taken place in the driving aspects of the car... uhh...SUV.
It’s all built on a much more significant uni-body structure; and like the GLB, the doors close with a resounding big-truck thud.
They didn’t go quite as far as the GLB’s mini G-Wagon vibe, as there’s still a sharply descending roofline, but it is a step in that direction. Seating position is also much higher than before.
Power here in the 250 is Mercedes’ 2.0-liter I4-turbo with output of 221-horsepower and 258 lb-ft. of torque; driving the front wheels through an 8-speed DCT automatic, with 4MATIC all-wheel-drive available. That’s 13-more horsepower than last year.
But before we get too far, let’s look back at when the Mercedes-Benz luxury utility thing began in earnest. Sure, they have a long history of military utilities, and the civilian Gelandewagon.
But, it was the 1998’s ML320 that really got the ball rolling. Designed to satisfy America’s insatiable appetite for luxury SUVs, it was even built in a brand new U.S. assembly plant in Alabama. We applauded the very competitive price, superior ride-and-handling, well-designed interior, strong off-road capabilities, and the fact that it lived up to the lofty Mercedes reputation.
Much the same can be said about this GLA. Interior amenities are fairly comprehensive in base trim, but adding the Premium Package is well worth it; as it ups the dual dash screens from 7 to 10-inches with customizable setups, MBUX connectivity, and augmented navigation.
They really knocked it out of the park, as first time buyers will find the genuine Mercedes experience they were expecting.
Front seats are wide and quite comfortable, and the longer wheelbase along with the height increase, really opens up the back seat.
There’s a good 15.4 cubic-ft. of cargo space on board; expanding to 50.5, with rear seatbacks folded.
Ride quality is still fairly firm, and as speeds increase, wind noise becomes apparent; but those are things only Mercedes-Benz veterans would pick up.
At the test track, power from our front-wheel-drive only tester doesn’t come on aggressively, but there’s plenty of it there at all times.
0-60 sprints take 6.8-seconds; with ¼-mile passes in the low 15s. Gear changes in the DCT transmission; timely and quite smooth.
Through the cones, steering was direct, with a good amount of weight to the wheel. Sport mode really tightens things up, but you’ll still have to deal with a fair amount of body roll and understeer, both of which encourage stability control system intrusion.
We could have used a little more engagement from the brakes; 120-feet stopping distances from 60 are not terrible, but the brakes themselves just didn’t feel very strong.
Government Fuel Economy Ratings are 25-City, 34-Highway, and 28-Combined for front-wheel-drive; we averaged 26.1 miles-per-gallon with Premium fuel.
Base pricing is extremely reasonable for an entry-level luxury utility, just $37,280 to start, with 4MATIC another 2-grand. But our fairly well-optioned tester was much closer to $50,000.
Whether you call them entry-level luxury or near-luxury, there are small upscale crossover utility options a-plenty these days. But it’s hard to beat the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250’s mix of luxury and value; it’s the perfect way for Benz to earn customers for life.
Engine: 2.0L I4 Turbo
Torque: 258 lb-ft.
0-60 mph: 6.8 seconds
EPA: 25 City / 34 Highway / 28 Combined
MotorWeek Average: 26.1 mpg Premium