Has Mercedes thrown a spanner in its own works with the appealing new GLB?

Instantly likable ‘mini Defender’ puts pressure on similar GLA and more ‘prestigious’ GLC

The GLB SUV looks a bit like a scaled-down G-Wagen, but shares Mercedes' NGCC platform (New Generation Compact Car) with the A-Class, B-Class and CLA models. It is comfortable, looks good and comes with a seven-seat option. Video: Neil Briscoe

Does the GLB do enough, though, to invalidate the appeal of the GLA or GLC? Well, not quite

Make: Mercedes-Benz

Model: GLB

Year: 2020

Fuel: Diesel

Date Reviewed: August 13, 2020

Wed, Aug 19, 2020, 07:15

   

You do kind of wonder if Mercedes-Benz might just have broken its own model line-up with the new GLB SUV. Mostly because, once you’ve seen it and once you’ve driven it, you might start to wonder quite what the point is in having the similarly-sized-and-priced GLA, or for that matter, the pricier, supposedly more prestigious GLC.

Once Mercedes had decided that it was going to reference its classic, evergreen G-Wagen (nowadays technically called the G-Class but we prefer the anachronistic original name) in the badges for all of its SUVs and crossovers, it was inevitable that it would create, effectively, a Mini-G. While the GLA is, essentially, either a slightly taller A-Class, or a slightly shorter B-Class, the GLB creates a niche all of its own. It’s bigger and boxier and, at least to my eyes, looks rather like an SUV should – more straight lines than round ones. In fact, while it’s supposed to look like a G-Wagen that’s shrunk in the wash, I think there are actually more similarities to the new Land Rover Defender – no bad thing. There’s also a hint of the old 709D van about the lights and grille, but that one’s just for van nerds.

The GLB is some 215mm longer than even the roomy B, so space inside is truly impressive
The GLB is some 215mm longer than even the roomy B, so space inside is truly impressive

While the outside is appealing enough, inside it’s even better. As with the related B-Class, there’s lots of space, but the GLB is some 215mm longer than even the roomy B, so space inside is truly impressive. There’s plenty of head and legroom for rear-seat passengers, and there’s an optional third row in the boot, making this a seven-seater if you’re prepared to shell out the extra €1,427 for them. As is the way of such things, space in that third row is pretty compromised, but they do make the GLB that bit more versatile than its own alphabetised rivals, the GLA and GLC. Mercedes reckons that those third-row seats, assuming you slide the middle row forward a bit, can cope with people up to 5ft 6in tall. Presumably these people have neither knees nor feet, but still.

Fold all the seats flat, and you get a healthy 1,680 litres of cargo volume. That’s more than a Land Rover Discovery Sport can manage, but less than a Skoda Kodiaq. Fold just the third row down, and you’ve got a very decent 500 litres to play with – more than you get in the GLC.

Dashing board

Up front, the dash is basically the same as that of the A-Class and B-Class – the same, hugely impressive, “digital plank” widescreen display, the same “Hey, Mercedes” digital assistant, the same big eyeball air vents – but with some chunky detailing, including a big slab of metallic-painted plastic masquerading as milled aluminium. If there’s a disappointment, it’s that more hasn’t been done to make the GLB feel truly like a small G-Class, as there’s a slight lack of oddment space, or rugged, rubberised matts and so on. Another disappointment is that some of the plastics on show really do look and feel very cheap (the window switches especially so). The column stalks also feel really naff.

Up front, the dash is basically the same as that of the A-Class and B-Class
Up front, the dash is basically the same as that of the A-Class and B-Class

Our test car came with the 200d 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine, which is, I guess, hardly fashionable, but it is economical. We easily broke through the 5.6-litres per 100km (50mpg) barrier, and with a little gentle cruising saw as good as 4.7l/100km (60mpg). It is a little noisy, though, giving off a constant low-frequency whine, and growling rather obviously when pressed hard. There’s also some occasional clunks and thumps from underneath, which have possibly been engineered in to make the GLB sound and feel that bit more rugged and outdoorsy, but which are equally possibly just annoying noises. Performance, with 150hp and 380Nm of torque, is absolutely fine, though, and the eight-speed automatic gearbox is impressively smooth. A fully-electric version, badged EQB, is due to go on sale next year.

Laid-back drive

Through the corners? Well, let’s just say that the GLB has possibly the most pointless Sport mode ever. It makes the steering a little heavier and the throttle a little sharper, but with the way the GLB leans through corners, and the generally lazy responses of the front end, there’s just no need for it. That’s not to say that the GLB is unruly nor unresponsive – it’s neither – but it is a car that rewards a more laid-back approach. The body lean is gradual and well-controlled, the front does grip and turn once you give the light, slightly over-assisted steering a chance, and the whole process is actually quite pleasant. It’s not a car to tear about in, criss-crossing mountain roads, but rather a solidly comfy family cruiser. The only demerit is that, occasionally, the ride quality can get a touch thumpy, and the springs transmit rather too many short, sharp road ripples.

Does the GLB do enough, though, to invalidate the appeal of the GLA or GLC? Well, not quite. While the GLA is, arguably, more attractive and more overtly sporty, for similar cash I’d have the chunkier, more sedate GLB every time. Compared to the GLC, you get as much or slightly more space and practicality with the GLB, for slightly less money, but then the GLC does definitely have an air of greater class, and it’s internal fixtures and fittings are definitely of a higher quality.

That said, the GLB is quite possibly the most instantly likable, charming, and appealing model that Mercedes has yet spun off its front-wheel drive A-Class NGCC platform. It hasn’t – quite – broken Merc’s model line-up, but it’s certainly added to it.

MERCEDES-BENZ GLB 200D

Power 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel putting out 150hp and 380Nm of torque with an eight-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive.
CO2 emissions (annual motor tax) 129g/km (€270).
L/100km (mpg) 5.7 (49.9).
0-100km/h 9 seconds.
Price €52,231 as tested (GLB starts at €42,350).
Verdict It’s not quite a perfect miniature G-Wagen, but the GLB is bursting with appeal.