Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 e review

Phil Hall heycar

Written by Phil Hall

heycar ratingPosh SUV slashes commuting costs
  • 2020
  • Small SUV
  • Petrol-electric hybrid

Quick overview


  • Long electric-only range
  • Practical
  • Stylish-looking interior with great infotainment


  • Thrashy petrol engine
  • Quality of interior could be more consistent
  • Fuel economy drops rapidly when the battery's flat

Overall verdict

"The Mercedes GLA 250 e is like the Optimus Prime of the SUV world, seamlessly transforming itself from one type of a car to another depending what you need to do with it."

Mercedes-Benz GLA front

Okay, so the transformation isn't quite Transformers worthy in a visual sense – the 250 e doesn't start life as a truck before morphing into a towering battle robot with foot-long weaponry – but its powertrain does pull off a trick that's nearly as clever.

You see, the 250 e is a plug-in hybrid with a 37-mile all-electric range that makes it very cheap to run if you have a short commute and somewhere to charge it. It's quiet and relaxing to drive in town, will keep using its battery up to motorway speeds and provides ample acceleration as it gets there. Factor in that it's exempt from paying tariffs like the London Congestion Charge, and it's easy to see how the Mercedes could make sense if it fits your particular circumstances.

Need to go further? Well, that where the 'transforming' bit comes in because the Mercedes can seamlessly transfer to petrol power –calling on a 1.3-litre turbocharged petrol engine – to metamorphosis from frugal EV to a long-legged SUV that's great over distances. The combined might of the petrol engine and the electric motor produces 218PS and 450Nm of torque so the 250 e feels plenty quick and it's safe and reassuring to drive. 

Being a Mercedes, it's also pretty blooming posh. GLA 250 e models dodge the lower rungs of the GLA range so they look smart on the outside and inside you get pretty infotainment screens, cool turbine-style air vents and leather on the seats as well as the insides of the doors. Meanwhile, the optional augmented reality sat-nav is genuinely mind-blowing. 

Okay, so the design isn't quite as eye-catching as you get in the A-Class and sure, some plastics feel a bit cheap when you really start to poke around but relatively speaking, this is one of the poshest small SUVs on sale.

And it's also one of the most practical. A huge range of adjustment on the driver's seat means all shapes and sizes will get comfortable and even if you're a six-footer sitting upfront, people of a similar height won't feel squeezed sitting behind you. 

The boot, meanwhile, is slightly smaller than you get in a regular GLA thanks to the batteries hidden under the floor, although you'd only notice if the cars were parked next to each other. The 250 e will happily swallow a set of suitcases and handle even bigger jobs with the rear seats folded away. 

So, if during the week you need a car that can hum you to work in the city on cheap electricity before playing practical family wagon at the weekends – the 250 e could be the small SUV for you. It's no transformer, but it could have a transformative effect on the amount of money you spend commuting.

The Mercedes GLA 250 e is right for you if you want a posh and practical SUV that will cost buttons to run if you have a short commute and somewhere to charge it. 

Cars that are similar to the Mercedes GLA 250 e include the BMW X1 xDrive25 and the MINI Countryman Plug-in Hybrid – both are posh SUVs that can run on cheap electric power for short distances.

Comfort and design

"The Mercedes GLA shares its underpinnings with the B-Class which is in turn a more practical version of the A-Class and this DNA courses through the cabin in the form of pretty turbine style vents and what looks like a huge one-piece glassy infotainment screen"

Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 e interior

Trouble is, some of the magic of the A-Class has been lost in the GLA's SUV form. Its more upright exterior shape translates into vaster slabs of plastic in the interior and a design that's plainer and less sculpted than you'll find in the A-Class. That being said, this is still one of the prettiest interiors you'll find in an SUV this size.

The sports seats fitted to our car were comfortable, gave decent lateral support and also came with three-stage seat heating. If you want full electrical adjustment with lumbar support and a handy memory function – so the seat can glide back into your position after someone else has used it – you'll need to go for the range-topping Exclusive Edition Premium Plus model. 

Even entry-level 250 e's have a real leather interior (not the man-made Artico stuff you get in basic GLAs) with contrast stitching that extends onto the insides of both the front and rear doors. The armrests are padded and your get chrome finished door handles and pulls. Factor in the pin-sharp glassy infotainment screens – which, as you'll read later, are option dependent – turbine-style air vents, and 64-colour ambient lighting and you end up with an interior that's great to look at.

But not infallible. Exploratory trim pokes reveal plastics in the lower half of the cabin are hard and quite cheap feeling and closer inspection of the carbon fibre trims fitted to our car reveal them to be no more than graphics on a humble plastic base. Disappointing but not unexpected at this price point. 

More of a criticism is that cars don't come with the 10.25-inch digital instrument binnacle – something you get as standard in a Hyundai costing half as much. Instead, you're left with an apologetic single-dial surrounded by an expanse of black glass (and a good reason to go for a high-end model). 

You can judge the specification level of your GLA by its infotainment screens.

The conventional GLA range kicks off with Sport models which get two seven-inch screens, but GLA 250 e hybrids dodge this bottom rung of the ladder hopping straight to Exclusive Edition. 

Out goes the weedy seven-inch centre display and in its place, you'll find an expansive 10.25-inch touchscreen that also comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto fitted as standard – handy features which mean you can mirror your phone's apps on the car's big screen. 

Their graphics are colourful and pretty and the touchscreen understands gestures like 'pinch' and 'swipe' and responds to them slickly, plus you get Mercedes MBUX operating system which can – and usually does – understand colloquial commands so long as the phrase "Hey Mercedes..." precedes them. 

You can also you can use the touchpad in between the front seats or the surprisingly useful micro touch buttons on the steering wheel. 

Route calculations are completed quickly and, on this hybrid model, charge points are displayed on the map along with info on their availability. A wireless phone charging pad on the tray in front of the gearstick completes the standard kit list.

Haul yourself up the ladder one more step – to Exclusive Edition Premium – and you'll reach the GLA's infotainment Everest. That sees the larger central-touchscreen joined by an equally impressive 10.25-inch digital instrument binnacle. 

It gets a trick augmented reality sat-nav which uses a camera mounted in the windscreen to beam the road ahead onto the infotainment screen complete with sat-nav directions seemingly hovering over it. Like the best tech, this not only looks great, it's also practical. 

At this point, you also get an upgraded stereo – the decent 100W standard unit and is swapped for a 225W system with a subwoofer, centre speaker and a sprinkling of tweeters for clearer, heartier sound. 

One of the reasons you choose a small SUV like the GLA 250 e over a hatchback such as the A-Class is because it offers significantly more interior space.

Upfront, you can have your seat set high for the full SUV (commanding view) experience or lower it to the floor for the hunkered feel of a normal car and the steering wheel offers the same range of adjustment for both reach and rake. Meanwhile, the front seats slide so far back that even six-footers won't be able to reach the pedals when they're as far back as they go. 

The cabin's width means you don't need to worry about bashing your passenger's elbows and there's space for large polished aluminium pedals that make the car easy to drive even when you're wearing chunky boots, plus there's a rest for your left foot. 

Storage spaces are generous with large door pockets and a big glovebox, plus a deep cubby under the front centre armrest and a couple of cupholders. 

Even if you're a six-footer sitting up front, behind you passengers of the same height will have a couple of inches between their knees and the back of your seat. They'll also get loads of headroom, find the backrest sits at a comfortable angle and that there's plenty room to rest their feet under your seat even when it's at its lowest setting. 

A centre armrest doesn't come as standard but you do get a rear air vent, a USB-C plug and decent-sized door pockets. It's also worth noting that interior quality doesn't nosedive in the back – you get the same stitched leather and soft-touch plastics on the tops of the doors as you get in the front. Complaints? Well, the standard tinted rear windows do make the place feel a bit gloomy on an overcast day. 

You'll feel even more gloomy if you're sitting in the middle seat. It's tightly packed padding feels like you're leaning on a tombstone while simultaneously being wedgied by a pommel horse. The ample foot room for three people doesn't quite make up for this. 

Fitting a child seat is more pleasant. Marked Isofix points are easy to aim for and the large door opening, tall roofline and the GLA's raised height should make it easy to direct a seat into position at the first attempt. 

Boot space is another GLA strong point. Okay, so the electrical gubbins hidden under the 250 e's floor means that it's 50 litres smaller than in the standard car, but you wouldn't know it. 

The electrically operated boot lid reveals a large opening that makes bulky luggage easy to load, there's only a small boot lip to lift stuff over, and the back seats flop down under their weight for a total capacity of 1385 litres. You also get a couple of smaller cubbies on the sides of the boot, an elasticated strap for holding items in place and a 12v socket. 

Handling and ride quality

"The Mercedes 250e GLA is an easy car to drive in any situation and its electric mode suits the Mercedes badge offering up silent running that's a perfect fit for the luxurious image."

Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 e rear

Unlike a normal hybrid, which can only offer up a few miles of electric-only range and only under very light acceleration, the PHEV Mercedes will give you full-electric power most of the time so long as there's charge in the battery. 

That means that in town you can easily potter about silently running on electricity if you leave the drive select in Comfort or Eco. As these sorts of speeds, the steering's light and the car's smooth automatic gearbox makes it easy to manoeuvre. 

The Mercedes has decent visibility out all four corners of the car and reversing is helped by the large and deep rear window. You also get a reversing camera that beams by a high-def image from behind the car, while the GLA 250 e's standard Parking package adds front and rear parking sensors as well as auto park that can get you in and out of parallel and perpendicular spaces.

Leave the car in Comfort or Eco and the Mercedes can briskly accelerate up to the legal limit without needing to call on the extra power of its petrol engine, it's only when you stamp on the throttle that it will, after a bit of a pause, engage the combustion engine and fire you forward more urgently. 

That said, select Sport in the drive select and the petrol engine's on all the time and the eight-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox is primed – a couple of gears lower than usual – for sharp acceleration. It's not something you'll ever feel a great need to do though, because, in marked contrast to what you get in electric mode, the petrol engine sounds strained and thrashy under hard acceleration. 

Steering that feels like it's connected to an elastic band (rather than the front wheels) doesn't exactly encourage hard cornering, but there's plenty of grip and not much body lean in bends. Meanwhile, the brakes are effective but sometimes tricky to use smoothly as the car bleeds in their regenerative effect to recharge its battery. 

The GLA's more at home lolloping along on the motorway where the suspension, which sometimes hops in town, smooths out. Sure there's some tyre roar from the standard 19-inch wheels and noticeable wind noise, but this is a comfortable car to do long journeys. 

Standard autonomous driving aids include active cruise control – that's a little too keen to (violently) return you to your preset cruising speed as quickly as it possibly can – and Lane Assist. The latter brakes opposing wheels to jolt the car back into the centre of the lane – effective, but a little unsophisticated next to more advanced systems that actually steer.

The 250e uses a 160PS 1.3-litre turbocharged petrol that boosted by 75kW electric motor to produces a total of 218PS and 450Nm of torque through a quick and smooth eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox. That's enough to get the Mercedes from 0-62mph in 7.1 seconds and on to a top speed of 137mph.

The clever bit is the electric mode that allows for a battery range of up to 37 miles and will happily accelerate up to motorway speeds on battery power alone. That raises the prospect of driving on cheap electricity almost all of the time if you have a short commute and somewhere to charge the car. Meanwhile, you can call on the petrol engine for longer drives or when towing because the 250 e can pull up to 1800kgs – much more than any pure electric. 

The Mercedes GLA 250 e displays something of a Jekyll and Hyde persona depending on whether you're using petrol or electric power. 

Drive enthusiastically and the former can sound very strained especially when anticipating acceleration in Sport mode, but drive at a normal pace and the electric motor hums along almost silently and will do so happily up to 70mph and beyond. 

Sure, there's some tyre roar and a bit of wind whistle but there isn't a small SUV on sale that doesn't suffer from these afflictions. 

The current Mercedes GLA has yet to be crash-tested by Euro NCAP for safety, but you can expect to do as well as the mechanically identical B-Class which scored five stars under 2019's tough regime. 

As well as the aforementioned autonomous driving aids, the GLA's kit list includes automatic emergency brakes and attention assist that can warn you when you need to take a break from driving.

MPG and fuel costs

"More than any other type of car, how you use a plug-in hybrid like the Mercedes GLA 250e is critical to the kind of fuel economy you can expect it to return."

Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 e exterior driving profile

If you stick within the GLA's 37-mile electric range and have somewhere to charge it either using a wall box (1hr 45m minute charge time) or a three-pin plug (5hr 30m), you shouldn't ever have to burn any petrol – it'll cost pennies rather than pounds to run. 

The beauty of having a plug-in hybrid is that you still have a petrol engine to fall back on for longer journeys and Mercedes quotes fuel economy of up to 202mpg – though you'll never get close to that on long drives in the real world. In fact, on long motorway trips, where the 250e is at its least efficient, you'll get better fuel economy out of an equivalent diesel. 

The GLA 250 e has yet to be allocated an insurance group but the GLA currently spans from Group 31 to Group 37 and you can expect the 250 e to sit towards the higher end of that scale. 

The Mercedes GLA 250e is free to tax in the first year and costs £140 to tax every year thereafter, so long as you duck under the government's 'premium' tav rate for car's priced at £40,000 or more. Specify your GLA so that it exceeds that limit and you'll pay a thumping £465 every year thereafter for the five years after registration. 

How much should you be paying?

"The Mercedes GLA 250e is only just on sale, but there are already deals to be had by snapping up a secondhand example."

Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 e exterior electric

We've seen a 2020 Exclusive Edition model with 4,000 miles on the clock up for less than £35,000 – a £5000 saving on the list price of a brand new car, but perhaps more tempting was the same-age example with had covered just 150 miles going for £37,000. Be wary of cars further up the range which will be subject to a hefty annual road tax bill. 

The GLA 250e model line-up starts with Exclusive Edition trim. It looks sporty on the outside thanks to 19-inch alloy wheels, an AMG body kit, chrome grille and roof bars, LED headlights and tinted rear windows. Kit includes an electrically operated boot lid, a leather interior, a 10.25-inch centre touchscreen and a seven-inch digital instrument binnacle. You also get Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and wireless phone charging.

Exclusive Edition Premium models look almost identical but inside swap the underwhelming seven-inch digital instrument binnacle for the full-sized 10.25-inch version, get augmented reality sat-nav and swap the standard 100W stereo for a 225W item. They also add handy keyless entry, so you can open the car while the key's in your pocket.

GLA Exclusive Edition Premium Plus models get an impressive list of equipment to go with their impressive name. Along with everything fitted to lesser 250 e. cars, they add powerful multi-LED headlamps that mean you can use your full beams around other traffic, a panoramic glass roof and electrically adjustable seats with lumbar adjustment. 

Ask the heycar experts: common questions

Yes, you can have the Mercedes GLA as a hybrid – it's called the 250 e.
The Mercedes GLA is bigger than the A-Class – it's 125mm longer actually, although its boxier shaper means it's actually more spacious inside than this figure suggests.
That depends on what you're looking for. The Mercedes GLA has a posher looking interior, fancier infotainment and is more relaxing on long journeys, however the BMW is fun to drive on country roads.

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