17 June 2020
17 June 2020
Seven is a sweet number in automotive design. Any more seats than that, and you’re limited to driving something potentially thirsty and hard to manoeuvre and park; fewer, and you risk being caught short when the kids beg to bring a few friends home from school or down to the beach.
So Mercedes-Benz performed a neat trick. By engineering a third row of seats into a truly compact SUV frame, it created an all-new model that succeeds where many others have stumbled, outshining even the highly practical Mercedes-Benz B-Class for versatility.
In doing so, the first-ever Mercedes-Benz GLB becomes the third model in the Mercedes-Benz passenger car range to be able to accommodate seven people, alongside a pair of much larger SUVs: the GLE (third-row optional) and the GLS. By comparison, the GLB has a compact footprint, which is perfect for urban areas, though it remains spacious and practical on the inside.
A versatile seven-seater with generous dimensions
On a cursory glance, the GLB does not appear so different from the wildly popular five-seat GLC SUV. Roughly identical in length and total cabin capacity, it’s only when you start to poke and prod that the GLB asserts its unique appeal.
That begins with the oft-requested two extra seats, comprising a third row that is fitted standard across the GLB range, bringing total seating capacity to seven. These additional seats are the ideal answer to have on hand when a couple of extra friends want to come home with the kids after school, or the junior basketball team deserves ice cream after a big game.
Accommodating two extra passengers works, in part, because the GLB is taller and squarer than the GLC behind the rear passenger doors, delivering capacious headroom. Meanwhile, the second row of seats sits on rails with a clever fore-aft slide that can liberate up to 14cm extra space for third-row passengers. The GLB also has a 10 centimetre-longer wheelbase than the B-Class – on paper it may not sound much, but even an extra 5cm per row can be the difference between cramped and comfortable.
Comfort features to boast about
In combination with front seat-backs that are deeply scalloped to optimise second-row legroom, the overall effect is that you can shapeshift each of the three rows to tailor comfort for every position.
It’s at this point you have to pinch yourself and realise this is still a vehicle that’s easy to manoeuvre and impressively fuel efficient; yet with the commanding view of the road that is key to the appeal of SUVs, and an ability to liberate impressive cargo space in a number of configurations. A bike, golf clubs or even a chest of drawers would pose no difficulties, thanks also to a wide and tall tailgate opening.
Third row passengers are hardly second-class citizens. They each get a USB-C outlet for device charging, a small-item stash space, a cupholder between the seats, and an elastic strap for securing an iPad or a book. Second-row passengers also get adjustable-flow air-con vents in the back of the centre bin. The rear doors are surprisingly tall and rectangular, making it relatively simple to clamber into the rear seats after the second-row seat-backs are folded forward.
I’m spending time in the GLB 250 4MATIC model that Mercedes-Benz believes will be the range sweet spot, and potentially its best seller. It’s equipped with a two-part glass sunroof which, in combination with the big, square side windows, creates the impression from any seat of a well-lit and spacious cabin.
Power, style and all-wheel-drive agility
The ability to pack in people, cargo or combinations of the two via the 40:20:40 split-folding second row seat is the GLB’s calling card. Less well known, although perhaps unsurprising given the badge that adorns the bluff snout, is that an impressive mechanical package underpins the GLB 250. Most astonishing is the adjustable damping suspension that is standard on the GLB 250, which combines with the advantageously long wheelbase to produce an unflustered ride, even on choppy back roads.
There is enough seat-of-the-pants feel to engage a keen driver, yet none of the sharper edges of coarse-chip tarmac are transmitted into the cabin. To be frank, you don’t expect saloon-type compliance from such an upright SUV.
Assisting the impression of unflustered progress is a gem of a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine (with 165kW of power and 350Nm of torque) that’s always in its sweet spot thanks to an intuitive eight-speed DCT auto. In default Comfort mode, power delivery is demure and unobtrusive but dial up Sport via the Dynamic Select toggle in the centre console and the GLB 250 is immediately ready to deliver on the promise hinted at by the chunky steering wheel and beautifully sculpted gear-shift paddles in cool-to-touch aluminium.
The cabin itself is pure Mercedes-Benz, in the best possible way. Dual, side-by-side 10.25-inch digital screens of intense clarity deliver the wow-factor, while a unique GLB touch is the metallic grab handles on the doors and across the passenger console, which pay homage to the legendary G-Class off-roader. Comfort seats with electric adjustment, heating and memory settings have that just-right feel, while ambient lighting with 64 selectable colours brings a funky edge to night-time driving.
It’s also worth noting that the tall stance makes it remarkably easy to slide in and out of the GLB, a key selling point with buyers for whom ease of access is key.
Speaking of the G-Class, this is one uncommonly agile urban-styled SUV if the going gets tough. Endowed with naturally short overhangs at the front and rear, and 4MATIC all-wheel-drive ability in GLB 250 guise, which brings in an Off-Road Engineering Package, it’s more than a match for loose gravel or even snow, incorporating a specific off-road mode that splits torque 50:50 between the front and rear wheels. When fitted with MULTIBEAM LED headlights, it will also spread the pool of light wider for better visibility during low-speed manoeuvring, and has Downhill Speed Regulation (DSR) to enhance control on slippery descents.
You can make up your own mind about the looks; but for me, the perpendicular nose, taut bonnet strakes, short overhangs and low-slung stance hang together pleasingly for what is essentially a case study in form following function.
It’s dawning on me that there is far more to the Mercedes-Benz GLB than initially meets the eye.
Sure, it’s a great party trick to seat up to seven people in such a svelte frame. But even for those who never muster the headcount to deploy the third row, the GLB still stacks up as an impressively versatile SUV; comfortable yet perky, luxuriously appointed, incredibly practical, and one that’ll get further off the beaten track than many others of its ilk.
The three Mercedes-Benz GLB models that will be available
We tested the mid-point model in the range, the new Mercedes-Benz GLB 250 4MATIC. It’s available now from Mercedes-Benz retailers.
Also available now is the Mercedes-Benz GLB 200, which is equipped with a 1.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine (120kW/250Nm) and a seven-speed DCT auto, and sends its power to the front wheels. It is the most affordable vehicle in the Mercedes-Benz passenger car range to seat seven people as standard, and uses as little as 6.5 litres per 100km (combined). It’s also exceptionally well appointed, with THERMOTRONIC climate control, KEYLESS GO comfort package, satellite navigation, wireless device charging (for compatible devices), Blind Spot Assist and much more.
Coming in the third quarter of 2020 is the Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 4MATIC, which pumps out 225kW and 400Nm from a turbocharged four, adding a host of AMG performance and aesthetic touches including an AMG Performance steering wheel, AMG RIDE CONTROL sports suspension, an AMG Drive Unit and the AMG Night Package to add more visual sporting flair.
Learn more about the all-new Mercedes-Benz GLB here and start planning your next adventure.
By Steve Colquhoun