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Butch looks and extra space set the tone for the new GLB. What else can it offer?

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For decades, Mercedes-Benz had just one vehicle of raised stature and two driven axles in its line-up – the inimitable Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen – but it now has no fewer than eight. The GLB put under the road test microscope this week is the latest and it fills the space between the GLA and GLC, so it’s not the smallest SUV Mercedes makes, merely the smallest but one.

Of course, there is nothing ‘small’ about the compact SUV segment in which this new car will compete. Cars of this ilk are now absurdly popular and crucial to the bottom lines of their makers. The GLB will therefore count the Audi Q3, Land Rover Discovery Sport, Jaguar E-Pace, BMW X1 and Volvo XC40 among its premium-brand rivals. Shoppers in this portion of the market are enviably well catered for, so exactly what does this Mercedes do to stand out?

Black plastic cladding for skirts, bumpers and wheel arches have a rugged theme, but it’s mostly for show. Even the sump guard at the front of the car is, to use Mercedes’ own description, ‘simulated’

The short answer is ‘not much’, although you could level the same accusation at every car in the class, except perhaps the Discovery Sport, which possesses genuinely good off-road ability. The GLB will instead exercise a softer power, aiming to tempt buyers with the combination of its relatively imposing exterior and an interior awash with technology. Buyers will also benefit from the standard-fit seven-seat layout, and indeed roominess is the number one reason why you might choose the GLB instead of the GLA.

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As a Mercedes, the GLB’s ride quality and rolling refinement should also be near the top of the class, but this hasn’t always been the case of late. The driving experience should be better than average, too – but Mercedes’ track record with SUVs is again patchy in this respect. What, then, does this latest model do particularly well, and where does it rank among its classmates?

The Mercedes-Benz GLB line-up at a glance

The GLB range is made up of five trim levels. If you want the very cheapest car in the range – the Sport – you’re limited to Mercedes’ 161bhp 1.3-litre turbo petrol engine in the GLB 200. At the other end of the spectrum, the GLB 35 junior AMG performance derivative is the current range-topper.

In the meat of the offering, you walk up from AMG Line to AMG Line Premium and Premium Plus, and only by having one of the Premium-branded versions do you get Mercedes’ twin instrument and infotainment widescreens.


Mercedes-Benz GLB 2020 road test review - hero side

Mercedes is in the throes of developing the Mercedes-Benz EQB – an entirely electric version of the GLB with an expected driving range of more than 300 miles and due to be released next year. However, for now, its mid-sized crossover is much more mechanically traditional, shunning any form of electrification, and is recognisable from existing products.

You therefore have a choice of four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines, front- or four-wheel drive, and either Mercedes’ 7G- or 8G-Tronic automatic gearboxes. Opt for the 4Matic driveline and power is split between the axles via an electrically controlled clutch pack. The set-up is variable but defaults in its standard setting to delivering 20% of torque to the rear in normal driving. This increases to just 30% if you select Sport. In off-road environments, the clutch pack then acts as a differential lock between the axles, splitting drive half and half.

Short overhangs and the conspicuously upright front section of the car are designed to imbue the GLB with an aura of off-road capability, although it is largely just that: an aura.

In the UK, the engine line-up includes the 161bhp 1.3-litre 200 petrol and the 148bhp 200d and 188bhp 220d 2.0-litre diesels. Crowning the range is the Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 4Matic, whose 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol makes 302bhp and is borrowed from the Mercedes-AMG A35 hot hatch, along with the eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox. At 1755kg, the AMG model is also the heaviest in the range, although its 5.2sec 0-62mph time is almost half that of the entry-level GLB 200.

Underneath it all, the Mexico-built GLB uses the same MFA2 platform as the Mercedes-Benz A-Class hatchback, only stretched to inject 100mm into the wheelbase and create space for that third row of seats. At 2829mm, the GLB has the most generous wheelbase in the class, comfortably beating the Discovery Sport and shading even the Audi Q5, never mind the Audi Q3. The suspension that hangs from this platform has struts at the front and a multi-link arrangement at the back, with coil springs and, optionally, adaptive dampers. Air springs are reserved for larger Mercedes SUVs.

In terms of its design, the GLB takes the lead of the concept car revealed at the 2019 Shanghai motor show. It’s considerably more boxy than before and closer in character to the Mercedes-Benz GLC than the GLA. The wheel-arch cladding and upright bumpers are particularly strong, and Mercedes is evidently attempting to capture some of the ruggedness that makes the Discovery Sport such an appealing family SUV.


Mercedes-Benz GLB 2020 road test review - cabin

There’s much about the GLB’s interior design and layout that will be familiar to those who have spent time in the smaller Mercedes-Benz A-Class and Mercedes-Benz B-Class models. On the face of it, this really is quite a smart-looking environment in which to spend time, although some of the trim finishes might not be to everyone’s taste. Customisable ambient lighting complements cool metallic-effect and piano black surfacing to chic effect, while leather-and suede-like upholstery boost the GLB’s tactile appeal.

As with those smaller Mercedes models, however, you will find a few scratchier plastics in the lower reaches of the cabin, and it’s perhaps a touch easier to extract a few creaks and groans from a few of its fixtures than it otherwise ought to be. The interior of a Discovery Sport might not pack quite as much obvious visual wow factor but, on the whole, there’s a general air of solidity about the Land Rover’s construction and execution that isn’t quite as prevalent in the Mercedes.

GLB scores well on visibility, storage and space, at least for those sitting in the front. All the new chintzy trim may not be to everyone’s liking, mind

But even so, the GLB’s cabin works very well from a practical standpoint. There’s good adjustability of the driving position, with a generous amount of reach movement in the steering column and decent under-thigh support in the front seats. Admittedly, the chairs themselves are quite firm – a touch too firm for some of our testers – but they nonetheless offer good support for your hips and torso while on the move.

With a sliding middle bench that can open up as much as 760mm of typical leg room, adults won’t find spending longer periods of time in the second row a taxing undertaking. Sure, that’s still slightly less space than you’ll get in a Discovery Sport (up to 780mm), but the difference isn’t so drastic as to warrant criticism. Of course, there’s a third row of seating, too, and the sliding second-row bench means it’s that much easier to accommodate those additional passengers. Unsurprisingly, the two rearmost seats are targeted primarily at children and their tight confines won’t endear them to adult passengers.

With the third row in place, the boot is barely usable and struggles to accommodate something as small as a backpack without it falling out when the tailgate is opened. Fold the two back seats down, though, and you’ll have 500 litres of storage space, which can be upped to 1680 litres with the second row folded down, too.

Mercedes-Benz GLB infotainment and sat-nav

GLBs in Sport and AMG Line specifications come equipped as standard with smaller, 7.0in screens for the MBUX infotainment system and digital instrument display. Add the Premium package that was fitted to our test car, though, and those screens are upgraded to 10.3in displays. You’ll also gain an uprated, 225W sound system and MBUX augmented reality for the satellite navigation. This latter upgrade adds digital navigation prompts over a video feed from the camera to help you to navigate roundabouts and the like. It’s a smart-looking touch, although our testers soon found they switched it off.

Otherwise, the system’s operating software is as intuitive to use as ever. The trackpad on the centre console can take a bit of adjusting to, but the screen itself responds to your touch anyway and the thumbpads on the steering wheel work well enough. The graphics are pretty slick, too, and the sound quality from the Mercedes Advanced sound system is really quite good.


Although potential GLB buyers who prioritise outright performance above all else are likely to be inclined to opt for the 302bhp 35-badged AMG model, you wouldn’t accuse this range-topping 220d diesel of lacking any punch. With a little over 200kg less weight to lug about than a 177bhp Discovery Sport, the GLB 220d feels markedly more sprightly than its British rival, both off the line and at speed.

With our timing equipment fastened to its boxy exterior, the GLB accelerated from a standstill to 60mph in a two-way average time of 7.4sec. Not only does it better the Land Rover’s 10.3sec effort by a sizeable margin, but it validates Mercedes’ 7.6sec 0-62mph claim as well.

Body lean is relatively mild, given the comfort-biased suspension, and the rate of roll is controlled well. There’s decent grip, reassuring stability and good traction, too

Of greater importance, however, is the ease with which you can tap into that performance out on the road. With a healthy reserve of mid-range torque and a gearbox that’s willing to respond to throttle inputs when left to its own devices, the GLB doesn’t suffer too greatly here. It needs 7.1sec to accelerate from 30mph to 70mph, whereas the Discovery Sport requires an additional 3.4sec. Of course, no real drama or flamboyance accompanies the GLB’s accelerative efforts, but the car nevertheless feels stable at speed and rearward weight transfer isn’t overly conspicuous.

So it’s a bit of a shame to discover that the GLB is a little too eager to remind you of the fact that it takes its fuel from the black pump. It’s not so uncouth as to be a dealbreaker, but there’s a persistent grumbling under lighter throttle loads that becomes notably harsher and more vocal as the revs rise.

With closely stacked gear ratios, you never find yourself dwelling on these outbursts for too long, and the noise shrinks into the background nicely at a steady cruise, but it undoubtedly paints the Land Rover’s Ingenium diesel engine as the more cultured of the two.

Braking performance and stability are good, with the GLB able to haul itself to a stop from 70mph in a distance of 45.3m. The brake pedal is nicely calibrated, too, with intuitive levels of pedal progression and decent feel.


Mercedes-Benz GLB 2020 road test review - on the road front

The fact that the GLB’s underpinnings first appeared beneath smaller, more compact hatchbacks is arguably at its most apparent when you ask this seven-seat SUV to change direction.

A twist of the wheel results in a pleasingly brisk, if not exactly urgent, response from its front end and the inevitable roll that comes from having a tall, boxy profile feels nicely contained and progressively dolled out. In fact, given how slab-sided the GLB is and the fact that its suspension is tuned with a bias towards comfort, the relatively conservative lean angles it achieves through faster corners are less pronounced than you might otherwise expect them to be.

Body roll through directional changes is smartly contained, though performance over transmission bumps is less noteworthy

Its stout resistance to lateral roll is combined with a good amount of grip and an accurate steering rack that’s reasonably easy-going in its gearing but weights up in an intuitive fashion, so you can see why a keener driver might opt for a GLB over the likes of a comparatively relaxed Land Rover Discovery Sport. Where the baby Disco feels like an SUV that has been purpose-built to be able to travel places other small SUVs can’t (and is arguably a classier, more honest product as a result), the GLB’s up-and-at-’em character feels well matched to the city environments in which it will no doubt appear in great numbers.

Mid-corner potholes and expansion joints do throw a small spanner in the works, mind. The heightened level of lateral stiffness that does so well to keep the GLB’s side-to-side body movements in check also leaves it somewhat vulnerable to deflection, while the steering itself kicks back (albeit not overly violently) if you hit particularly large surface imperfections halfway round a bend.

Nevertheless, there’s enough dynamic competency here to ensure the average GLB owner won’t feel in any way short-changed on outright handling security and its lofty, suitably commanding driving position ensures this is backed up by good levels of all-round visibility.

It tackled Millbrook’s challenging Hill Route with commendable aplomb, if not much in the way of dynamic flourish or engagement. Good stability and handling security prevail here, with the GLB’s all-wheel drive system endowing the boxy SUV with good traction. Get its nose tucked into a corner under braking and the GLB adopts a pleasingly neutral stance as you power past the apex and on towards exit. Sure, if you’re a bit of an ape with your right foot, its nose will push into understeer but it does so progressively and is easy to rein in with a slight lift of throttle.

Meanwhile, body roll feels pretty tightly controlled and the steering weights up intuitively as you add lock. Although the gearbox responds quickly enough under its own steam in Sport mode, attempting to control changes manually in such driving environments is slightly frustrating as the transmission can seem unwilling to respond to your requests.

Comfort and isolation

Even though it sits on comfort-oriented suspension, there remains an ever-present assertiveness about the manner in which the GLB manages its vertical body movements. Tackle more uniformly undulating stretches of country road at pace and the Mercedes eases itself through compressions with appealing pliancy, and the following upwards vertical rebound is kept smartly in check. From the point of view of its primary ride, on smooth motorways the GLB makes for a comfortable companion – if one that’s not quite as cushioning as a Discovery Sport.

You’d say largely the same about the way it behaves on more unevenly surfaced roads, too. For the most part, it remains settled enough, even if it does fuss about with a bit of ‘head toss’ from time to time. The ride is a bit noisy and clunky over sharper edges when you push on. At town speeds, though, the GLB remains a largely well-mannered device.

Aside from those bigger impacts and the aforementioned grumbliness from the engine, the GLB’s cabin is reasonably well insulated, but not outstanding. Wind flutters around the wing mirrors on the motorway and there is a degree of road roar, but a microphone reading of 68dB at 70mph isn’t quite what we’d hoped to see. For comparison, ambient noise at the same speed in the Discovery Sport D180 was measured at 66dB.


Mercedes-Benz GLB 2020 road test review - hero front

Arguably, the biggest threat to the GLB comes not from its premium-grade rivals – cars such as the soon-to-be-reimagined BMW X1, Audi Q3 and Land Rover Discovery Sport – but from the cheaper likes of the Peugeot 5008 and Skoda Kodiaq. Prospective buyers might be surprised by how thoughtfully designed these ‘lesser’ alternatives have now become and, like the Mercedes, several can now seat seven, although undoubtedly an obvious deficit in perceived quality remains.

If you do want to keep things traditionally premium – as well you might – the Mercedes does at least make itself easy to opt for. Our GLB 220d test car is forecast to resist depreciation better than similarly powerful rivals from Audi and BMW. (Unfortunately, data for the Discovery Sport was unavailable, although Land Rover’s models do tend to fare well in this respect.) A touring economy of 55.4mpg is also commendable for a car of this weight and aerodynamic properties and, combined with the 60-litre tank, makes for an ultimate range of more than 725 miles.

Our residual experts CAP expect the GLB to wield a small but meaningful advantage over its Audi and BMW rivals over three years

As for rougher pursuits, the GLB is available in the UK with the £1695 Off-road package. This includes reinforced panelling along the entire underfloor of the car, as well as offering an additional driving mode, which adapts the power delivery and ABS sensitivity. There’s also a hill descent control setting, which works at speeds of up to 12mph.


Mercedes-Benz GLB 2020 road test review - static

The GLB is an accomplished vehicle in its own right and brings appealing levels of additional practicality to the premium family SUV class. For those set on a seven-seat layout, the Land Rover Discovery Sport may not be the obvious choice it once was.

However, as likeable as this newest Mercedes undoubtedly is, our testers found it somewhat tricky to shake the notion that it feels slightly more like a convenient derivative spin-off than a purpose-built, genuine contender for class honours. The stiffer, more rigid manner in which it rides and a tendency to struggle with quicker mid-corner impacts suggest its hatchback underpinnings have been stretched incredibly close to the limits of their ability, while a powerplant that wants for some refinement serves to dampen the appeal conjured by its practical, visually alluring cabin and pleasingly alert handling.

Smart looking and practical but its identity feels stretched at times

So it doesn’t quite change the game, then. But for those who find the Discovery Sport’s unapologetically off-road-friendly dynamics and image to be as off-putting as the strict five-seat layouts of an Audi Audi Q3 or BMW X1, the seven-seat GLB is likely to carry a good deal of sway. And quite rightly, too.

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017 and like all road testers is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests and performance benchmarking, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found presenting on Autocar's YouTube channel.

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Mercedes-Benz GLB First drives