The Mercedes-Benz SUV alphabet continues to roll on with GLA, GLC, GLE and GLS now being joined locally by the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB. It forms part of the new compact range and shares its underpinnings with the A, B, CLA and soon-to-be-updated GLA-Class models.
While the boxy GLB looks like an evolution of the early GLK sold overseas, it sets about blending the functionality of an MPV with the format of an SUV, and is naturally offered as an AMG alongside regular versions.
Clear? Well okay!
There are three variants available at launch; the $59,900 (before options and on-road costs) front-drive GLB200, the $73,900 all-wheel-drive GLB250 4Matic and the sportier $88,900 GLB35 AMG.
Paying specific attention to the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB250 4Matic (which is what we drove), the price point (before options) puts it just $5800 (or around seven per cent) shy of a GLC300 ($79,700).
The five-seat GLC is longer (31mm), wider (56mm) and based on the slightly more ‘premium’ rear-drive platform of the W205 C-Class. There’s also more power, torque and an arguably more ‘sleek’ design.
With this in mind, the GLB is not so much a stepping-stone between GLs A and C, and in reality should be thought of as more a pint-sized GLS, as all local variants are offered with seven seats. Amusingly it’s pretty close to being 10 per cent smaller than a GLS in nearly every direction too.
It’s a smart play by Mercedes, as for buyers looking in the premium space for a compact seven-seater, the choices are limited. Sure, you can go bigger and get a well-equipped Mazda CX-9 for less, but in terms of an urban-friendly footprint, the only other ‘High Street’ player is the Landrover Discovery Sport (4597mm), which is actually 41mm shorter than the Mercedes.
Look past the car keys and there are whispers from the Peugeot 5008, Skoda Kodiaq and Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace, all vying for that ‘premium-ish’ seven-seat buyer, and all arguably representing better overall value. But when you consider that so far this year the Mercedes-Benz GLC has outsold them all, combined, it looks to be not so much a value market as a badge one.
So, with the Sesame Street lesson complete and the three-pointed box on the front ticked, what else does the GLB bring to the G-Gang? It turns out, quite a lot.
Starting with the basics, the GLB250 is powered by a 165kW/350Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, mounted horizontally to take up the least amount of space.
The 4Matic platform offers all-wheel drive with a front-wheel bias, and is driven by a new eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox, an adapted version of the one found in the Mercedes-AMG A35.
The transmission implementation may be new, and we’ll touch on that later, but the rest of the major mechanical components are already proven, which has allowed Mercedes to focus on the key point of the GLB, the packaging.
On the outside, the headlamps, grille and rear treatment are all by-the-book Mercedes-Benz, where the side profile highlights the stubby nose and almost disproportionately long wheelbase. There are lashings of requisite black wheel arch cladding and the raised roof rails and solid D-pillar reinforce the family link to the big GLS.
It’s not a car that leaps out as being particularly beautiful, but the simplicity of the two-box design approach and the funky, almost utilitarian vibe does start to grow on you.
I particularly liked the big 50-profile tyres on 19-inch rims, which offer a good amount of rolling diameter without resorting to 21 or more inches with thin strips of rubber.
Our car is finished in Galaxy Blue ($1490 option), a new colour for the GLB and one of eight choices. We also have the Sports Package fitted ($1990 option) which includes unique front and rear bars, AMG 19-inch wheels, dark trim elements and black roof rails.
MORE: GLB pricing and specs
Regardless of what you think of the styling, it really is a very cleverly designed car, almost as if Merc started with the outcome of fitting regular family load scenarios and let the car design itself. Function before form, if you will.
What results is excellent interior space, especially in regard to headroom, in a tall and somewhat narrow body.
From the power tailgate forward, there is a surprising amount of usable room. With all seats up, there is a little bit of storage (140 litres approximately) which is fine for a couple of shopping bags. More useful though is under-floor storage for the parcel shelf, which if you are running the car as a five-seater and need to quickly transform into a school bus, is incredibly handy.
Drop the rear pair 50:50 into the floor and you have a 500-litre cargo area, just 50 litres short of a GLC. Flip the 40:20:40 middle row down and there’s 1755 litres. You can even adjust the front passenger seat to fit an object of up to 2.7m in length.
But this is a family wagon, not a van, and the true flexibility of the GLB is for passengers.
The middle row is split 60:40 on rails allowing you to adjust for legroom or access to child seats on the two outer ISOFIX mounting points. You wouldn’t want three adults wide, but for two, the excellent headroom afforded by the tall glasshouse makes the main cabin airy and comfortable.
If there is no-one in the back (or even if there is, right kids?), you can recline the backrest for a bit more long-distance comfort. There are directional vents, USB ports and a centre armrest as well.
Access to the third row is a one-movement tilt/slide and the large doors make access easy for little people.
I will admit I found it a bit challenging to climb in and out, but they aren’t designed for tall adults. Both even have ISOFIX points to further illustrate the family-centric nature of the GLB. There are USB ports and cupholders here too.
Legroom down the back is reasonable and as noted, the middle row can move forward to accommodate as needed. Put simply, even when used as ‘sometimes seats’ the two-three-two format of the GLB works.
One more note about the doors too, the skins cover over the sills so that if the car is wet or muddy, you won’t get dirty legs on the way out. That said, anyone who has children will know that this will do zero to stop dirty feet and legs getting in the car, but it’s nice of Mercedes to try.
The funky design on the outside continues up front where the now familiar widescreen dashboard and illuminated turbine vents are paired with a carbon-fibre-look trim material and squared off cylindrical elements.
It’s very cool and very modern, but you can feel that this is still part of the compact Mercedes family, so the carbon-fibre, leather and metallic finishes aren’t any of those things. Still, it looks pretty slick, especially at night where the interior lighting adapts and responds to your actions. Turn the heating up, things glow red. It is quite cool.
There is great headroom here too, even with the 250’s standard twin-pane sunroof, and while you are sitting higher than an A-Class, the GLB doesn’t feel too monstrous to be in. Hence the appeal of the compact city feel. The seats are heated and feature power adjustment with memory, too.
The twin-10.25-inch screens, like the rest of the compact range, run the MBUX interface and it continues to be the most impressive system on the market, if for nothing more than the sheer depth and personalisation options available.
Touch the screen, use the touchpad on the console or the thumb pads on the wheel, or simply talk to it to interact. There’s menu upon menu of information, function, and personalisation to play with.
Change the lighting mood, adjust the interface theme, even activate a ‘seat kinematics’ program where the power adjustment for position and lumbar is used to give you a strange kind of robotic massage.
You can connect to the 'Mercedes me connect' telemetry service too, which gives you remote access to your car while away from it, as well as access to live data services. A great example is fuel stations shown on the navigation map will display the current price at the pump – not bad!
The MBUX system alone almost justifies the price of entry, but there’s even more tech available once you are on the move.
Power delivery from the 2.0-litre engine is decent enough. Peak power isn’t until 5500rpm but peak torque comes on at 1800rpm, giving the car a nice and responsive nature. You can free things up a little more in Sport mode, and with just yours truly on board, the GLB feeling is quite fun to drive.
Mercedes claims a 7.7L/100km combined consumption cycle, which we came quite close to on our day of mixed urban and touring driving.
The steering is nicely weighted and ride and body control quite impressive for the tall stance of the SUV. The car is comfortable when touring and compliant over bumps and surface changes. I’d suggest those 50-profile tyres do a lot of the work when it comes to bump absorption, more power to Benz for taking an old-school approach.
The addition of the Sport package includes adjustable dampers and speed-sensitive steering, which both help to make the GLB a bit more entertaining than expected on the road.
Gear changes are smooth, and when on the move you honestly don’t even notice the box is working away.
Slow down and try some more mundane things like parking, and things aren’t quite so utopian. All DCT units can exhibit some latency and ‘rolling’ between drive/reverse selections, but the GLB seemed to be foreign to the concept of a three-point turn where swift movements from the column shift stalk necessitated swift changes of the cogs.
A number of times I found the car revving in neutral, having missed the timing for the selection to Drive or Reverse. Now, to be fair, the system is supposed to ‘learn’ your driving behaviour and maybe, as a brand new car, it hadn’t learned mine – but I would hope that it wouldn’t take too long to improve. We’ll need to spend more time with the GLB to properly find out.
Being all-wheel drive, the GLB250 has an off-road mode, which alters gearing and traction settings to help deal with irregular surfaces. The cornering lamps run all the time too to help with trail visibility. Given the car is on steel springs, there is no height adjustment, so all of this is simply for light duty work, but it's enough to help with some family camping or skiing adventures.
Of course, in any Mercedes-Benz, safety is paramount, and as well as a five-star ANCAP rating and nine airbags, including curtains for all three rows, the GLB includes all the core safety technology in the Mercedes catalogue.
Blind-spot assistant, lane-keep assistant, autonomous emergency braking are all included, but dissonantly the more ‘convenience’ oriented functions like adaptive cruise control and active lane change assist are optional as part of the $1990 Driving Assistance Package.
Given the GLB is already pitched at the higher end of the pricing spectrum, it would have been nice, especially on the 250, to have this included. The fact it is optional still on the GLB35 AMG is just a bit cheeky.
These minor quibbles aside, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB250 4Matic ticks more boxes than it doesn’t and has impressively landed as a new model which, shock, seems to answer the questions of buyers.
A city-friendly footprint, with seven-seat flexibility and a cabin that can adapt to your ever-changing family needs, mated to an efficient engine and functional driveline that, for the most part, provides a consistent and even enjoyable driving experience, all wrapped around some of the latest technology on the market… is more than just a really long sentence, it is a summary of a lot of buyer wants and needs.
No, it isn’t cheap, and you still have to tick a few boxes to get all the goodies, but there are enough GLCs on the road to show that people looking for the three-pointed star aren’t going to let a few dollars stop them from adding one to the driveway.
As the latest addition to the Mercedes-Benz alphabetical showroom, the GLB is more than just an A-to-B SUV. The technical pieces of the puzzle are all well sorted now, and the focus on function ahead of form might just be the right approach to connect the market dots all the way from A to Z.