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

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 First drives