Mercedes-Benz has filled the gap in its range between the GLA and GLC SUVs. If the soon-to-be-replaced former is too small and car-like for you, and the latter too expensive and ‘traditional’ in its design, then you’re the target buyer.
As promised by the brasher concept version, the road-going 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB brings a high-roofed, squared-off design language to the lower rungs of the company’s range, with deep side windows, short overhangs, and a squat stance serving as further statements.
Underneath the body is a derivative of the company’s front- and all-wheel-drive platform from which the A-Class, B-Class, CLA and GLA are derived. But, the stretched wheelbase maximises cabin space over its fellow compact models.
The GLB’s real party trick is its clever packaging, which is even more marked than in the slow-selling B-Class MPV. The main proof-point of this is availability of a kid-friendly third seating row designed to handle anyone around 170cm or below.
For context, the 4634mm long GLB is 67mm shorter than a Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace, but has a 39mm longer wheelbase. It’s 35mm shorter and 56mm narrower than its GLC stablemate (based on a different platform), but 24mm taller.
As well as the Tiguan Allspace, other competitors with a 5+2 seating arrangement and broadly similar dimensions are the Land Rover Discovery Sport and Peugeot 5008, though the GLB clearly competes with the Volvo XC40, Audi Q3 and BMW X1, too.
Three derivatives will arrive in Australia from the middle of 2020. The entry GLB 200, mid-range GLB 250 4Matic, and sporty Mercedes-AMG GLB 35. All use petrol power. No diesel, no hotted-up GLB 45 AMG, and no plug-in hybrid (PHEV) versions will come.
The latter's absence seems odd when you consider the existence of PHEV A-Class, B-Class and GLC derivatives. However, the GLB and the imminent next-generation GLA will both come (eventually) with full battery-electric (BEV) offshoots instead.
Here, we’ll look at the GLB 200 and GLB 250 models, because the Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 model deserves its own separate review.
Anyone familiar with the other compact Mercedes models mentioned will be familiar with the cabin look. The fascia is dominated by thin freestanding screens mounted side-by-side, one displaying driver instruments and the other infotainment. Slicker than the old GLC’s…
You can cycle through numerous display styles that change the look of the gauges and what information is offered. For instance, you can view HD maps on either screen. You can cycle through the myriad looks with a small trackpad on the left-hand-side steering wheel spoke. Above the wheel is an optional head-up display projecting speed and route data onto the windscreen.
The centre screen shows maps, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, audio, phone data, and is where you scroll through other novelties like Mercedes’s signature ambient interior lighting that illuminates the interior in any hue your heart desires.
The MBUX infotainment system is controlled by touchscreen, trackpad, buttons, or a trick conversational voice-control system. Say ‘Hey Mercedes’ and tell the AI to open the sunroof, find a specific song, change the passenger’s seat temperature (directional mics enable that particular function), or do myriad other processes.
The only annoyance with all this comes if you find yourself muttering the word ‘Mercedes’ in general conversation, and find your audio cut and hear the car’s system brusquely ask you what command you have for it. Maybe configurable summoning words could be programmed into an update matching what BMW’s latest OS offers?
The coolest function of all for mine, though, is the optional augmented-reality satellite navigation. When your next turn is imminent, the screen displays a camera feed of the road ahead and overlays it with a blue arrow pointing you where to go. This function has finally been calibrated for Australia from December production. Ya-hey!
The cohesive front cabin looks cutting-edge, and the lighting adds some genuine theatre. As do the unique tube-like aluminium dash and door inserts, and the lovely real wood inlays (one of various trim choices, and the obvious pick). The material quality of the dash and door plastics is also better than some base Benzes.
The back seats are a more distinctive feature. I’m 194cm and had leg room and head room behind my driving position, in a car with an optional two-pane sunroof. The big windows make it easy to see out, and you get rear vents, two USB-C points, a 230V socket, and door bins.
The second-row seats split 40:20:40 rather than 60:40 when folding down, and slide on rails by 140mm. There are many larger SUVs out there with inferior back seats.
Access to the optional third seating row is achieved by the one-touch tilt-and-slide passenger-side seat. The sixth and seventh seats are absolutely fine for kids, and have ISOFIX anchors and full side-airbag protection. Rearmost occupants get USB-C points and cupholders, too.
Five-seat models have a 570L boot (150L more than a Mazda CX-5), while seven-seaters with the third row folded flat have 500L. With seven seats in use there’s room for two duffle bags. You can fold the front passenger seat and middle row to give you a 2.7m-long area.
Engine-wise, the base GLB 200 gets a 1.3-litre turbo petrol co-developed with Renault (it’s used in the just-launched Renault Kadjar, for example) making 120kW of power and 250Nm of torque between 1620 and 4000rpm.
It sends power to the front wheels only through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT). Fuel consumption is a claimed 6.0L/100km and the 0–100km/h dash is dispatched in a claimed 9.1 seconds.
The best word to describe this unit is ‘adequate’. We had the chance to punt up some steep hills and found it acceptably muscular, albeit with only two occupants aboard. The column-operated DCT was a little slow to react when slowing down or rapidly taking off from a crawl.
All GLBs have independent suspension at both ends and steel springs. The GLB 200’s larger sidewall tyres and smaller alloy wheels, combined with the suspension calibration designed for comfort, meant it absorbed potholes and road joins remarkably and consistently well.
The volume-selling model will be the GLB 250 with a 165kW/350Nm 2.0-litre matched with a front-biased 4Matic all-wheel-drive system and an eight-speed DCT. It cuts the 0–100km/h run to a sprightly 6.9s, and keeps fuel use to a claimed 7.2L/100km.
The engine doesn’t sound particularly aggressive, but has plenty of low-down torque and the AWD system puts the power down well. While the transmission felt pretty smooth in traffic, pushing the sports-mode rocker switch resulted in it holding onto lower gears far too long. It never felt quite as slick on the move as an equivalent Volkswagen DSG can, and does.
The ride quality was again unexpectedly fantastic on fixed dampers, and Australian models should be better since adaptive units will be offered. Truly, the ride even on 20-inch wheels was remarkably smooth, which is not something that can be said about all small Mercedes models.
Dynamically, we gave the GLB 250 some stick, and found the body control and steering accuracy both belied the tall body shape and felt hatchback-like. The only gripe was an occasional propensity for the front wheels to push understeer too easily. May be a tyre issue?
Is there scope for one of the three diesel models? The 140kW/400Nm GLB 220d looks the goods on paper, with 5.3L/100km fuel use and a 7.6s 0–100km/h time. But market demand just doesn’t exist in Australia for oil-burners.
One feature worth noting is the updated radar and camera suite that sees up to 500m ahead. Our test cars steered themselves between highway road lines, matched the speed of the car ahead with cruise control, and could automatically brake for cars, bikes and pedestrians.
While the boxy design promises off-road nous, the ground clearance isn’t huge and soft-roading is really the limit.
That said, we tried some slippery muddy trails and found the downhill-assist control worked well, the 50:50 front-rear torque-locking clutch, various torque-distribution and pitch/roll angle displays, 360-degree off-road camera, and extra-slip-enabling traction-control setting, all helped lug four adults easily enough over the journey.
From an ownership perspective, we’re growing a little restless with Mercedes-Benz Australia’s three-year warranty in the face of five-year terms from nearly all non-premium brands in the market. It needs to change.
It’s too early for Mercedes-Benz to readily divulge pricing for Australia, but we can speculate.
The base A-Class costs $42,900 and the base GLC $66,100, so an opening gambit for the GLB 200 of around $55,000 seems feasible. An asking price of around $65,000 for the GLB 250 4Matic seems like ballpark for the next rung.
So, there’s a first drive of the production Mercedes-Benz GLB. The real selling point is the impressively practical cabin, with ample room for four adults and their holiday gear, or your two young kids and a few of their friends in the back.
The interior technology, unexpectedly smooth ride quality, nice road manners, capable mild off-road ability, and tough-truck design, all complete a pretty compelling picture. There’s a spot in the range for the GLB, and on first impression it fits beautifully.
More fundamentally, while we’ve found real flaws in certain versions of the A-Class, B-Class and ageing GLC, the GLB is a cohesive effort with any potential snags mostly ironed out. It has made quite a first impression. Let’s hope the price is right.