Mercedes-Benz did not just look at its own figures to determine which car would be needed. It also looked closely at the competition and came to the conclusion that the GLB needed to be quite a bit bigger than its direct rivals. To name names and numbers straight away, the GLB is bigger than a BMW X1 or X2 and is also bigger than a Volvo XC40. The GLB is almost as big as Mercedes' own GLC, but emphasises functionality rather than luxury.
The design is also carefully planned. The proportions and shapes have been chosen so that it is difficult to estimate how big the GLB actually is. In doing so, it has invariably used straight lines with rounded corners. The result is a car that looks tough and confident, but at the same time friendly and politically correct. Very ingenious all round.
Another clear choice: the GLB is not a "crossover" (Mercedes-Benz already has the GLA in the range for that), but a real SUV that is actually usable off-road. That is why the GLB has a substantial ground clearance (20 cm) and high raised bumpers that allow steep slopes to be taken without getting stuck (entry angle 18 degrees, exit angle 18.3 degrees). To meet a variety of requirements, there is also an AMG version, which is instead sportily dressed and sacrifices a little off-road capability in favour of streamlining.
As standard, the CAP comes as a five-seater, optionally a third row of seats can be fitted making this a seven-seater. Getting into the front is easy as the seat is just a little higher than in a normal passenger car. However, this is not an imposing SUV where the driver climbs in and then feels like driving a mighty machine; and that modesty characterises the GLB.
The rear seats are on rails, so depending on the situation, one can opt for more legroom in the rear or more luggage space. With the rear seats in the rear position, the GLB offers enough space for four large adults. The second rear seat is only suitable for people up to 168 cm, according to Mercedes-Benz. The manufacturer conveniently forgets to mention that some agility is also required of those persons to reach the rear seats at all.
As with all new Mercedes-Benz models, the interior is dominated by a large display screen that extends from behind the steering wheel to halfway up the dashboard. This display is part of "MBUX": the "Mercedes-Benz User eXperience". The driver is thereby to some extent free to choose where which information appears. Mercedes-Benz thus makes optimal use of the freedom offered by displays. Very handy in this is that the buttons on the left side of the steering wheel control the functions on the left half of the display and the buttons on the right side of the steering wheel control those on the right half. Anyone who has worked with this once wonders why not all brands do it this way.
Its many functions can be controlled not only from the steering wheel, but also with a central rotary commander, by touching the display and... by simply talking to the car. There is no need to learn set commands, as the computer accepts full sentences. This concerns not only operating the car, but also requesting random information. For example, it can be asked for the weather in any place in the world or to tell a joke (answer: "sorry, I can't do that because my makers are German"). Not only in terms of features, but also in terms of ease of use, MBUX has been by far the leader in the automotive industry since its introduction in 2018. As a bonus, MBUX can also be fitted with one of the best-sounding audio systems. Burmester's "high end" audio system has detail-rich, clear, spacious and musical sound.
All Mercedes-Benz compact models share the same technical base. That means the GLB is available with the same engines as the A and B-Class. However, the plug-in hybrid is not available in this SUV for now. At the time of writing, only traditional petrol and diesel engines are on offer. For this test drive, two extremes were driven: the entry-level "GLB 200" with 163 hp / 250 Nm and front-wheel drive and the "GLB 35 AMG" with 306 hp / 400 Nm and all-wheel drive.
The engine power of the GLB 200 is already more than adequate and never does this version feel like driving a base model. In town, the 1.3-litre four-cylinder offers plenty of suppleness, while on the open road the revs are pleasantly low for cabin tranquillity and favourable fuel consumption. Only when suddenly more power is required, the engine and automatic gearbox need some time to think about it, after which it still performs nicely.
The GLB 35 AMG is a completely different car. Although only a 2.0-litre four-cylinder can be found under the bonnet, it lets out a mighty sound after take-off and it is immediately clear that this is no average version. In the city, the AMG is not aggressive or intrusive, but at the same time it is always palpable that under the surface a huge reserve is ready to burst out at the slightest provocation. When the throttle is pressed to the floor, the AMG is unquestionably quick and the powertrain is able to release the power well (no torque steer). The "35 AMG" is not as imposing or crushingly fast as AMG's six- and eight-cylinder models, but that's also reflected in the price for. On a demanding route in very bad weather, test consumption was 8.7 litres per 100 km.
Handling: on and off-road
Regardless of the engine chosen, driving noise is limited and thanks to the refinement of the mechanics, the GLB convinces as a "premium" product. This is also reflected in its handling. By extending the platform on which the A-Class, B-Class and CLA also sit and adjusting the suspension, the GLB hardly feels like an SUV. The body tilts slightly when cornering, but that has more to do with the high seating position than a shortcoming of the suspension. Under all conditions, the GLB gives a confidence-inspiring feel and that makes driving less strenuous. In an emergency stop, the GLB does not betray that this is in fact a hefty, heavy car.
The AMG version goes one step further. Thanks to a distinctly sporty suspension, cornering lean is even better countered and the GLB drives more like a dynamic passenger car rather than an SUV. The test drive was conducted in very poor conditions and, although disastrous for the photos, this was a great opportunity for the chassis to prove itself. Even in extreme rain and on bad roads in the mountains, the AMG's abundant power could be enjoyed with impunity.
All but the base model of the GLB have all-wheel drive. The GLB does not have low gearing or diff-locks, but it does have electronics that take over their functions. During the test, slopes were climbed that were almost impossible to take on foot (see background of photos), but the GLB (diesel) drove up them as if they were large speed bumps. Even loose rocks and steep descents posed no problem.
The Mercedes-Benz GLB is the result of pure arithmetic. Judging from its own sales figures, Mercedes-Benz decided there was a need for a compact SUV. Analysis of the competition showed that that SUV had to be larger than average and be able to perform seriously off-road. Not only in theory, but also in practice, the GLB proved to be a good idea.
That starts with its looks: thanks to ingenious design, it is difficult to estimate how big the GLB actually is. Thanks to hard lines with rounded corners, the GLB looks tough and confident, but at the same time accessible and modest. This is therefore an SUV that no one takes offence to. In practice, the dimensions are just right. The GLB is spacious and comfortable on long distances, but practical and manageable in town. Moreover, the ground clearance plus the large entry and exit angles make the GLB seriously usable off-road.
Although it is a pity that there is no hybrid or electric drive available, the petrol and diesel engines on offer manage to convince. They are quiet, smooth and powerful and, in practice, have civilised consumption figures. When it comes to infotainment and active safety, the GLB is among the best. In short: the math pays off, because the GLB is a car that scores on all points.
- Rich, modern equipment
- Spacious and practical
- Comfortable on public roads, proficient off-road
- Awkward entry to third row of seats
- Not available as an electric car or hybrid