Mercedes-Benz has finally revealed its long-teased GLB, an upright seven-seat compact SUV that’ll slot in between the GLA and GLC in the range — albeit not until the third quarter of 2020, once right-hand drive production warms up.
It’s part of the expanded range of compact cars based upon Mercedes-Benz’s second-generation modular front- and all-wheel drive MFA platform, joining the familiar A-Class hatch and sedan, CLA four-door coupe, GLA crossover and B-Class MPV.
Mercedes sold 609,000 cars based on MFA 1 and MFA 2 platforms last year, about a quarter of its total volumes.
Showing how stretchable this MFA platform is, the GLB’s 4634mm length nose to tail is just 35mm shorter than the ritzier GLC, which sits upon an entirely different rear- or all-wheel drive architecture called MRA, shared with the C-Class and others.
The GLB’s party trick is its optional 5+2 seating arrangement above the standard five-seat setup, enabled by its long 2829mm wheelbase that’s 100mm greater than the already spacious B-Class. Mercedes claims the rearmost row fits anyone 168cm tall, or shorter.
As we pointed out when we drove a camouflaged GLB test car, Mercedes-Benz knows that the GLA has always lacked the versatility of rival premium-brand SUVs such as the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and Volvo XC40 — all five-seaters, it must be said.
“We wanted a roomier car. More multi-functional from an everyday point of view, with the ability to accommodate seven occupants when required,” said Mercedes-Benz engineer responsible for overall vehicle testing in the compact segment, Jochen Eck.
The third row gets side window airbags reaching all the way back, plus ISOFIX and top-tether attachment points, meaning up to four child seats can be installed. Third-row occupants also get storage compartments and USB points.
Said rearmost seating row can be folded flush into the loading floor, while the middle seating row split folds down 40:20:40 but can also slide on rails forward by 140mm, to make access to the third row easier, and to boost cargo space with the rearmost row folded down.
Mercedes cites cargo capacity of between 560L with five seats in use and 1755L with the middle row folded down, which bests many much longer SUVs.
Like its MFA siblings the instrument panel consists on a single piece, with a wide screen comprising both the digital driving instruments and the centre infotainment display, running the latest MBUX software controlled by touch, trackpads on the transmission tunnel and steering wheel spokes, or conversational voice control activated by saying ‘Hey Mercedes’.
Below this are a trio of circular air vents, hard buttons for ventilation controls, and a covered storage bin. Mercedes has fitted extensive milled aluminium bits, which teams with the ambient LED lighting to create a cool and futuristic look.
The entry front-wheel drive GLB 200’s powertrain is the transverse ‘M282’ engine with 1.3-litres of displacement used in the A-Class. It makes 120kW of power at 5500rpm and 250Nm of torque between 1620 and 4000rpm, matched with a seven-speed DCT. It uses a claimed 6.0L/100km of 98 RON fuel and dashes from 0-100km/h in 9.1s.
There’s also a GLB 250 with 4Matic on-demand all-wheel-drive. In regular driving operation, the ASD system is based on an 80:20 front/rear torque distribution, though in sport mode this becomes 70:30. In off-road mode the all-wheel drive clutch acts as an inter-axle differential lock, with the basic distribution 50:50.
The ‘250’s’ 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine makes a beefier 165kW at 5800rpm and 350Nm of torque between 1800 and 4000rpm. This engine ism mated to an 8-DCT, uses as little as 7.2L/100km on the same combined cycle and does the 0-100km/h dash in 6.9sec.
European models get two 2.0-litre turbo-diesel options with 110kW/320Nm or 140kW/400Nm, using as little as 5.0L/100km, but in Australia you can expect petrol to make up the vast majority of sales, assuming diesel is offered at all.
Meanwhile a warmed-up Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 4Matic using the same 225kW and 400Nm driveline as the Mercedes-AMG A35 is also expected to come on stream. We recently saw a disguised GLB at AMG’s headquarters in Affalterbach, so it’s hardly a secret.
Driving assistance systems are trickled down from the S-Class. Benz claims improved camera and radar systems can look up to 500m ahead and can help the GLB drive “partially autonomously in certain situations”, for example by adapting the speed before roundabouts using active cruise control linked to navigation data. There’s also lane-change assist.
The GLB’s front suspension comprises McPherson struts, while the rear gets a multi-link axle differentiating it from the entry A-Class’s torsion beam. Adaptive adjustable damping is available as an option. You can also option an off-road pack with dedicated modes that change the ABS, ESC and throttle mapping, and gives you extra information displays.
In a departure from all of Mercedes-Benz’s other compact car models, which are produced either in Germany or Hungary, it will be produced in Mexico at a plant Mercedes-Benz runs in co-operation with its alliance partner Renault-Nissan.
"We are excited to confirm that the Mercedes-Benz GLB will go on sale in Australia," said the company's local arm.
"At this stage first arrivals are expected in Q3 2020. It is too early to comment about specific details of the local line-up; this information will be provided closer to its local launch."