Nine. That’s right, nine. That’s the number of SUVs/crossovers that Mercedes-Benz has its current sprawling vehicle line-up with the introduction of the GLB.
It’s a bit mind boggling that for decades, the inimitable Gelandewagen was the only SUV that Benz had in their line-up. I suppose as the old adage says, build it and they will come.
The GLB is not the smallest SUV Mercedes makes, but it fills in the space between the GLA and GLC by hitting a point in the market not previously covered by the company. Evidently the Mercedes felt that there is a sufficient enough market for a smaller, more versatile SUV with seating for up to seven.
These days though, “small” is a relative word especially in reference to the compact SUV segment. Among the GLB’s premium-brand competitors, you’ll find the like of the Audi Q3, Jaguar E-Pace, Land Rover Discovery Sport, BMW X1, and the Volvo XC40.
With the traditional sedan being increasingly unpopular these days, these compact SUV crossovers are absurdly popular and crucial to the bottom lines of their auto manufacturers.
How is it different from the GLA and GLC?
Despite its compact dimensions and perhaps to maximise interior volume, the GLB is boxier than the GLA and GLC. The upright, squarish stance is similar to that of the previous Mercedes-Benz GLK. Based on the same MFA2 platform as the Mercedes-Benz A-Class and CLA-Class sedans but stretched about four inches in wheelbase, the GLB even offers an optional, albeit tight, third-row of seats.
At 111 inches, the GLB has the most generous wheelbase in its class, even beating the Audi Q5 let alone the smaller Q3.
Those boxy body lines, short overhangs, and the upright front-end design of the Mexican-built GLB certainly provide it with a rough and tumble look gives the GLB the aura of some off-road cred. However it’s just that, an aura, and not much else.
It’s not a bad idea though, as this ruggedness has made competitors like the Land Rover Discovery Sport an appealing family SUV.
Tech laden interior
The GLB” s cabin is well finished and quiet. High-grade materials throughout provide the GLB with a proper upmarket feel befitting of the three pointed star in its grille.
I continue to be enamoured by the design of the artfully designed, turbine-like air vents also found in the Mercedes A-Class and CLA-class. These air vents are even incorporated into the multi-coloured driver customisable cabin ambient lighting system.
Mercedes’ liberal use of illuminated trim inserts can light up the interior to levels usually only seen in New York City’s Time Square.
Most controls have a high-quality feel, including the seat adjusters and the centre-stack buttons and rocker switches, but the window switches look a bit cheap, and the slim steering-wheel stalks feel a little flimsy.
A couple of other low points include a few scratchy bits of plastic around in the lower parts of the cabin, and a visible mold line around the door map pockets.
The GLB250’s boxy upright proportions provide the driver with great visibility, generous passenger and cargo room, as well as easy entry and egress into and out of the cabin. The comfortable and supportive front seats provide an elevated driving position that gives a commanding view out through the huge, square windows.
In the back, the story is a little less glowing with a spacious but low rear bench. I found the bottom cushion a bit short, a design that is probably s necessary in order to accommodate for the third row seat option when the second row is pushed forward.
Taller passengers may have to make do with their knees a bit elevated and not as much thigh support for longer road trips. At least the second row seatbacks can be reclined and folded down in a versatile 40/20/40 arrangement.
My 2020 GLB250 tester was not equipped but with the third row option. Instead, I found a cargo area that is fully lined with soft carpeting on the floor, which also runs partially up the compartment sides where it meets plastics and more sturdy materials. The chrome tie-downs rings were a nice and expensive looking touch.
The cargo area is wide and sills are flat with the floor for easy loading. When the rear seatbacks are folded, the cargo area can easily swallow all manner of gear.
I was impressed that despite being a lower end model on the Mercedes-Benz line-up, the GLB was also adorned by the attractive MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) interface found in its bigger brothers the GLE and the GLS.
This strikingly huge display houses both the 10.3 inch instrument panel and 10.3 inch touch-screen infotainment system and is highly customizable. My test vehicle was also fitted with the uprated sound system and MBUX augmented reality feature for the GPS satellite navigation system.
This augments digital navigation prompts with street names and arrows over top of a live video feed from a forward-facing camera to help drivers navigate through complex intersections and roundabouts.
As I’ve written before in other interviews, MBUX is generally intuitive once you understand the logic behind the menus. I particularly liked the Blackberry Bold-like mini trackpads on the spokes of the steering wheel as well as the touchscreen interface. I do wish that Apple CarPlay took advantage of the whole screen’s real estate though, something that BMW does implement quite well.
Hop on over to my GLS450 review to find out more about the MBUX system.
What is it like on the road?
Like its A-class and CLA-class sedan siblings, the GLB250 drives much like a car. Power comes from a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 221 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Throttle response is prompt and there is a pleasant lack of turbo lag with power being delivered smoothly and predictably.
This engine is paired up with a new eight-speed dual clutch automatic transmission. This extra gear ratio is likely also there for the sake of fuel economy and is well-calibrated with the engine. The transmission executes shifts smoothly, and quickly with the correct gear for each scenario each and every time.
For those who want more power, a full-fat GLB35 AMG is now also available, with the same 302 horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine shared with the A35 AMG.
4MATIC full-time all-wheel-drive is standard equipment on the GLB. The relatively straightforward Haldex-style front-wheel-drive biased system makes for a blend of good fuel economy plus solid and consistent on-road traction.
Handling-wise, being built on the same platform as the A-class has its advantages. The GLB is tuned with a bias towards comfort yet the inevitable body roll that comes from having a taller boxy profile is nicely contained. The vehicle feels light on its feet, responsive in corners, and nicely planted in day-to-day driving.
The steering is well-weighted with good feedback for this class of vehicle. Driver confidence is high thanks to the progressively dolled out body lean should you decide to push the GLB250 quicker in corners.
Despite its competent handling, the GLB250 also absorbs bumps with aplomb. There is an underlying firmness inherent in most Mercedes-Benz vehicles, but yet the suspension translates bumps and ruts only into muted kicks.
Like the rest of the Mercedes-Benz range today, the GLB250 comes equipped with the latest in active safety systems. Although the fancier functions, such as automatic lane changing and semi-autonomous steering, are not available on the GLB, the vehicle still gets Active Lane Keeping Assist as well as Lane Departure warning. Adaptive Cruise Control and pre-collision mitigation are also included. Blind spot warning and rear cross traffic warning are optional.
A MercedesMe phone app enables remote start, lock and unlock, vehicle tracking and status, and allows service scheduling. MercedesMe requires an active subscription after the free trial subscription expires.
With its spacious interior, kid-friendly third row, and pleasant to drive character, the Mercedes-Benz GLB250 might well attract a new customer to the Mercedes-Benz brand. While it may share a “G” with its big brother, the G-Class, it certainly doesn’t share the outright theatre from that that model.
Instead, what you get is a family-friendly, sensibly priced entry level luxury crossover with the klout of the three pointed star. While it might not change the game in the segment, the GLB is an accomplished vehicle in its own right and brings appealing levels of practicality to Mercedes’ line-up of premium SUVs.
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