New Mercedes GLB takes on the X3 and Q5
Junior G-Class brings credibility, class and engineering to Benz’s compact SUV fight
Where there once was the GLA, Mercedes-Benz will soon have a genuinely good compact SUV, with the GLB already on its way to SA.
It looks like a chunkier, squarer SUV than anything Benz has made this side of the G-Class, and it feels a lot like a people mover clad it in a compact SUV’s body.
In a move that will take it at once from selling on its badge to selling on its quality, the GLB will arrive in both 220d and 250 petrol forms, with either five or seven seats and with solid off-road credentials.
It’s the SUV that will finally take Mercedes into the fight with BMW’s X3 and Audi’s Q5, with just the right size, just the right spec and just the right badge.
There is a halo, brilliantly quick GLB 35 AMG with 225kW of power, but that isn’t headed to SA at this stage. Neither is the poverty pack GLB 200, with just front-wheel drive.
The GLB 250 4Matic, though, seems to be the central point of the entire range.
It is powered by a with a 2.0l petrol four-cylinder delivering 165kW of power and 350Nm of torque, capable of moving to 100km/h in 6.9 seconds.
It’s a strong machine, with 20-inch alloy wheels and 235/45 R20 Bridgestone Alenza tyres, plus the option of either fixed or adaptive dampers to match the steel springs.
It climbs well off-road, keeps traction in stupidly difficult situations, has speed-adjustable hill-descent control and even uses its 360° surround camera to help you see in tricky spots. That includes using a low-mounted, forward-facing camera so you don’t accidentally run over rocks you can’t see.
It has good family credentials, with Benz giving the GLB a 100mm wheelbase boost over its A-Class donor-mobile, which has allowed it to fit a 140mm fore-aft sliding system in the rear seats.
It’s almost as long as the very different GLC (which is 4.66 metres long, compared to the GLB’s 4.63 metres long) and it’s longer than class mainstays like the Toyota RAV4.
The usefulness of the interior is highlighted by 967mm of legroom and 1,035mm of headroom in the rear seats, and it claims the third row (where fitted) can carry 1.68m tall people without afterthought (well, other than the lack of dedicated vents).
After all, they have their own side airbags, their own retractable headrests, their own Isofix mounting points, their own USB ports and their own seatbelt pre-tensioners.
The interior itself feels airy and friendly, especially with the optional sunroof, and that’s partly because of a low beltline and big glass areas. The exterior vision from the driver’s seat is excellent for its era.
The luggage area is a useful 560l (which actually takes a 10l advantage over the more expensive GLC) and the third row of seats folds flat into the floor area. There’s not much space for luggage if the third row is full of people, though.
The double-width digital cockpit display from the A-Class is used here again, and it’s just getting better and more intuitive with each passing generation. The voice control is even easier to use and it retains a scroller to give it a more immediately intuitive feel than pure touchscreen systems.
IT’S AIMED AT A YOUNGER, FAMILY ORIENTATED AUDIENCE BECAUSE IT HAS A SLIGHTLY NO-NONSENSE FEEL
It uses the same vents at the G-Class and even has an aluminum grab rail in front of the passenger to move the GLB further away from the A-Class’s hatchback positioning.
There are cars that surprise you with how competent and classy their road feel is, and the GLB is one of them.
There’s none of the stodginess of some Benzes and it’s clear that it’s aimed at bringing in a younger, family-oriented audience because it has a slightly no-nonsense feel about the way it gets things done.
The front end of the GLB simply goes wherever you point it, and it does it without fuss or bother. You can pile on more speed at the turn-in point but you won’t rattle the SUV’s composure as the understeer arrives and the electrickery calms it all down.
It also eradicates the bugbear of almost every Mercedes-Benz SUV — head toss. Pretty much every Benz SUV suffers from it, where the heads of the occupants are jiggled or thrown forward, backwards and sideways over relatively small imperfections.
Not here, with the longer wheelbase helping the GLB 250 to leap forward in refinement, composure and assurance and it feels very grown up.
It runs four-mode driving modes (ECO, Comfort, Sport and Individual) and there’s an optional off-road package that adds stuff like a 50:50 front-to-rear diff lock, hill-descent control and more wheel travel.
It starts outside, with optional LED high-performance headlights, active distance assist, active steering assist, active lane-change assist, active parking assist and, well, it’s all very active, but you rarely feel the GLB’s interventions.
The short version is that it’s an astonishingly competent, comfortable car that becomes even more impressive as you look deeper at every part of it.