It seems that with every passing day, yet another crossover/SUV is introduced to the automotive market. It’s certainly all the rage in South Africa, with myriad options all vying for the crossover-crazy buyer who is looking for a bit of style infused with plenty of practicality.
Not shy to create a niche, Mercedes-Benz has plugged yet another hole in the crossover segment - which is becoming increasingly blurred. With the GLE, GLS and G at the top of the range, the GLA and now this, the GLB, are designed to give buyers a more affordable entry-point into the prestigious world of Mercedes-Benz SUV ownership.
We recently spent a week with the 250 derivative, with 165 kW on offer. Despite the relatively compact dimensions, the GLB is remarkably capacious inside. We’ll discuss that later, though. The design has the typical contemporary Mercedes-Benz design traits - flowing lines, plenty of organic detailing and angular shapes. But, unlike the rest of the rather curvy SUV range, the GLB does a good job of pulling off a “baby G-Class” persona, with its boxy styling and upright stance.
The optional AMG styling certainly adds to the menace, drawing many admiring looks from passers-by as we drove around Sandton. The diamond grille worked well with the optional R5 200 Galaxy Blue Metallic paintwork. Inside, it shares its basic interior architecture with the brand’s smaller offerings (A,B,CLA,GLA), with the large-dual screen setup dominating the interior. The cabin looks great, with plenty of detailing to impress even the most jaded car buyer.
Our test unit, also fitted with the AMG interior package, has some added niceties, such as the sports steering wheel and floor mats. While there are numerous quality touches, there are a few surfaces that feel cheap to the touch and have no place in a car that costs nearly R900 000 before options. Still, it is at least spacious. Drivers of all sizes will find a comfortable position behind the wheel, with plenty of headroom on offer courtesy of that high roof line. Rear legroom is acceptable, with average-sized adults and children squeezing in with no problem.
A nice option to go for is the third row of seats. At just over R20 000, they offer heightened practicality and make far more sense than the AMG package - as stylish as it may be.
A spacious boot will easily swallow a couple of suitcases or the weekly shop. Courtesy of the notably low loading sill, lifting heavy items in or out of the car is done with ease. 565 L of carrying space are on offer, but folding the 2nd row of seats down extends that to a GLC-rivalling 1800 L of carrying capacity.
From behind the wheel, the GLB has an overall feeling of quality. Maybe not quite the quality that you would find in a more expensive Benz, but the feeling of solidity is still there. As standard, the GLB250 receives a host of features - as standard, you receive an infotainment system with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto functionality, cruise control, LED headlamps, climate control and parking assist with a reverse camera. Impressive that may be, but with a starting price of R881 120, we were hoping keyless-go would come as standard.
The MBUX infotainment system can’t be faulted, though. It’s quick to respond and offers clear, beautiful graphics. Naturally, along with the Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, it features Bluetooth and USB compatibility as well.
Fire the GLB250 up and the turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine jumps into action. With 165 kW and 350 Nm of torque, it shifts the considerable heft of the GLB around with ease, even feeling a touch sporty in a straight line. Mercedes-Benz claims a 0-100 km/h time of just 7.1 seconds, with a top speed of 240 km/h. While this is impressive for a family car, we can’t help but think it makes more sense to opt for the slightly pricier GLB220d. It’s nearly as quick, but offers superior fuel economy. The 250, says Mercedes, will average 7.4 L/100 km. We were able to nearly match that, averaging 8.1 L/100 km over our time with the car. The eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox deserves praise - it's rapid in its changes, but never violent. A very smooth - and impressive - transmission.
Once up to speed, the Mercedes impresses with its rolling refinement. It handles impressively, too. While nowhere near as agile as an A-Class or CLA, it’s got a touch more athleticism to it than the bigger (albeit more comfortable) GLC. The ride, while acceptable, will undoubtedly be better without the optional AMG package and alloys. The brakes are excellent, though. They are notably responsive and offer plenty of feel.
Comprehensive a package the GLB may be, it sits on it’s own as a premium, compact SUV with the option of seven-seats. Next to rivals from Lexus, Mini and Jaguar, the semi-boutique GLB offers the much-loved styling of the G-Class in a smaller, more attainable package. That should certainly appeal to many buyers. Add to that the seven-seater option and it starts to make sense. But then you look at the price. At R881 120 for the basic car, you’re looking at nearly R950 000 for a modestly specified model. And if you want a practical family car with seven seats, Toyota or Ford can sell you a much larger Fortuner or Everest for less. But, if you’re enamoured with the admittedly good looks of the GLB and want something compact with a premium badge, it’s certainly not a bad option. Just opt for the more practical 220d derivative.