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First drive: Mercedes GLB hits the road

All-new Mercedes GLB tempts families with chunky looks, swish cabin, seven seats

25 Jun 2020

MERCEDES-BENZ has pushed its SUV count out to eight with the official launch this week of the all-new GLB series in Australia – a medium-sized seven-seater which, as the name suggests, slots in between the GLA compact crossover and the best-selling, five-seat-only GLC mid-sizer. 

 

But with so many models in the German premium brand’s high-rider stable from which buyers can now choose, how highly does the GLB rate and what are its chances of success?

 

Kicking off from $59,900 plus on-road costs for the base 200 variant, the inaugural GLB adopts the transverse-engined MFA2 front-wheel-drive or ‘4Matic’ all-wheel-drive architecture first seen in the current A-Class hatch in 2018.

 

However, with squared-off styling reminiscent of the full-sized seven-seat GLS and a dedicated off-road engineering package on the expected volume-selling GLB250 4Matic (from $73,900) that brings to mind the hardcore G-Class Geländewagen, the GLB amalgamates several key elements of its established SUV siblings. 

 

These are central to the newcomer’s appeal as a sort of ‘anti-GLA’ offering, with family-friendly functionality rather than sleek coupe/hatch styling behind its packaging that gives the GLB wagon – with its tall stance (1659mm overall height) and high ground clearance (213mm) – a distinct point of difference. 

 

Plenty of new-to-the-Benz-brand buyers are anticipated as a result. 

 

The company cites the British-built Land Rover Discovery Sport as an obvious rival, although the cheaper Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace and Skoda Kodiaq also stand as competitors.

 

The GLB’s 2829mm wheelbase is some 50mm shy of the GLC’s, but 100mm longer than that of the closely related B-Class MPV, allowing Mercedes’ designers the freedom to fit extra-long rear doors that open to nearly 90 degrees to facilitate access to and from the pair of seats in the third row.

 

Aiding this is a 70/30 split-fold centre-row bench seat that can slide fore/aft up to 140mm and includes an individual seat-folding arrangement.

 

With deep windows, a tall ceiling and lofty seating, the feeling inside is airy, spacious and versatile – even more so than in the expansive B-Class. 

 

Front and second-row headroom and legroom levels are surprisingly generous, with only the GLB’s 1834mm girth betraying its small-car platform origins, meaning a third adult occupant in row two makes for a bit of a squeeze. 

 

Seats six and seven are really only suitable for sub-170cm-tall travellers, although it is the shape of the jutting headrests rather than any roofline shortfall that dictates this restrictiveness as pushing the middle-row seats forward can accommodate long legs in the rearmost positions.

 

Isofix child-seat latches, cupholders and two USB outlets are included, but no face-level air vents. 

 

Storing the third-row seats is a simple single-action procedure, boosting luggage space from barely 150 litres to 560L, or 1800L with the centre bench lowered for a flat load surface.

 

This concludes the SUV bit of the GLB. From the front row forwards, it’s almost pure A-Class, from the dazzling 10.25-inch pair of screens forming a rectangular digitised instrumentation/multimedia system to the firm but supportive seats set amongst a stylised cockpit of slick, textured surfaces.

 

The emphasis is quality and luxury – at least, it is in the mid-spec GLB250 4Matic we tested. 

 

Metallic-like turbine-fan vents contrast elegantly with beautifully tactile switchgear, piano-black finishes and faux-leather trim, while an excellent driving position offering pleasing all-round vision, lots of storage and ample ventilation are further cabin highlights.

 

That broad touchscreen offers greater visual and functionality configuration, allowing for personalisation ranging from subtle to gross. Vibrant purple ambient lighting, anyone? 

 

With the fiddly steering-wheel spoke controls it all can seem a little daunting, but familiarisation can lead to some neat discoveries, such as the lovely understated instrumentation. 

 

As well as seven seats, both GLB variants on sale now include climate-control air-conditioning, ambient interior lighting, keyless entry/start, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, wireless smartphone charging, embedded satellite navigation, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, an electric tailgate and 19-inch alloy wheels.

 

These are supported by advanced driver-assist systems including automatic parking, auto high beam, blind-spot monitoring, traffic-sign assist, active lane-keep assist, and active brake assist with semi-autonomous braking. Nine airbags are also fitted.

 

That said, adaptive cruise control costs extra, even in the GLB250 with its adaptive dampers, panoramic sunroof, electric/heated front seats with driver’s side memory and the aforementioned Off-Road pack that alters the traction systems, includes hill-descent control and even brings close-range terrain camera imaging with night-time vision for safer low-speed manoeuvrability.

 

Whereas the (1583kg) GLB200 uses a Renault-Nissan co-developed 120kW/250Nm 1.3-litre direct-injection petrol engine and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic driving the front wheels, the (1721kg) GLB250 uses a 165kW/350Nm 2.0-litre alternative with a new eight-speed DCT driving all four wheels with varying amounts of torque to each as required for optimal traction.

 

While on-paper economy and CO2 emissions do not vary widely between the two four-cylinder turbos – 6.5 litres per 100km and 148g/km respectively in the 200 compared to 7.7L/100km and 173g/km in the 250 –  the bigger-engined GLB’s acceleration feels much stronger than official acceleration figures suggest. 

 

For the record, these are 6.9 seconds from 0-100km/h in the 250, down from 9.1s in the 200.

 

In default Comfort setting, acceleration is sufficiently lively if unexciting, but select Sport mode and the GLB250 sprints forward energetically to build up speed with disarming ease, its powertrain working away with a slick yet feisty, zingy urge that is a hallmark of all modern 250-badged Benzes. 

 

We cannot wait to give the 225kW/400Nm AMG 35 version – with its 5.2s 0-100km/h claim – a thorough workout when it arrives later this year. 

 

Unlike the GLB200, the GLB250 features ‘Sports Direct’ steering, a variable-ratio set-up that brings alert and reactive responses, and without the ragged front-end rack rattle that has blighted some previous powerful and big-wheeled front-drive Mercedes models.

 

This is supported by reassuringly controlled roadholding – even at speed on gravel surfaces. Only the forthcoming GLB35 AMG has a multilink independent rear end in place of the others’ torsion-beam arrangement, but in most driving conditions the less-sophisticated set-up does not seem to bring any adverse effects.

 

We hasten to add that we have not yet driven the GLB200 that sits on standard dampers. The 250’s adaptive items managed to smother most bumps without fuss, though some smaller ones were occasionally felt. 

 

There’s some road and tyre noise intrusion over coarser bitumen, but overall, for a tallish SUV, the GLB’s dynamics are commendably sorted. 

 

There is some bodyroll unless Sport is selected, but while that tightens everything down considerably, the ride quality does stiffen up significantly as well. 

 

An ‘Individual’ driving mode can increase the power and steering directness without resorting to hard suspension should the driver wish. 

 

With driver as well as family appeal in its beefy armour, the GLB in 250 4Matic guise is one of the more likeable as well as useful luxury-branded compact SUVs, especially with a five-year warranty that matches the more proletarian brands to give the Benz a real edge over its premium opponents. 

 

From our first drive, it stands as arguably Mercedes’ most complete SUV to date. 

 

And we weren’t expecting that.

 

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB pricing*

 

GLB200 (a) $59,900
GLB250 (a) $73,900
GLB35 AMG 4Matic (a) $88,900

*Pricing excludes on-road costs


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