If there is any doubt about the absolute dominance of the market by SUVs, consider that before 2020, Mercedes-that storied brand built on luxury sedans-offers six different classes of them. Stand-sevenif you consider the GLA hatchback they slot in as an SUV (and I do).
Well, prove yourself. There are now eight. The GLB250 parks a squarish, upright, good-looking SUV in a paper-thin slot under the Class-based GLC and on the definition-challenging GLA. But the GLB takes its design cues far more from the large GLS and the positively rectilinear G-Class than any of the sleeker, more traditional Mercedes SUVs. In fact, that boxer form factor makes the new GLB an even more commanding family box with wheels than most cruisers on the road today, somewhat unassuming in their design.
And a step further to the family firmware, the GLB offers a third-row seat – almost unheard of in this size class, and something that must be found on the way up into the middle GLE class among other Mercedes models to be found.
With a straight window, high and fairly vertical glass with small windows, with the dimensions of the interior pushed as if they could be embarrassed to be outside, the GLB has a lot of donation from one of the first two rows, especially to such. rivals like Audi Q3, BMW X1, Volvo XC40, and VW Tiguan.
Occupants in the second row can easily move their seats forward and back a total of six inches (150mm), providing plenty of space, even for large adults. Decades ago, we used to marvel at how big some cars like the original VW Golf (Rabbit) felt inside. It looks like Mercedes found that formula again, despite the 21st century’s major side impact safety concerns.
However, inner life is not perfect. The third-line truth is gentle, to be kind. Don’t even think of leaving anyone but small children back there, and even then, only for short drives. The $850 offer for the third row is better spent elsewhere and seems like a box Mercedes wants to check. In addition, it reduces what is otherwise a decent load capacity. If you have three or more children with their friends to schlepp, increase the size of the SUV.
And every time you say “Mercedes,” you wake up an AI assistant that is integrated with the MBUX multimedia package (it’s clear and it’s named “Mercedes,”) who enters your conversation like an angry mother. Locking up the system and removing the assistant is not all that is involved, but it makes the conversation more interesting and attention-grabbing. Thank goodness it’s optional.
The GLB’s long, dual-screen MBUX infotainment display sits low, making for outstanding visibility. Seven-inch screens are standard, but the Premium Package ($2,250) comes with 10.25-inch units with better graphics and customizable settings and designs. This multimedia interface can be operated via the touch buttons on the steering wheel, the music pad on the center console, or via voice commands.
MBUX is Linux-based and includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a wireless hotspot with real-time overlay images on the front camera display when navigation is active.
All GLBs are powered by a turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder engine that also finds service in many other small Benzes that produces 221hp (165kW) and 258lb-ft (350Nm) of torque. Mated to an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic and all-wheel drive in our test car (front-drive is standard), Mercedes claims 6.9 seconds to 60mph, which looks fine on paper. It just feels a little small in fact, though, considering there are two rows, the five-seater 4Matic model weighs in at a portly 3,759lbs, (1,705kg) with about 360lbs (118kg) of pilot and co-pilot.
The 4Matic GLB250 comes with electronic aids for climbing up and down steep hills as you would when driving, although we think few buyers will be brave enough to take their baby Benz SUV into the deep and muddy.
The GLB250 is perfectly happy on the highway at extra legal speeds, too. But the driveline’s throttle response can be pretty annoying when mixing with traffic or from a dead stop. That mix between the off-boost and the pre-clutch tick is uncomfortable and annoying. Some of this behavior is improved by choosing a sports mode, but that also causes living to avoid the expected improvements that are expected soon, too. The gearbox gods give and they take.
Although the GLB class starts at a modest $37,595, several available options like a full package of active safety driver aids can balloon that to $50,480 all-in for the 4Matic all-wheel drive test model, more expensive. in line with other luxury SUVs that are a few feet larger and more powerful than the GLB. So, what started out as a well-priced fun-sized SUV ended up being expensive.
However, the GLB’s fancier and more determined styling is much larger than the much smaller and more aggressive GLA, prompting the temporary thought that Mercedes may have discontinued the GLA for the GLB. And it will be a natural foil to the fairly ridiculous fastback SUV “coupes” that both Mercedes and BMW clog their lineups with, offering less performance and more madness than actual actual SUVs with real free space. Aside from the laggy accelerator, the annoying AI sound command wakefulness, and the property (optional) third row legroom, GLB250’s driver’s character and interior box are up to the standards set by them and still-excellent sedans.
Image courtesy of Mercedes-Benz