OK, let’s say you want a luxury SUV, and you want a German-designed one because they’ve been doing luxury for a long time. You still have a lot of choices to make.
Do you want a fuel-efficient SUV that can carry your kids and their friends, yet still fit into a mall parking spot?
Are you an older driver who wants a car that’s easy to get into because your back is no longer willing to pretzel into a sedan?
Are you a weekend warrior, who wants a dressy city drive that can also crawl its way along the rough roads on the way to cottage country? Or a sleeper sports car masked as a practical family vehicle?
Mercedes Benz is hoping the 2020 GLB compact SUV will answer whichever of these needs you have. Comfortably compact and flexible, it is the SUV for all seasons and reasons. It also has two distinct personalities – one the peppy urban runabout and the other a fire-breathing, turbocharged sports SUV.
“This is a diverse family car for all generations,” says Matthias Schmidt, a member of the GLB’s product management team.
The GLB is a big little compact; at 4.6 metres in total length, it fits the description of a mid-size, yet its spacious interior can be equipped with an optional third row that provides seating for up to seven people. Uh, small people that is, since anyone of more than average height in that back row will find their teeth digging into their knees.
The interior space gain is a result of a deceptively simple bit of engineering. Designers stretched the wheelbase by 100 millimetres over the A-class car chassis, to lengthen the passenger compartment. Yet the total length of the GLB was kept in check by reducing the overhang front and rear.
With the back seats folded down, the five-seat GLB has capacity of more than 1,800 litres – as much as many traditional station wagons. Headroom in the front seats is a full 1,069 mm, and in the second row 967 mm – plenty for an average-height adult. The mid-row seats can also slide ahead to reduce the squeeze in that teensy third row.
The Canadian version comes with just two engine choices (sadly, the lovely and torquey diesel version will not be available here): a 2.0-litre gasoline mill that is either naturally aspirated or turbo-boosted. The GLB 250’s unboosted 2.0-litre engine provides an adequate 221 horsepower, while being remarkably fuel efficient for a non-hybrid vehicle. It’s a green bonus over full-size SUVs.
Buyers who want the beefier turbo engine will have to wait for the AMG 35 version, which won’t reach Canada until next September as a 2021 model. It comes with a twin-scroll turbocharged engine that notches up the horsepower to a healthy 302. It’s mated to an eight-speed “speedshift” dual-clutch automatic transmission with paddle shifters that make you feel like an F1 pro.
To further turn up the thrill-o-meter, the AMG 35 also has a stiffened body, tight suspension and speed-sensitive steering.
The tamer GLB 250 has merits of its own, albeit softer ones. Utility has seldom seemed more comfy. The body’s upright, squarish shape – a marked departure from the low-slung GLA crossover – optimizes interior space. Schmidt said the boxy cabin, moderate step-in height and less rakish windshield should appeal to older drivers and passengers because they prefer a more upright position.
The interior has a blend of the sort of modern technology and tasteful restraint we have come to expect from a premium automaker. A seven-inch instrument cluster and seven-inch media display (with optional 10.25-inch) are linked to the well-executed MBUX (Mercedes Benz User Experience) infotainment system and augmented-reality display for navigation. A simple “Hey, Mercedes” verbal command has the car ready to deliver driving directions or other essential services.
On the sporty AMG 35, brushed aluminum dash trim integrates with turbine-shaped air vents that look like they’ve come off a fighter jet.
Although the GLB will be manufactured in Aguascalientes, Mexico, instead of Germany, the preproduction models we drove looked and felt precisely built.
Looks, of course, can be deceiving in other ways. The GLB looks like one of those poser “off-road” SUVs that is mostly fit for pavement. For sure, it can’t climb rocks like a Wrangler or Tacoma TRD, but it does have some impressive stats: Mercedes’s 4Matic all-wheel drive system, 200 mm of ground clearance and even the ability to tilt 35 degrees without rolling over.
Of the two versions, it’s the GLB 250 that you could imagine spending a full day in without fatigue. The sportier AMG 35 sacrifices those creature comforts for road-handling prowess. Its high-feedback road feel made our trip through the twisty hills of Andalusia an adrenalin-pumping thrill ride.
Mercedes built its name on luxury cars, and it is all in now on luxury SUVs. The company has sold 6.5 million of them worldwide, including 820,000 last year alone. SUVs make up one-third of the company’s sales.
The GLB is a worthy addition to the Mercedes SUV stable. If you want a compact vehicle but don’t want to compromise on performance, creature comforts or brand status, this one is worth a look.
Deliveries of the 250 are expected to begin in the first quarter of 2020, with the AMG 35 set for fall.
- Base price/As tested: Not yet released
- Engines: 2.0-litre naturally aspirated gasoline; 2.0-litre turbocharged
- Transmission/drive: eight-speed automatic, AWD standard in Canada
- Fuel economy (litres/100km): 7.4 L/100 km on 250 model; 7.6 L/100 km combined on GLB 35 model (claimed by manufacturer; Transport Canada has not yet released official estimates.)
- Alternatives: BMW X1, Land Rover Discovery Sport, Lexus NX
The GLB is a departure from the current trend of aerodynamic looking SUVs. Instead, its boxy shape optimizes ease of access and interior space. Its grille and badging, however, are unmistakably Mercedes.
Premium-quality finishes inside include brushed aluminum trim, pebbled leather seats and colour-changing ambient lighting to suit your mood. The seats are firm, with adjustable lumbar support (and optional massage feature). Gauges are electronic and simple to read.
The GLB 250 has a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine that produces an adequate, if uninspiring, 210 horsepower. It’ll move a carload of passengers, but is not rated for towing in Canada – nope, not even pop-up trailers. The GLB AMG 35, however, is a hot rod posing as a family car.
The MBUX infotainment system is “dope,” in the words of my driving partner. Features include an augmented-reality screen display showing you exactly where to turn. Active Distance Assist Distronic and Active Steering Assist are new features that enhance Mercedes’s intelligent drive-assist functions.
The clever decision to stretch the wheelbase provides for oodles of cargo space with the seats folded, and enough room for suitcases on a weekend trip. If you have the optional third-row seats up, however, you’ll be lucky to fit a bag of golf clubs in the back.
Compact SUVs are a highly competitive field and they’re getting more luxurious. If brand name is not a key consideration, you can probably find better bang for your buck. This SUV, however, gives you that distinctive Mercedes badge, and all the engineering and creature comforts associated with it.
The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.
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