The GLB takes a niche slot and throws shade at the smaller GLA
If there were any doubt about the utter dominance of the market by SUVs, consider that prior to 2020, Mercedes—that storied brand built on luxury sedans—offered six different classes of them. Wait—seven, if you count the hatchback GLA they slot in as an SUV (and I do).
Well, brace yourselves. There’s now an eighth. The GLB250 parks a squarish, upright, proper-looking SUV into the paper-thin slot under the C-Class-based GLC and over the definition-challenged GLA. But the GLB grabs its design clay far more from the big GLS and positively rectilinear G-Class than any of the softer, more pliably styled Mercedes SUVs. In fact, that boxier form factor makes the new GLB an even more authoritative-looking family box with wheels than many roaming the streets today, somewhat aimless in their design.
And one step further into family firmament, the GLB offers a third-row seat—nearly unheard of in this size class, and something you must venture way up into the mid-sized GLE class among other Mercedes models to find.
With that upright windshield, tall and fairly vertical side glass with low window sills, plus interior dimensions pushed as far out as they’d go just shy of being outside, the GLB feels extremely generous from either of the first two rows, especially against such rivals as the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Volvo XC40, and VW Tiguan.
Second-row occupants can slide their seats fore and aft a total of six inches (150mm), providing plenty of space, even for big adults. Decades ago, we used to marvel at how big some cars like the original VW Golf (Rabbit) felt inside. It seems like Mercedes found that formula again, despite the necessary side impact safety considerations of the 21st century.
However, life inside isn’t perfect. The third-row reality is meek, to be charitable. Don’t even think of putting anyone but small children back there, and even then, only for brief drives. The $850 upcharge for the third row is better spent elsewhere and seems to be a box that Mercedes simply wanted to check. Plus, it reduces what is otherwise very decent cargo capacity. If you’ve got three or more kids plus their friends to schlepp, move up an SUV size.
And every time you utter “Mercedes,” it awakens the A.I. assistant bundled with the MBUX multimedia package (ostensibly and virtually named “Mercedes,”) who then butts into your conversation like an annoying aunt. Shutting the system up and disengaging the assistant is not all that involved, but it stultifies the conversation and distracts attention. Thank goodness it’s optional.
The GLB’s long, two-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 excellent graphics and customizable layouts and designs. This multimedia interface can be operated by touchpads on the steering wheel, a trackpad on the center console, or through voice commands.
MBUX is Linux-based and includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a wireless hotspot plus heightened reality overlay graphics on forward camera display when navigation is active.
All GLBs are powered by the turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder engine that also sees duty in many other smallish Benzes and makes 221hp (165kW) and 258lb-ft (350Nm) of torque. Mated to an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic and all-wheel drive in our test vehicle (front-drive is standard), Mercedes claims 6.9 seconds to 60mph, which looks fine on paper. It feels a little lethargic in reality, though, considering our two-row, five-passenger 4Matic model weighs in at a portly 3,759lbs, (1,705kg) plus about 360lbs (118kg) of pilot and co-pilot.
The 4Matic GLB250 comes with electronic assists for climbing and descending steep hills as you would when off-roading, even though we think few buyers would ever really dare to bring their baby Benz SUV into the deep and muddy.
The GLB250 is perfectly happy wafting along the highway at extra-legal speeds, too. But the driveline’s throttle response can be pretty dismal when merging with traffic or from a dead stop. That mixture between off-boost throttle and the tick-tock before clutches bite is lethargic and annoying. Some of this behavior is improved by selecting Sport mode, but that also causes the transmission to stave off reasonably anticipated upshifts absurdly late, too. The gearbox gods giveth and they taketh away.
Though the GLB-class starts at a relatively modest $37,595, many of the available options like the full package of active safety driving assists can balloon that figure to the $50,480 all-in of our 4Matic all-wheel-drive test model, a price more in line with other luxury SUVs of quite a few feet greater size and capacity than the GLB. So, what begins as a well-priced luxury intro-sized SUV grows heavy with price-creep.
However, the GLB’s boxy and upright styling lends a far greater purposefulness than the even smaller and more awkward GLA, prompting the fleeting thought that Mercedes might have discontinued the GLA for the GLB. And it plays a natural foil to the fairly ridiculous fastback SUV “coupes” that both Mercedes and BMW clog their lineups with, offering less function and more folly than actual upright SUVs with real cargo space. Aside from the laggy throttle, the annoying AI voice command wakefulness, and the meager (optional) third row legroom, the GLB250’s driving character and interior packaging are up to standards set by their still-excellent sedans.