Boxy and Beautiful
2020 Mercedes GLB-Class First Drive: A Compact Crossover With Big Aspirations
Product: GLB 250 4Matic
Release Date: December 2019
Price: $36,600 ($57,475 as tested)
While we assembled journalists were traversing mountain highways and enjoying the state’s majestic and varied topography on the way to Sedona during the first drive of the new GLB-Class, our convoy rolled up on a Mercedes-Benz GLS, the brand’s stately flagship SUV. Driving side by side, the GLB and GLS, each painted black, looked identical. Same shape. Same lines. The GLB was just a little smaller and a bit less polished, as though it were the GLS’s dead ringer of a teenage son.
Which, of course, is what Mercedes was aiming for.
The GLB is the entry point for Benz’s SUVs. It’s a pint-sized, affordable encapsulation of the Mercedes luxury experience that’s ideal for new buyers — a role for which the previous-generation GLA-Class was just too cramped and impractical.
Like many on the trip, I embarked wondering why Mercedes needed yet another compact SUV sandwiched between the GLA and the GLC. I returned from the trip wondering why it took Mercedes so long to add a vehicle like this to the lineup.
What We Like
The GLB boasts a refreshingly unpretentious look. Many of its compact crossover brethren employ sloping rooflines, sharp angles and other hyper-aggressive features to belie either a dreary powertrain or a withering lack of coolness. The GLB dispenses with any such pretense. It’s simple, it’s boxy; it looks like a family SUV. You can spruce it up with some AMG styling features, but I’d suggest you don’t.
Power from its 221-hp turbocharged inline-four is delivered swiftly and intuitively thanks to the eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. The adaptive suspension is a match for all but the roughest pavement, even riding on 20-inch rims. Thanks to its relatively long wheelbase, the handling is composed on the pavement, without trying to be overly sporty. I still felt sprightly after pulling a seven-hour stint in the car.
The GLB is also surprisingly practical and versatile, in spite of its small footprint. The cabin feels spacious; indeed, it is spacious, with significantly more cargo room (62 cubic feet) than the GLC (56.5 cubes) It can even fit a (tiny) third row of seats, if desired. Mercedes, smartly, talked about that third-row option, but did not provide us with a test vehicle packing — presumably because we journalists would have complained about how small it was.
As you’d expect of any Benz, it cruises like a dream. Moments after seeing that GLS, I looked down and saw I was driving nearly 95 mph — yet the little SUV betrayed nothing. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine didn’t feel or sound taxed, and the suspension negated both bumps and body roll. I was cruising almost unnervingly smoothly.
Watch Out For
There’s not much to rip on with the GLB. You do hear more road noise in the cabin than you would with a more expensive model — you can’t get all Mercedes’s tricks for under $40,000 — but the noise level is not jarring.
The MBUX infotainment system responds to the verbal commands of “Hey, Mercedes” or “Mercedes;” the latter grew spectacularly annoying when we tried to discuss the car while driving along. Yet when we did want to hail Mercedes for necessary information, she wasn’t particularly helpful.
My tester also had a fancy augmented reality navigation system that, in some areas, switched to a front-camera view with superimposed arrows. I found this more distracting than a regular navigation system…and missed a couple of turns because of it.
A Mercedes GLB buyer will presumably be comparing this with similarly-priced compact SUVs such as the BMW X1 ($35,200), the Audi Q3 ($34,700) or the Volvo XC40 ($33,700). Another option might be going for all the options on a cheaper compact crossover like the Volkswagen Tiguan in SEL with 4Motion trim ($33,545).
The GLB-Class is an excellent starting point for the Mercedes experience, whether you’re a young couple buying you first “fancy” car or empty nesters who weren’t “Mercedes people” in the past but can afford to splurge a bit. I’m not just putting that down in print; I recommended the GLB to my inlaws.
That said, pay attention to the price. Early versions I’ve seen popping up at dealers have been in the low-$40,000 range. You’ll want some options like the adjustable damping suspension ($990) and heated/ventilated seats ($1,050). But the more options you lump on, the more sense it makes to level up and buy more Mercedes instead. My tester came in at $57,475, which is more than the base for a GLE-Class.
Mercedes hosted us and provided this product for review.