Mercedes’s boxy new GLB seven-seater SUV squares up to the biggest version of Volkswagen’s popular, premium-mainstream Tiguan.
No other car brand in Australia features more SUVs in its showrooms than Mercedes-Benz. With the addition of the first-ever GLB, the German manufacturer is just one model away from double figures.
Its closest challengers in this respect are all luxury rivals, with Audi, BMW and Land Rover each with seven SUVs.
The GLB is noticeably longer than the GLA (4.64m v 4.42m) – making it just 31mm shorter than a GLC.
The GLB is distinguished from the GLC in two notable ways, though. The GLB’s design is more upright and boxier, looking like a shrunken version of Benz’s biggest SUV, the GLS. And unlike the GLC, it offers three rows of seating.
In the luxury mid-sized SUV segment, the GLB has only one direct rival in the Land Rover Discovery Sport.
Yet to achieve truly good sales, Mercedes will want the GLB to entice buyers away from popular, high-end versions of mainstream SUVs – such as the Volkswagen Tiguan.
And with VW creating a longer (4.7m), seven-seater version of the Tiguan – the Allspace – in 2018, that provides us with a perfect upper-mainstream versus premium comparison.
On the Mercedes side, we have the $73,535 mid-spec GLB250 the company believes will be the most popular variant in Australia.
The top-spec petrol Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace is the $53,190 162TSI Highline. To close that large price gap somewhat, we have a test car fitted with two main option packs to take it to $58,450 before on-road costs.
So, which SUV provides the best mix of aspiration, performance and seven-seater practicality?
Pricing and features
The Mercedes-Benz GLB range starts at $59,900, with the GLB200 powered by a Renault-Mercedes 1.3-litre turbo petrol engine.
The gap to the GLB250 – which uses a Mercedes 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine – is actually wider once other charges are factored in, because the mid-spec model attracts nearly $2000 in LCT (luxury car tax). To drive away in a GLB250 costs $81,092 (based on NSW pricing).
With all on-road charges added, Tiguan Allspace 162TSI buyers need to part with $58,593. Or $67,833 for the exact spec of our test car, which adds several optional items.
Features in the GLB250’s favour include larger, higher-tech infotainment and driver displays, wireless smartphone charging, panoramic sunroof (a $2000 option on the Tiguan), fully customisable ambient cabin lighting, and various active-safety aids (which we’ll detail in the next section).
Tiguan Allspace 162TSI exclusives in this comparison include tinted rear glass (part of package on the GLB), three-zone climate control (dual in the Benz), and heating for both the front seats and outer second-row seats.
Both models sit on 19-inch alloy wheels as standard, though our test Tiguan has 20-inch wheels courtesy of a $3000 R-Line package that brings various exterior and interior design upgrades.
A $3000 Sound and Vision package also allows the Tiguan to match the GLB’s digital driver display and surround-view camera, while giving it a more powerful audio system (400 v 225 watts).
The VW’s R-Line seats – like its standard upholstery – mixes genuine and artificial leather; the GLB employs ‘Artico’ material – Mercedes’s name for its man-made leather.
Both models share LED exterior lights, adaptive dampers, drive modes, paddle-shift levers, and electric front seats.
INFOTAINMENT AND TECHNOLOGY
The GLB’s dual 10.25-inch displays – shared with other compact Benzes – are simply stunning. Such is the quality of their resolution and presentation, you suspect even Apple would be impressed.
If the intuitiveness of operation is not quite on an iPad’s level, it doesn’t take too long to learn how to manipulate the displays using either the centre console touchpad (for the infotainment screen) or the steering wheel thumb-scrolls and buttons (for the driver display).
There’s an impressive depth to the layers of the MBUX system’s functions, and a level of customisation for the driver display that is currently unrivalled. There’s also the 'Hey Mercedes' voice command activation, which is mostly effective.
The Tiguan also provides voice control. While it’s only initiated by the press of a steering wheel button, it also understood commands well.
VW’s 9.2-inch touchscreen features in the 162TSI, and is among the best in the mainstream SUV segment for its slickness of operation, stylish presentation and ease of use.
It just pales in comparison to the Mercedes's display, while VW’s ‘Active Info Display’ looks relatively primitive after experiencing the GLB’s interactive driver display. For a top-spec Tiguan, there’s also an argument a digital driver display should be standard – as it is on the Peugeot 5008 and twin Skoda Kodiaq.
An updated Tiguan range is coming in 2021, which will include upgraded driver and infotainment displays among other small changes. Let’s hope it also brings wireless charging, the absence of which here betrays the Tiguan’s 2016 vintage.
Common driver aids include adaptive cruise control, blind spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring, lane-keep assist, low tyre pressure warning, and fatigue warning.
The GLB has exit warning that’s designed to prevent you opening a door into oncoming traffic, crosswind assist, and speed-limit notification.
Neither SUV features an auto high-beam system or a head-up display as standard. Both features are optional on the Mercedes.
Starting with the all-important third rows (otherwise you may as well just buy a GLA or regular Tiguan), the GLB offers a major advantage over the Allspace: its two rearmost seats both feature ISOFIX and top-tether points, giving parents the option to put younger children there for extra family-arranging versatility.
The Allspace even lacks top-tether points, ruling out the use of child seats.
For adults, it’s slightly more of a squeeze to get into and out of the GLB’s back row, though once there they will find more head room, more knee room, and a bit more foot space than in the Allspace.
That leg room is still relative: these are very much 5+2-seaters rather than full-blown seven-seaters, and adults will want to spend as little time back there as possible – even with the sliding (60/40) second-row seats in each vehicle moved forward to a point where an adult would have some semblance of leg room.
In the Mercedes, third-row passengers are treated to rubber-matted trays to the side with a USB-C charging point and deep cupholders down the middle. There’s just a cupholder and tray in the Tiguan’s case.
When third-row occupants are not a factor, the second rows of the GLB and Allspace offer generous space all round, plus recline adjustment – and sufficiently wide ingress/egress through wide rear doors. Naturally, there’s less leg room if the 60/40 sliding second-row seats are moved forward to provide more space to those in the rear.
The Tiguan’s cabin feels wider; the GLB’s cabin is noticeably taller – even with the standard panoramic roof. NBL players would appreciate the Mercedes.
Curtain airbags stretch all the way back to the third row in both vehicles.
Second-row storage is commonly good, with practically sized door pockets (slightly larger in the VW), seatback pouches, and centre armrests with cupholders.
Kids are particularly likely to love the Tiguan’s clever seatback mini tables, which feature adjustable angles plus a pull-out cupholder.
Seven-seater SUVs are typically a can’t-have-your-cake-and-it proposition, in that you can’t have lots of luggage and all seats occupied. Neither the GLB nor Tiguan Allspace breaks that mould.
With those extra seats embedded in the boot floors, though, both vehicles are ready to carry a big chunk of family gear – whether it’s a couple of kids' bikes or bags galore for a weekend away. (The cargo blind in each car can also be stored conveniently under the rearmost boot floor.)
VW quotes luggage capacity of 700L (85L more than the regular Tiguan’s boot), 140L above the Mercedes (560L) – its main advantage is a slightly longer boot floor (1046mm v 936mm). It’s closer with all rear seats folded – 1775L for the Allspace; 1755L for the GLB. In both cases, second-row seatbacks fold in a 40-20-40 configuration.
Volkswagen provides a space-saver spare under the Tiguan’s boot floor, whereas Mercedes has opted to put the GLB on run-flat tyres.
The respective cabin presentations accurately reflect each brand’s status. Whereas the Tiguan’s interior carries Volkswagen’s traditional ‘semi-premium’ feel, the GLB’s interior is a genuine luxury-car execution (if more polarising with some of its bolder design elements, such as the trio of turbine-style centre air vents).
In terms of switchgear and materials tactility, the Mercedes is a league above. It looks particularly stunning at night, too, with its extensive and widely customisable ambient interior lighting.
The Tiguan’s more neutrally designed cabin – looking relatively conservative next to the GLB – isn’t short on classy touches. It’s just let down by a few details, such as the uninspiring quality of the climate controls, hard rear upper door cards that are mismatched with the softer material used on the front doors, and the coarse-plastic centre console.
Those with OCD will also want to keep a soft cloth stored somewhere, as the dark infotainment touchscreen shows up plenty of fingerprint smudges.
In the mainstream segment, the Tiguan defers to the Peugeot 3008/5008 twins for the interior benchmark – though we await the updated version of the Tiguan due in 2021 to see if that alters the pecking order.
The Tiguan’s front seats are hugely comfortable, though, with good side and under-thigh support, while this tester found the GLB’s seats on the firm side and not quite as inviting.
And although the Mercedes isn’t short on storage options up front, the Volkswagen goes the extra yard with overhead storage compartments (albeit with basic quality), huge/deep door cubbies, a usefully sized glovebox, and a versatile centre console tray that can transform a good-size storage area into a cupholder section at the press of a button.
Our two seven-seater SUVs couldn’t be much more evenly matched when it comes to drivetrains: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engines, dual-clutch autos and on-demand all-wheel drive.
Power and torque are almost identical, too. The Tiguan produces 162kW to the GLB250’s 165kW, while both deliver 350Nm across a big part of the rev range – from 1600 to 4200rpm in the VW, and from 1800 to 4000rpm in the Mercedes.
There’s little in it for 0–100km/h claims, too. VW quotes 6.8 seconds for the Tiguan Allspace 162TSI, which is the fastest variant in the range, a tenth ahead of the GLB250.
The GLB’s 6.9-second time is well ahead of the GLB200 (9.1sec), but also quite a bit slower than the AMG GLB35 (5.2sec).
For further perspective, a Peugeot 5008 GT-Line takes 10.5 seconds to complete the benchmark sprint, and a Land Rover Discovery Sport P250 takes 7.8 seconds.
Most owners would find the GLB250 amply quick, without the need to consider the AMG variant. It feels the sprightlier performer of this duo here, mainly courtesy of a more responsive (eight-speed) dual-clutch auto.
For those moments when you want urgent acceleration, the Mercedes hooks up more instantly, whereas the Volkswagen exhibits some traditional hesitation from its DSG transmission.
The GLB250’s gearbox isn’t always perfect, either. The Comfort mode of the vehicle settings available occasionally feels like Sport mode when you’re simply trying to navigate suburbs – occasionally feeling grabby in its earliest upshifts, and then downshifting unexpectedly at other times despite the engine having more than sufficient torque to carry a higher gear.
We didn’t experience the same issue with the same drivetrain in the smaller, lighter GLA250.
While the Tiguan feels a bit lazier initially in contrast, you can also appreciate the VW’s more relaxed and linear nature.
Full acceleration in both vehicles is hugely impressive. Even with family members onboard, either a GLB250 or Tiguan Allspace 162TSI driver will have all the confidence they need for quick overtakes on country roads or freeways.
The respective all-wheel-drive systems – both front-drive-biased set-ups that bring the rear wheels in as necessary – ensure excellent traction, too.
The cake analogy returns here, though, as fuel efficiency takes a bit of a back seat to performance.
While lab-derived official consumption has the Mercedes and Volkswagen pegged at 7.7 and 8.3 litres per 100km, respectively, our testing suggested figures will be somewhere in double figures if you’re driving predominantly around cities and suburbs.
We had an indicated 10.7L/100km for the GLB250 and 10.3L/100km for the Allspace 162TSI for a ‘commuting’ portion of our testing. This compares with quoted urban consumption figures of 9.7L/100km (Mercedes) and 10.2L/100km (VW).
The Volkswagen, though, matched its official claim during our longer-distance testing – including country roads and freeway – where the GLB250 registered 9.2L/100km. These were recorded with just a driver aboard.
Both engines run on premium (95RON) unleaded.
On the road
Adaptive dampers give GLB250 and Allspace drivers a choice over how softly or firmly their vehicles ride. There are three settings for the Volkswagen and two for the Mercedes.
The Sport mode is a saving grace for the GLB as its suspension in Comfort is poorly calibrated – floaty, wobbly and also surprisingly crashy over deeper surface indents. This setting feels especially queasy on a typical country road, if better on the freeway.
Although the firmer Sport setting can still be fidgety, it at least reins in some of the GLB’s excessive body movements to make the ride more agreeable.
The GLB (as with the Tiguan) has an Individual drive mode that allows the suspension to be in Sport but the drivetrain in Comfort, so the engine and gearbox aren’t overly aggressive around town.
The question, though, is how many owners are going to drive their GLB with a customised setting as opposed to the default Comfort mode?
Bringing the GLA250 in as a reference again, Mercedes’s smallest SUV has some similar suspension issues – especially on country roads – though is more comfortable around town.
The Tiguan should offer more suppleness in its softest (Comfort) driving mode, yet even with lower-profile tyres and bigger wheels compared with the Benz, the Allspace 162TSI rides with a better balance of comfort and control.
Its tyres are also quieter on coarser surfaces and, on the freeway, there’s less wind noise than experienced in the GLB, which has a constant whistling around the A-pillars.
The Tiguan feels more enjoyable to drive on a country road beyond its superior ride quality, with a far more composed approach to cornering through a more convincing chassis, better tyre grip, and steering that is more accurate.
The GLB’s steering also has a vagueness around the straight-ahead that leads to constant small corrections of the steering wheel, even in a relatively straight line.
Driving positions are a subjective matter. The GLB driver sits very upright, whereas sitting in the Tiguan’s driver's seat is more akin to sitting in a high-riding large hatchback.
We found the support and comfort of the Tiguan’s seat that bit better and not quite as firm, if not a match for the optional plush, quilted leather seats in the rival Peugeot 5008.
The GLB250 has the slightly tighter turning circle here. They’re both easy to park, too – unless you’re on a hill, where the Tiguan’s auto allows the vehicle to roll back unless you have the Auto Hold button engaged. The Mercedes’s auto does this automatically.
The Allspace 162TSI’s seven-speed dual-clutch auto at least avoids the jerkiness of the six-speed DSG we tested in the base version of the regular Tiguan.
At the start of 2020, Mercedes-Benz made the move to a permanent five-year warranty, making it one of the first prestige brands to do so. Volkswagen offers the same.
Both brands are relatively expensive when it comes to maintenance. Mercedes charges $2150 for a pre-paid three-year servicing plan, which saves $500 compared to pay-as-you-go capped-price servicing, but is still more expensive than servicing a BMW X1 or X3 SUV.
Four-year and five-year plans for the GLB cost $2900 and $3500, respectively.
Volkswagens typically cost more to service than the average mainstream car. Three years of servicing costs $1704, but a pricey fourth service ($1127) makes the Tiguan Allspace almost as expensive for annual check-ups as the GLB ($2831 total for four years; $3240 for five years).
VW’s mileage intervals are 15,000km compared with 25,000km for the Mercedes.
Upmarket mid-sized seven-seater SUVs are quite a niche group – essentially encompassing the Tiguan Allspace and GLB, plus the Land Rover Discovery Sport and Peugeot 5008.
For parents looking for greater flexibility when it comes to fitting family and friends, the GLB makes a persuasive case with the only third row among its peers to provide top-tether points as well as ISOFIX anchorage.
There are further cabin bonuses with the Mercedes’s tangibly higher interior quality and light, spacious front and second rows. And the GLB250 is better equipped than the equivalent Disco Sport.
Buyers would also have to be quite serious about performance to need more than what’s provided by the GLB250’s engine.
The Mercedes unfortunately falls down on the road, with a driving experience that’s inferior to that offered by the Tiguan Allspace – and the Disco Sport and 5008, for that matter.
The GLB’s suspension struggles to deal with typical Aussie roads unless the driver selects Sport mode for the dampers, and even then it generally steers with less precision and assuredness as rivals – whether mainstream or luxury.
The Tiguan Allspace 162TSI could do with some extra additions on its standard-features list, such as the digital driver display and more premium audio system.
But while this is the most expensive Allspace model you can buy, it’s also one of the best – with the adaptive dampers not only helping to give it better on-road manners than the base 110TSI, but also providing the VW with a more polished ride and handling experience than the GLB250.
The 162TSI engine also impresses – matching the GLB250’s four-cylinder for performance and beating it for refinement. The VW’s dual-clutch auto is also less erratic, if less responsive.
And while there’s a distinct perceived-quality gap between the two interiors that goes a considerable way to justifying the Mercedes’s notably higher price, the Allspace’s interior is still thoughtfully conceived for families and still relatively upmarket for a mainstream vehicle that takes the honours here.
Counterpoint: Justin Narayan
Mercedes-Benz is continuing its dominance in both product and performance. Not only is the brand on top of the pops in terms of sales versus BMW and Audi, but its latest and greatest products are quite the spectacle inside and out.
Surprised I was then, to discover that the Volkswagen had the edge in this comparison. With the lens of compact seven-seater firmly in place, it makes for the better option versus the three-pointed star.
The GLB 250 has a lot going for it, especially in terms of the way it looks and in its cabin presentation. It’s actually quite the divisive car on the outside, but I genuinely like its sugar-cube proportions. But, once you get past the styling, you’re greeted with a cabin universally regarded as the segment benchmark – and miles ahead of the Volkswagen. Of course, with Mercedes a more premium marque, this is as it should be.
However, as a seven-seater, the GLB does fall before the mainstream Tiguan Allspace, even when you account for the fact there’s more room in the back of the Benz. A good third row is not not all about legroom.
Ingress into the third row is more difficult with the Mercedes-Benz, and general comfort levels are just not on the same level, either. It lands short in three key areas - first in terms of physical comfort, second in terms of visibility and third in terms of the experience when on the move.
The third-row seat bench feels slightly awkward to sit in, with the rear of the seat squab raked in a way that leaves your knees overly elevated. There is also a lack of lateral headroom, matched to a small piece of window glass that lacks width.
These points alone reduce the comfort of the third row when compared directly with the Tiguan Allspace. A larger field of view, as found in the Volkswagen, does its part to kerb the onset of motion sickness in those prone to it, as does its more generous headroom.
However, the Merc's soft ride and handling are greatly magnified when riding in the third row. As these are compact seven-seat SUVs, third-row occupants are set right over the rear axle – and this means any bobbing, floatiness or general suspension movement is greatly exaggerated in comparison to the forward rows.
The GLB 250 has been tuned on the side of comfort, which first appears refreshing. However, the more you explore it, the more you notice a sense of ‘jelliness’ in the ride quality. It’ll follow the curvature of the road slightly, bobbing up and down, and never truly feeling settled.
The Benz’s shortcomings combine to overcome the benefit of more knee room, which it does offer over the Tiguan Allspace. Sitting stationary, it’s splitting hairs between the two, but on the move, one becomes more favourable than the other.
In this case, It’s the Tiguan Allspace. It doesn’t have the fanciness of the Benz, but it does better what it claims on the tin – the ability to comfortably move seven people in a convenient medium SUV package.