Mercedes-Benz offers two small crossover SUVS -- one that’s sorta SUV-ish, another that’s kinda crossover-ish.
While the GLB, with its boxy styling and higher roofline, remains the more SUV-ish of the two, the GLA, though retaining sleeker styling and a sportier demeanor, has enhanced its SUV cred in 2021 with a higher seating position, loftier roofline and increased interior room.
Now in its second generation, GLA is available in three flavors -- the standard 221-hp GLA250, the hot-rod 302-hp GLA35 and the hot-roddier 382-hp GLA45.
We drove a 250 in all-wheel drive 4Matic guise. Front-drive is standard.
From a styling standpoint, the little guy turns heads with its mouthful of winged Benz logo, black apron all the way around, including the air diffuser in back, and a rump whose wide hips sassily declare, “Hey, I’m ahead of you.”
To that, our tester added exterior LED lighting and the eye-candy of two exterior packages: Night and AMG Line. The former adds high-gloss black exterior accents. The latter a racy AMG Diamond-block Grille and, in a functional upgrade, perforated front brake discs for enhanced pincher cooling.
Sharing its 2.0-liter turbo four with GLB, GLA250’s 221 hp and 258 lb.-ft. of torque are managed exclusively by an eight-speed automatic transmission.
On the road, the little guy is peppy. We greeted 60 mph in the mid-6’s while realizing in our 4Matic 26 mpg in just over 100 miles of mixed city/hwy driving. During that drive, 250 proved itself to be quiet, smooth and comfortable, just like a Mercedes ought to be.
Oh, and it’s notable that a difference is definitely discernible between drive modes of Comfort and Sport, the latter muscling up the proceedings noticeably. Other modes include Individual, Eco and Off-road.
Less appreciated are the controls for the fancy infotainment system with which our GLA was equipped. While a 7-inch touch screen is standard, we traded up, via GLA’s $1,750 Premium Package, to a pair of 10.25-inch screens. One is in front of the driver, displaying the gauge package and all its configurations, and the other, atop the center stack, presents the typical menus, including audio, media, phone, navigation and more.
Alas, to control these visual marvels, Mercedes primarily provides a couple of tiny thumb pads on the steering wheel and a finger-slide pad on the floor console. Manipulation of these controllers requires a learning curve and some practice sessions. Happily, the on-screen climate controls are parroted by a host of hard buttons, making cabin comfort easier to regulate than cabin entertainment.
Room in front is great, particularly considering GLA’s diminutive footprint. Even under the Panorama Sunroof we had -- a pricey option at $1,500 -- head room was plentiful and leg room was good in the well-bolstered front buckets.
In the back seat, head room is marvelous, but leg room is utterly dependent on the kindness of front passengers. A six-footer sitting behind a six-foot driver is going to get his heart broken.
An interior perk that adds to GLA’s SUV cred is its 40/20/40-split folding rear seat. It not only provides cargo-loading versatility, but also enables a center folding pass-through that accommodates long, narrow cargo while retaining two back seats.
Finally, we come to price.
The affordable base price of $37,280 puts this Benz within reach of young social climbers. But the price balloons fast as options are checked. When our GLA finished adding, among other things, the sun roof, infotainment-screen upgrades, snappy AMG 20-inch wheels, all-wheel drive and active safety nannies like Brake, Emergency Stop and Lane-Keep assists, we were looking at $55,585.