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2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic (AWD)

Mercedes delivers a sporty small crossover with its GLA250 …

Life is getting harder for premium brands.

For instance the small crossover market is flooded with snazzy options, the Lexus UX, Volvo XC40 being two I’ve tested, while the pressure is coming from the likes of Mazda’s near perfect CX-30 along with Subaru’s Forester.

Into this market plops this week’s tester, the Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic. It’s similar in size and performance to those mentioned above, also packing all-wheel drive. Oh it’s sporty looking and performs well, but is on the higher end of starting prices compared with the others and sadly the test crossover was saddled with 18 options. That’s right, 18!

Those took what started as a moderate entry-level crossover of $39,280 up to a premium mid-size crossover or SUV price of $55,585.

But let’s move behind price as you could scrimp by adding just a couple options, maybe.

Power is good and handling is light and sporty. The GLA is Mercedes’ smallest crossover but handles like one of its higher-end cousins. Toss it into tight winding turns out near Holy Hill locally and it behaves like a small sport sedan.

Power comes from a turbocharged 2.0-liter I4 (very common now) that pumps out 221 horses and is rated 258 for torque. Quite respectable! A driver can add some oomph by adjusting to the Sport drive mode from Comfort. Power increases and steering effort firms. Ride is already pretty firm and with a short wheelbase can become a bit jiggly at times.

Watch Mark’s review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMWkEhVjU-M

By comparison, the luxurious Volvo XC40 has 248 horsepower and the modest cost Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus tested earlier this year knocks out 227-250 horses depending on what octane fuel you use. Both handle well, like the Mercedes.

GLA uses a fine 8-speed automatic to engage that engine and the 4Matic AWD system provides good traction putting 80% of the power to the front wheels in Comfort and Eco drive modes. Sport shifts 30% of the power to the rear.

At just 3,494 lbs. the Mercedes feels light and nimble.

Braking is excellent with big drilled rotors up front, a part of the AMG line package that adds $2,240 to the price tag. If you are into performance this may be worth it. It also adds an AMG diamond block grille and some AMG styling touches to the body for spiffiness purposes.

From a looks standpoint the AMG black multi-spoke 20-inch wheels certainly looked great too on the white tester. Note only black and white paint are standard, all other shades add $720. The fancy wheels are $1,050, but again, if style matters as much as performance, a reasonable add-on.

The tested GLA250 also added a Night package to make the grille trim a high-gloss black, and likewise the outside mirror covers and window trim. Cost is $400.

Inside the small Mercedes was sharply styled with five round satin chrome air vents spread across the lean dash. Seating was a titanium gray leather with similar black to gray dash and door trim. Natural grain black linden wood trim spiffed the dash and doors too, a $325 addition. Trim is mostly satin chrome and gloss black around the 20-inch wide instrument panel and info screen, looking much like a giant cell phone. I like the look, but that leather is a $1,450 option.

Those bigger screens cost extra too. A 7-incher is standard for the touchscreen, but the Premium package boosts that to 10.25-inch info and instrument cluster screens, merged as one unit. The $1,750 package also includes a Keyless-Go package, auto-dimming rearview and driver-side mirrors that will fold flat against the doors.

Dash buttons and the screens are simple enough to use as there generally are two or three ways to engage the radio, navigation system, etc. A touchpad on the console replaces the former clumsy knob there. The pad is slightly easier to use, but not while driving. Many buttons are on the steering wheel hub to access these functions too, but that and its leather covering cost $360 extra.

There’s a big 10.5-inch screen above those three air vents and climate toggles.

An Alexa-like system that the driver must address as Hey Mercedes, will answer your time and temperature questions, among others, just like Alexa. I stumped her as often as not, or had to rephrase my questions. Still, it can be fun to play with this on a long drive. On the electronics front, an SOS emergency system is mounted overhead.

Seating is firm (one friend called it hard), but well-shaped for hip and lower back support, and I like that Mercedes puts the seat adjustments on the door. Very easy to reach! The power lumbar button is still on the driver’s seat side, and the seats feature a lower-cushion extension for long-legged driver. That extension’s control knob beneath the cushion sticks out a bit far though. Seats here were heated too, a $500 option. As our climate warms it would make sense to have cooled seats, especially with leather surfaces.

The GLA250 has a sharp-looking cockpit with a flat-bottom wheel.

Other goodies on the tested GLA250 included a panoramic sunroof ($1,500), Sirius XM radio ($460), a laudable Burmester surround sound system ($850), wireless phone charging ($200) and a cool 64-color interior ambient lighting system ($310) that is adjusted through the info screen. I liked the indigo lighting for the dash trim and air vents, very relaxing and classy!

The new GLA’s interior is roomy too, easily carrying four adults. The redesign for 2021 lengthened the wheelbase by an inch, boosted rear seat legroom by 4.5 inches and raised the roofline by 3.5 inches to maximize front seat headroom. Tall drivers fit well.

Likewise there’s more cargo room under the power hatch. With seats in place it’s 15.4 cubic feet and with the rear seats folded flat it grows to 50.5 cubic feet. The seats also include a fold-down pass-through for folks carrying skis or other long thin items.

Here’s as good a spot as any to mention that the power hatch did not always latch properly. It seemed to, but once the vehicle was started a tiny red light flashes for the hatch area and the rear-view camera will not engage. So, climb out and manually re-latch the hatch. Might be a problem only on the tester, but still.

A few other glitches or things I question, include an odd feature where a front-view camera engages at intersections. It only seemed to turn on if there were other cars coming at you from the opposite direction. Since a driver can clearly see out the front window I’m not sure of its purpose as the screen is obviously smaller than the real view out the windshield. The screen  also makes the vehicles coming at you appear much further away.

I also found the lane departure assist system quite abrupt. If I let the GLA fade to the center or road’s shoulder lines the crossover would brake and groan much harder than any other vehicle I’ve tested. Most tug at the wheel to re-center the vehicle in its lane and do not brake or groan.

Snazzy looking taillights here!

And this is just a heads up, but the slim transmission shift lever extends from the right of the steering column. That’s an unusual location as of the past 25 years or so. This is where one usually finds the wiper lever. So if you purchase, just be aware you’ll need to retrain yourself as to the shifter’s location.

Speaking of safety, the majority of safety features here were included in option packages. I won’t repeat them all as they are in the stat box below, but everything from blind-spot assist to adaptive high-beams and the navigation system are in packages totaling $3,895.

Which brings us to gas mileage, something of concern as $3 a gallon gas is pretty much the norm now. I managed an excellent 28.2 mpg in about a 50-50 mix of city and highway driving with up to four aboard, and I didn’t go easy on the throttle a lot either. High octane fuel is preferred and the EPA rates the GLA250 at 24 mpg city and 33 highway.

Spiffy black wheels with Mercedes logos!

If 221 horses aren’t enough there are two other GLA models with more oomph. The GLA350 touts a horsier turbo 2.0 I4 at 302 horses from an AMG-tuned motor and the GLA450 delivers 382 horses. This engine is hand-built by Mercedes AMG performance factory.

Those models start at $47,550 and $54,500, respectively, and reflect mid-level luxury prices. Ironically the tester actually cost more than those horsier trims, once all its options were ladled on to this wundercar!

FAST STATS: 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic

Hits: Good power and sporty looks and handling, plus AWD. Mercedes version of Alexa, panoramic sunroof, heated seats, 5 round dash air vents, wireless charger, stereo upgrade, power hatch, 4 drive modes, 10.25-inch screen, SOS overhead, lower seat extensions and excellent braking.

Is it just me or does this remind you of a Star Wars stormtrooper?

Misses: Firm ride, power hatch doesn’t always latch properly, knob to release lower seat extension sticks out too far, odd front-view camera engages at intersections, console touchpad for screen adjustment, abrupt lane departure correction with braking, shift lever on right of steering column an unusual location.

Made in: Rastatt, Germany

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4, 221 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,494 lbs.

Wheelbase: 107.4 in.

Length: 173.6 in.

Cargo: 15.2-50.5 cu.ft.

MPG: 24/33

MPG: 28.2 (tested)

Base Price: $39,280 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

Titanium gray/black leather interior, $1,450

Natural grain black linden wood trim, $325

Multi-function leather steering wheel, $360

20-inch black AMG multi-spoke wheels, $1,050

Panoramic sunroof, $1,500

Suspension w/adaptable damping, $990

Sirius XM radio, $460

Burmester surround sound system, $850

Heated front seats, $500

64-color interior ambient lighting, $310

Wireless charging, $200

USB-C adapter cable, $25

Driver assistance package (active brake assist w/cross-traffic function, distance assist, steering assist, blind-spot assist, lane-keeping assist, lane assist, speed limit assist, emergency stop assist, evasive steering assist, Pre-Safe Plus, route-based speed adaptation, extended restart in Stop-Go traffic), $1,700

Exterior lighting package (active LED headlights, adaptive high-beam assist), $900

Multi-media package (navigation and nav services, MBUX augmented reality nav, speed limit assist), $1,295

Night package (high-gloss black grille trim, exterior mirror covers, window trim), $400

AMG line (AMG body styling, perforated front discs, MB lettering, AMG diamond block grille), $2,240

Premium package (10.25-inch info screen, 10.25-digital instrument cluster, Keyless-Go package, auto-dimming rearview and driver-side mirrors, power fold mirrors), $1,750

Test vehicle: $55,585

Sources: Mercedes-Benz, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage