Compact GLA 250 packs Mercedes punch

September 24, 2021 by
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Being compact makes the Mercedes GLA250 an appealing alternative.

By John Gilbert

The classic stature of Mercedes Benz automobiles runs all the way back to the company’s origin, in the late 1800s. You could say it runs back to when Daimler and Benz first met, except one of the wonderful legends of the company is that the two built competing vehicles and they never did meet, despite dwelling only a few miles apart. The incorporating of the two came after both pioneers had died, and it’s safe to say that while both had visions of what a motorized carriage could be, undoubtedly neither could have envisioned the evolution of cars to today’s standards.

To say nothing of trucks.

While Mercedes cars retain the iconic nature of the ultimate luxury sedans, the always-expanding array of Mercedes SUVs is just as iconic, from the largest all-terrain and luxury family haulers to the most compact. As it turns out, after being completely impressed with all the SUVs, by personal favorite comes down to the GLA250 — a compact but fully capable vehicle that will do anything its owner might bid it to do.

Easy North Shore commute to Grand Marais, and Minnesota’s one particular harbor.

While spending a week with a 2021 model GLA250 4Matic SUV, we put it through its family-hauler paces on the hills of Duluth, Minnesota, as well as a pleasant trip up Lake Superior’s North Shore on the legendary Hwy. 61 up to Grand Marais, a pleasant destination that gets close to the Canadian Border but provides an artsy stop with shops, restaurants, and that One Particular Harbor protecting the sailboat landings from the sometimes temperamental Lake Superior. That is the perfect setting for a destination drive as well as some hiking trails both in and near town.

Several models of Mercedes cars and SUVs cost into six figures, but he GLA250 is an absolute bargain next to the luxury flagships. The base price of the test vehicle was $38,230, which qualifies it as a bargain by any measure. The test 250 came loaded with features, including the AMG suffix for the corporate high-performance branch that does everything from high-performance engine tuning to superb suspensions, steering and brakes, as well as some styling and interior upgrades. With everything tallied, the sticker was $55,585 — still a bargain, considering when I was first asked, my estimate, knowing it was a bargain, was $65,000.

The test car came in Polar White, a gleaming metallic paint that reflects light in a dazzling manner and makes you think of a frozen pond with ice formations, which we see plenty of in Northern Minnesota winters, and causes me to cry “foul” for Mercedes to name its color after something that isn’t always pleasant in the Northland.

LED lights front and rear and a shape that fits two rows of seats and a large luggage space.

The glistening white made the black accents indicating AMG’s work stand out, such as the 20-inch black alloy wheels and the trim on the grille. As it has evolved, the 250 has grown pleasantly rounded corners on its blunt youthfulness, and it now looks more attractive because of it. The comfortable bucket seats, and the comfortable rear seat, make the GLA250 a great highway partner, and the quickness and agility give it a sportiness that doesn’t detract from its overall fuel-efficiency.

Instead of a high-tech V8, or one of tis new potent turbo 6es, the GLA250 has a 4-cylinder that is turbocharged and bolstered to 221 horsepower, which is plenty when combined with the engine’s 258 foot-pounds of torque. The column shift lever is something you might get used to quicker than I do. It sticks out on the right, a slender lever that you can press down to get into drive or lift up to engage reverse. It rests in its spring-loaded home between those two spots, although I must warn you of the tendency to flip it thinking you’re going to get an intermittent wipe of the wipers and instead you shift into “D.” You realize it about the time you realize you didn’t get your single swipe with the wipers.

Straightforward gauges and controls greet the driver, who is welcome to feel sporty.

It’s more fun to shift using the paddles on the steering wheel to adjust the 8-speed automatic up or down anyway. The EPA listing for the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder is 24 city and 33 highway, providing a composite average of 27 miles per gallon. We did better than that for an average, watching it reach as high as 32 mpg but maintaining an average of anywhere between 28-32 mpg even in mainly city driving.

There are some “nanny” type intrusions that can startle you in normal driving. If you’re cruising along on a deserted highway with nice, wide shoulders, you might allow your vehicle to ease over near the side stripe on the road, but if you touch that stripe, your GLA250 overreacts suddenly. Instead of a gentle gong, or a bit of a chattering, the vehicle nearly stops on a dime and lets out a loud shudder that makes you think you might be about to strike something that isn’t there.

There’s safety in extra security, but I got this reaction three or four times when I let the GLA wander just a bit. I’m not complaining, and perhaps you could adjust it to be less-intrusive, but I scolded myself for not staying more attentive and staying more centered in my lane.

For the most part, the automatic or active safety devices are starkly efficient. The vehicle will stop short of striking an object, and it will give you a lane-departure warning, or a rear backup alert if something is coming on the street behind you as you back out of your driveway or parking slot.

Nerve center on console lets you adjust everything and it reads out on info screen.

For driving position, you can get infinite settings for comfort, and you can adjust the driving mode to firm up the steering and suspension and hold the shift points to higher revs. I preferred the “Sport” setting, finding it pleasingly better for control and never approaching being harsh.

Acceleratiuon is excellent, and the steering wheel is perfectly grippable, with all sorts of redundant controls to operate all the features. The LED lights, front and rear, are also excellent. I particularly liked showing off the light-show aspect of merely turning on the headlights, because when you switch them on, they come on immediately, but then they sweep in a specific rhythm to the left and right and back with their own private fanfare before coming on to brighten your night with a solid wall of white as brilliant as the paint job.

The lights do a similar routine when you first put on your high beams, giving you a little reminder that these things mean business, and you might want to turn on the automatic dimmers.

Interior features firm, comfortable leather buckets, contemporary and stylish controls.

If I have a complaint about the GLA250, it is the excellent Burmeister surround audio system, because you have to deal with a needlessly complex system of clicking onto radio, then searching for where AM, FM, or Satellite settings interchange, then scroll up or down for a few minutes to locate the station you want. Then you can set it on the preset, which should take care of everything, but it seems that when you start up again, the audio system goes into some sort of default mode so that it can tell you what stations should be preset.

But generally, the optional features are also worthwhile and even fun or enjoyable. The sunroof, for example, is an expansive, two-pane thing with its own power inside shade. The 64-color ambient lighting, for example, allows you to choose whether you’d like red, bright orange, vivid blue, Vikings purple, or 60 other choices, and they come alive in a batch of accent lights, including a line that traces the dashboards and wraps around onto the doors. In the daylight, you can appreciate the Black Linden Wood trim in the interior, and all those items can command attention because the black and grey leather seats are comparatively subtle.

With generous seating for five, plus a lot of luggage room behind the back seat, the GLA250 becomes a fully accommodating family hauler especially for smallish families. The wireless charging, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto are standard features, as are all the safety gadgets, of which Mercedes has always been at the forefront.

Enormous sunroof lets the sun shine in front and rear, when you allow it.

If you also want an attractive shape, sporty power, superb handling, good fuel economy, surprisingly reasonable sticker price, comfort, an edge of raciness, all the requisite connectivity things, you can click off your priorities for buying a luxury SUV and find the GLA fills them all.

And if you know a typical 12-year-old neighbor or relative, maybe you can get him to tune your radio.

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