MARBELLA, SPAIN – Mercedes-Benz has finally plugged the long-standing gap between its GLA and GLC offerings with a funky-looking inbetweener that’s touted as a versatile combination of SUV, station wagon and urban runabout. It’s a tall order for the GLB to meet, nestled as it is among a burgeoning range of SUV stablemates, so we got behind the wheel of the Mercedes-Benz GLB220d 4Matic to see if this newcomer has the goods to carve out a distinctive niche for itself.
No boring box...
The GLB’s styling is a sort of cross-pollination between the curvaceous GLA and the angular ruggedness of the G-Class; imagine the latter with the hard corners sanded smooth and multi-faceted oblong headlamps in place of the circular units, and you’ll get an idea of what the GLB is all about. This chunky styling, along with a raised ride height, the adoption of AWD and short overhangs just about covers the SUV proviso; albeit in the looks department. Underpinned by a version of the A-Class’s MFA2 modular platform, the GLB’s placement sees it rubbing shoulders with the similarly stylish Audi Q3 and BMW’s X2 but owing to a wheelbase that’s stretched by 100 mm its overall dimensions are comparable to those of rivals such as the BMW X3 and its bigger brother, the GLC, and that’s where the station wagon part of the GLB’s mission statement comes into play...
Compact underpinnings, cavernous cabin
Despite its compact car underpinnings, the GLB is surprisingly spacious inside, with plenty of shoulder room all round. The sensation of space is furthered by a generous glasshouse and a plentiful headroom, not to mention a 140 mm slide-adjustable second-row bench that can free up an S-Class-rivalling 967 mm of legroom. The option of a seven-seat cabin is unusual in the GLB’s class, although the rearmost seats are inevitably the preserve of children and those of (much) shorter stature, even with the second row rolled as far forward as it will go. Either way, the GLB serves up an impressive 570-1 805 litres (1 680 in the seven-seater) of loadspace with a usefully flat deck.
The cabin fixtures lean heavily on the A- and B-Class, with the same turbine-styled eyeball air vents and dials, with the majority of the ancillary controls accommodated in the MBUX’s sizeable TFT screen. It’s sporty and looks upmarket, but like its donors, there is the odd bit of thin, cheap-feeling plastic here and there and one of the more sportily sprung units we drove had developed a trim rattle.
Just two GLB variants will initially be offered on the local market; the GLB250 with its 2,0-litre turbopetrol sending 165 kW and 350 N.m to the front wheels, and the 2,0-litre, 140 kW/400 N.m turbodiesel-powered GLB220d 4Matic featured here.
While it shares its slightly vociferous nature with a number of Mercedes’ oil-burners, the four-cylinder unit is mechanically smooth, feels plenty brawny and gels nicely with the new eight-speed dual-clutch auto ‘box.
The AWD system incorporates a hill-descent control system and four-wheel clutch system that can apportion torque 50:50 rear to aft. This, along with the aforementioned short overhangs and off-road drivetrain preset make the GLB reasonably capable on rough terrain, but the modest 200 mm of ground clearance means you have to tread carefully over more challenging obstacles.
A balanced act
While the GLB’s take on the MFA modular platform retains a MacPherson strut front suspension, it dispenses with the A-Class’s opinion-splitting torsion-beam rear module in favour of a multilink setup. The results on the variable surfaces of our launch route through Andalusia were impressive, with the GLB riding fluidly over corrugated roads and resisting the jitter that often affects SUV/crossovers of this ilk.
This forgiving suspension array will default to a noticeable degree of body roll when pressed into corners but it’s in no way disconcerting. The steering has just enough feel to move it out of the numb/uncommunicative bracket but it won’t engage the driver in the same way as its Bavarian rivals. It is, however, a far better-balanced offering with a fire-and-forget effortlessness in the way it conducts itself.
By and large, the GLB meets the varied provisos Mercedes has set it and manages to look stylish and drive fluidly as it does so. Given its ability to plug that long-standing gap in Mercedes’ G line-up, the GLB will no doubt be met with a great deal of interest when it arrives here. It will be interesting to watch whether its deceptively generous packaging will, in some cases, see it tread on the GLC’s toes. And we’ll have to see if any considerable overlap presents itself when pricing is confirmed closer to its local launch in the second quarter of 2020.
FAST FACTSModel: Mercedes-Benz GLB220d 4Matic
Engine: 2,0-litre, 4-cyl, turbodiesel
Power: 140 kW
Torque: 400 N.m
0-100 km/h: 7,6 secs
Top Speed: 217 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 5,5 L/100 km
CO2: 138 g/km
Transmission: 8-spd, dual-clutch
ETA: Q2 2020