2021 Mercedes GLA
Jerry Kronenberg

2021 GLA-250 Offers Mercedes Luxury Performance for Under $40,000

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2021 Mercedes GLA
Jerry Kronenberg

Safe in Style

The 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA-250 is a peppy, fun little sport utility vehicle that allows you to get into the Mercedes line for less than $40,000. Redesigned completely for 2021, the GLA-250 (base price: $36,230) looks like a cross between a small SUV such as a Toyota RAV4 and a small sedan such as a Honda Civic, only souped up with lots of Mercedes luxury and performance. I recently tested a GLA-250 4Matic, a midlevel trim line with all-wheel drive and a $38,230 base price.

Related: Luxury Cars Under $50K That Are Totally Worth Owning

2021 Mercedes Exterior
Jerry Kronenberg

Exterior

On the outside, my test model looked sexy, solid, and sophisticated, with great gray paint. In front, a short hood led to a large grille with a big Mercedes logo weaved in and a smaller Mercedes logo on the hood itself. The grille swept back to modest-sized doors outfitted with automatic folding mirrors (part of a $1,750 premium package). All the way back, my test car featured a power liftgate with a handy rear wiper. My test model also came with an optional panoramic sunroof ($1,500).

2021 Mercedes Interior Front Seats
Jerry Kronenberg

Interior: Front Seats

My GLA-250 boasted a macho-looking black-and-chrome interior with stitched leather on the front seats and steering wheel and matching stitching on the dashboard. My test car's eight-position electric front-seat adjusters offered the driver and front passenger very good headroom, legroom, and hip room for a relatively small vehicle. The model also came with some of my favorite seat controls — one of those systems that looks like a little picture of the seat and allows you to just adjust whatever section you want.

2021 Mercedes Interior Touch Screen
Jerry Kronenberg

Interior: Electronics

My test model featured a crystal-clear LED display showing a digital speedometer and tachometer and came with a great touchscreen to control a climate system, navigation, AM/FM/SiriusXM/Bluetooth stereo and other systems. If that's not to your liking, Mercedes outfitted the GLA-250 with a dozen old-style knobs and buttons as backups. A computer-mouse-style control pad is an additional way to navigate the touchscreen and run the vehicle's various systems.

A quibble: As I've often found with German cars, these controls aren't very intuitive, and I found myself struggling to do various tasks even after reading the instruction manual. On the plus side, my test car came with some especially nice other features, such as a voice-activated command system, a wireless phone charger and a household-style 110-volt plug in back to run small electric devices.

Related: Porsche 911, VW Beetle, and Other Iconic German Cars That Changed the Game

2021 Mercedes Interior Back Seats
Jerry Kronenberg

Interior: Back Seat

Speaking of the backseat, the model's 60/40 split fold-down rear seats featured very good headroom, legroom, and hip room. Two adults could easily ride in relative comfort back there on even long, intercity trips. While they are technically designed for three people, these three adults would find the hip room a bit cramped on all but short city trips.


2021 Mercedes Cargo Bay
Jerry Kronenberg

Cargo Space

The cargo bay offers 15.4 cubic feet of storage space when the rear seats are in use. You can easily fit five or six grocery bags in that space, or perhaps two medium-sized suitcases. That's okay, but not incredible. Fortunately, you can easily fold the rear seats flat to create a much more generous 50.5 cubic feet of cargo space. That's plenty of room for five or six large suitcases, or even a modest-sized appliance such as a window air conditioner.

2021 Mercedes Road Test
Jerry Kronenberg

Road Test

On the road, my test GLA-250's 221-horsepower four-cylinder engine, eight-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive and Mercedes' excellent engineering teamed up to provide a sporty yet comfortable ride. (There's a choice of four driving modes: Sport, Comfort, Eco, or Offroad, though I didn't notice much difference between them.) There's something of an SUV's "high-up" road view, while small size makes backing up and parking a snap. The model also has excellent sight lines, impressive cornering, crisp braking, and good acceleration.

The car boasts that solid road feel I've always found in German vehicles. Whether you're driving a modest Volkswagen or a fancy BMW, Mercedes, or other brand, German cars always feel like a big, stolid hunk of metal that's not going to easily skid off of the road.

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2021 Mercedes Touch Pad
Jerry Kronenberg

Fuel Efficiency

The model comes with an automatic start/stop system to cut off the engine and save gas when idling at a stoplight. These are great for the environment, but don't always make for the smoothest ride. Fortunately, the GLA-250 has an easy-to-use button right below the keyless-startup switch to shut that system off if you want to. All told, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rates the GLA-250 4Matic's fuel efficiency at 24 mpg/city, 33 mpg/highway and 27 mpg/combined. During a weeklong test drive, I recorded a combined 28.5 mpg.

Related: 30 Most Iconic SUVs of All Time

2021 Mercedes GLA
Jerry Kronenberg

Pricing

A sub-$40,000 MSRP makes this model fairly affordable by Mercedes standards. The starting price matches up nicely with those of its main competitors: the $36,000 Audi Q3 and the $35,400 BMW X1.

Jerry Kronenberg is former auto editor of the Boston Herald.