Seven seats and Mercedes-Benz go together hand in glove. You might remember old E-Class wagons with fold-flat rear-facing seats in the rear. The newest three-pointed model, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB250 4Matic, is just like that, only very different.
As the third seven-seat model in Benz’s range of nine SUVs, the GLB range helps fill every conceivable niche.
It’s based on a compact car, the A-Class, but has stretched out to fill the dimensions of a mid-size SUV. The GLB250, at 4638mm, is just a scant 31mm shorter than a GLC300 SUV, but at 1834mm is a more substantial 56mm narrower and is actually 20mm taller at 1659mm high.
The GLB also joins the Australian market as only the second mid-size seven-seater in the medium-SUV class, whereas mainstream brands have jumped on the seven-seat bandwagon (or band-SUV) much earlier.
Pricing for the GLB250, before options and on-road costs, starts from $73,535. As is so often the case, though, some of the more desirable equipment is found within options packages, and the car tested here asks for $86,465 before on-road costs.
Blame that on things like Denim Blue metallic paint ($1490), AMG Exclusive interior ($2490), a Sports package ($1990) plus 20-inch wheel upgrade ($1290), Vision package ($1190), Driving Assistance package ($1990) and Communications package ($2490). More on what each includes in a moment.
As a basic package, the GLB250 comes with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine producing 165kW at 6100rpm and 350Nm from 1800–4000rpm. Drive is sent to a constant all-wheel-drive system (front-biased), through an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
|2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB250 4Matic|
|Engine||2.0-litre (1991cc) four-cylinder turbo petrol|
|Power and torque||165kW at 6100rpm, 350Nm at 1800–4000rpm|
|Transmission||Eight-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Drive type||Constant all-wheel drive, variable torque split|
|Fuel claim, combined||7.7L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||8.9L/100km|
|Boot volume (behind third row / behind second row / behind first row)||140L / 500L / 1755L|
|ANCAP safety rating (year tested)||Five stars (2019)|
|Warranty (years / km)||Five years / unlimited kilometres|
|Main competitors||Land Rover Discovery Sport, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Mazda CX-9|
|Price as tested (excl. on road costs)||$86,465|
Seven seats are standard for all GLB models in Australia, along with dual-zone climate control, dual 10.25-inch screens for instruments and infotainment, 19-inch alloy wheels, powered tailgate, wireless phone charging, satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth, LED headlights, auto lights and wipers, semi-automatic self-parking, keyless entry and start, leather steering wheel, and sliding middle-row seats with a 40-20-40 split.
The AMG Exclusive option adds heated and cooled front seats (in place of standard seat heating), Lugano leather trim (in lieu of faux-leather) and ‘Energising Comfort Control’ for music, climate and lighting scenes to match your mood. No, really.
Driving Assistance upgrades to distance-keeping cruise control, cross-traffic alert, lane-change assist, and route-based speed adaptation. Black exterior accents and AMG interior and exterior styling are hallmarks for the Sports package. Vision adds adaptive high-beam assist plus with multi-beam (matrix) LED headlights and 360-degree camera, while Communications adds a head-up display and Burmester 12-speaker premium audio.
The interior centrepiece isn’t its ability to seat seven, but rather the MBUX infotainment system. When it was brand-new, it led the way for crisp graphics and rapid load times. Competitors have caught up since, but this system is still a good one.
Control is via a user’s choice of touchscreen, console touchpad, steering wheel capacitive control, or spoken instructions. The first three input methods work brilliantly, but voice still seems to have issues, and despite “advanced Linguatronic voice control” you still need to speak to it like a simpleton.
Seating in row one is as comfy and spacious as you’d imagine. It certainly feels more airy in the GLB than it does in an A-Class thanks to the higher roof, but also seems to have one up on even the GLA SUV.
A tall dash, fairly open and simplified styling, and a low, uncluttered console certainly help. Colour combos make a difference, too. The simple black and grey trim shown here is much less confronting than some of the brighter, whiter trims available.
Mercedes tries to use the lack of a console-mounted gear selector to its advantage with extra storage space, and cupholders plus a charge pad where a gear lever might normally be. The GLB also packs in a big glovebox and large front door bins, but with a narrow centre console, the lidded storage section isn’t very wide.
Thanks to the sliding second row it’s easy to free up plenty of leg room, or slide the little ones within reach. There’s seating for three across, but with the GLB on the narrow side, you’ll likely be capped at two adults or two child seats.
The good news is there are four ISOFIX points, with two in the third row. The bad news is that fitting and filling them with squirming toddlers isn’t always going to be a delightful experience.
Head room for the second row is plentiful, even with the standard sunroof that Mercedes includes. There’s no easy electronic one-touch release for third-row access, but the second row is easy enough to manage manually, plus can be reclined for extra long-range comfort.
Tellingly, there’s a sticker on the rear door that suggests the third row not be used by anyone over 169cm, or 5ft 6.5in, tall. Anytime a German company doesn't find a way to use a nice round number, like 170cm, you know they’re serious.
Luckily (or perhaps not) I’m the same height as that sticker’s maximum. Benz wasn’t kidding either, as any taller and instead of brushing the headlining, I’d be hard up against it. I’ve also got 13-year-old nephews that have overtaken me height-wise… The window of opportunity for third-row use is only limited, then.
The rearmost seat is a compromise, though perhaps not as short-changed as you might expect. There’s room to put your feet, and with the middle row slid only a wee bit forward, there’s honest, useful knee and leg room.
On the other hand, outward visibility is minimal, and there are no vent outlets so cabin cooling can take a while to reach the back.
There are, however, two USB-C outlets each for the second and third rows and three up front, plus vents for the second row. Dropping, flipping and folding seats is pretty easy. The third row manually stows and the second row drops flat at the press of a button (so why can’t you do this to get into the back?).
The GLB provides 140L of space behind the third row, or two to three underfilled backpacks or green shopping bags' worth. There’s a spacious 500L with the rear row down, which will honestly tackle almost anything family life could throw at it. With all rear seats down, there’s 1755L and up to 2.4m of cargo length.
Better still, the cargo blind, for five-seat use, stows into its own easy underfloor space behind the third row.
Out on the road, the GLB250 is really likeable. It feels light and agile, and it can be easy to forget you’re in a long seven-seater, not a compact hatch.
It’s a polished package. On the go, the transmission is slick and smooth, and if you call on some of the driver-assist features, like adaptive cruise control or lane-keeping assist, you’ll find they feel quite natural, with no abrupt or rough inputs. That’s certainly good to see.
There’s still some minor hesitation from the dual-clutch auto at parking speeds, but nothing too concerning. There’s also a bit of gruffness from the stop-start system, but it’s quick to engage, which helps balance the ledger.
Depending on your personal preference, the ride might be a little too soft. The GLB250 comes standard with adaptive suspension, but in Comfort mode these were almost a little too floaty at times, bobbing and rocking like a boat on rough seas, then thumping clumsily through sharper bumps.
There’s also a fair amount of road noise from the 235/45R20 Bridgestone Alenza tyres fitted to this test car. Front-seat passengers won’t fare too badly, but head to the rear and the noise steps up.
It’s clear that the GLB was configured to be an urban adventurer first and foremost, and it does a good job of it. It’s not out of its depth on the open road, but it would be nice if it were just a little more settled and hushed.
In terms of consumption, the GLB250 is officially rated to 7.7L/100km, and in a week of mixed driving skewed towards short urban trips, we settled on 8.9L/100km.
Mercedes-Benz is right at the sharp end of the prestige pack with a five-year warranty and no kilometre limit, whereas most brands stick to three years. Initial servicing is priced at $3500 for five years on a pre-paid plan.
Safety is a big Benz drawcard, with nine airbags including third-row curtain bags, blind-spot monitoring, rear-view camera, front and rear park sensors, autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning and active lane-keep assist, driver-attention monitoring, crosswind assist and traffic sign recognition. ANCAP gave the GLB a five-star safety rating based on 2019 assessment criteria.
So then, in terms of legacy, the GLB250 isn’t a stand-in for an E-Class wagon with a dickie seat, which is probably a good thing. It’s better in many ways, and more dedicated to the role of seating seven.
Though it’s quite a bit longer than other ‘compact’ Benz models, it’s still city-sized and easy enough to squeeze into tight spaces and car parks. That’s good. It isn’t a minibus inside, though, and while it’ll seat seven, there are some conditions that need to be met regarding the size and age of occupants.
Still, the GLB250 puts a convincingly high-tech and premium blush on the mid-size sometimes-seven-seat SUV segment. It may start at half the price of the bigger, flashier GLS flagship, but manages to look, feel and drive like seven-tenths (maybe more) of its grander sibling.
Put it like that and it’s not hard to see the value, and the appeal, of Mercedes-Benz’s foray into the smaller end of the seven-seat SUV market.