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2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB-Class Test Drive Review
Built more for utility than style, and more for functionality than performance, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB-Class might just be the best of the small SUVs that wear a three-pointed star logo on their grilles.
Mercedes-Benz is a master at slicing and dicing, and we’re not talking about its culinary game. The automaker is a virtuoso at filling every possible niche within and between traditional luxury vehicle segments, and one of the latest examples of this talent is the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB 250, a small SUV plugging the $6,270 price gap between the less expensive GLA-Class and more expensive GLC-Class. And while it might look like a couple of conjoined boxes on wheels, it sure does endear itself to its driver through thoughtful details, impressive technology, an engaging driving character, and undeniable practicality.
Look and Feel
Boxy and tall in comparison to other small Mercedes SUVs, the new GLB-Class sits on a front-wheel-drive platform with the company’s 4Matic all-wheel-drive (AWD) system available as an option. It has a long and flat hood leading to a fairly upright windshield, generously-sized side windows, and a nearly vertical rear liftgate. The front and rear overhangs are roughly the same, ensuring visual symmetry.
Clearly, rakish good looks are not the point of this SUV. Rather, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB crams as much interior volume as is possible into what is a narrow and short vehicle, the function over form ethos underscored by robust standard roof rails that are ready for action.
Painted in Mountain Gray metallic and equipped with the AMG Line design package and great-looking 20-inch AMG wheels, our test vehicle offered a big dose of style and attitude in comparison to the lease-payment-special versions of the GLB 250.
Prices start at $36,600 for this new model. As tested, the GLB 250 4Matic had a window sticker reading $55,890 (including the $995 destination charge). Obviously loaded, it had nearly every option package plus numerous extras including metallic paint, the big wheels, an adaptive damping suspension, ambient cabin lighting, a Burmester premium sound system, and more.
Like other Mercedes-Benz models, the GLB 250 makes you feel special when you get behind its steering wheel, especially with the upgraded dual 10.25-inch instrumentation and infotainment screens. At night, with the optional ambient lighting system, the classy turbine-style air vents glow with color along with other parts of the cabin. In the test vehicle, red contrast stitching and a set of MB-Tex leatherette and Dinamica suede seats added some extra fancy to the GLB’s already artfully rendered cabin.
Overall, the interior design blends high style with remarkable simplicity, though an acclimation process is necessary for those unfamiliar with the ways of Mercedes-Benz. For example, the transmission shifter is a stalk mounted to the steering column where, in other vehicles made since the 1980s, you would find windshield wiper controls.
Materials and construction exhibit the quality you expect of the brand, though in spots some of the metallic trim pieces too easily reveal their mission of service in one of the more affordable Mercedes-Benz models. Still, the GLB’s interior is a lovely place to spend quality time.
For now, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB comes only in GLB 250 and GLB 250 4Matic specification, each equipped with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making 221 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 258 lb-ft of torque between 1,800 rpm and 4,000 rpm.
Mercedes says it takes the SUV 6.9 seconds to accelerate to 60 mph, but it feels faster than that thanks to the engine’s wide torque band and snappy eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (DCT). Nevertheless, if you’re seeking an AMG-massaged performance variant, you’ll need to wait until the 2021 AMG GLB 35 SUV shows up.
The DCT powers the front wheels unless you option the GLB with 4Matic AWD. With 4Matic, the power automatically flows to the rear wheels as is necessary to optimize grip and performance. An Off-Road driving mode locks the drivetrain in a 50:50 power split for maximum traction.
Equipped with the optional adaptive damping suspension and big 20-inch AMG wheels with performance-oriented tires, the GLB test vehicle delivered an unexpectedly soft, pillowy ride quality and relaxed drivetrain response when cruising around in Comfort mode. This sounds like a criticism, but this character is perfect for city and highway driving.
Switch to Sport mode, and the entire SUV tenses up, the suspension delivering greater feel of the road while quelling undesirable body motion, and the turbo powertrain snapping to attention the moment the driver presses on the accelerator pedal.
Perhaps in part due to the GLB’s unusual driving position and big windows, this SUV feels more fun to sling down a mountain road than a typical compact luxury crossover. You don’t expect something that looks and feels like this, especially when equipped with such modest engine specifications, to offer a remarkable driving experience. But it does. And the available enjoyment is clearly reflected in my fuel economy result of 21.4 mpg on my testing loop, falling well short of the expected 26-mpg estimate from the EPA.
If there is a dynamic bummer associated with the GLB, it’s the brakes. They faded prematurely while driving this SUV with enthusiasm, bringing an otherwise fun downhill mountain run to an early end.
Form and Function
In nearly all respects, the Mercedes-Benz GLB actually measures bigger inside than the more expensive and dimensionally larger Mercedes-Benz GLC. In fact, you can get an optional third row of seats in the GLB, a feature unavailable on any other Mercedes SUV aside from the significantly bigger GLS.
Thanks to the generous interior dimensions, the GLB easily carries four adults in comfort, everyone enjoying enough headroom, tall seating positions, huge windows, and the available panoramic glass sunroof for outstanding outward visibility. Entry and exit are a breeze, and the second-row seat slides forward and back, allowing you to make extra space for third-row passengers or more cargo, depending on your needs.
Both of the test vehicle’s front seats offered power adjustment including for height, but neither supplied heating nor ventilation, which would have added more than $1,000 to the sticker price. A heated steering wheel is also available, along with multi-contour adjustable seats with added adjustability. Even without these upgrades, they proved comfortable and supportive, eliciting no complaints.
Though three people can fit in the GLB’s second-row seat, the SUV’s narrow width means two is a more suitable number. The third-row seat is an $850 option missing from the test vehicle, so I cannot comment on whether it has enough legroom for adults, let alone children.
Cargo space measures 22 cubic feet behind the second-row seat, which is more than the Mercedes-Benz GLA and the GLC. Fold it down, and the GLB carries a remarkable 62 cubic feet of cargo. Rather than the increasingly popular SUV coupe, this is what a squared-off, traditional SUV roofline gets you: more space.
Do yourself a favor and pay the extra $2,200 for the GLB’s Premium Package. In addition to a blind-spot warning system and keyless entry and engine start, this upgrade removes the standard 7-inch infotainment and instrumentation screens in favor of gorgeous twin 10.25-inch displays that appear under a single piece of glass. Lush graphics, a high level of customization, and fast response to input are hallmarks of these stunningly good displays, making them well worth the extra money.
Whether you get this upgrade or not, the GLB is equipped with a Mercedes Benz User Experience (MBUX) infotainment system. This system offers the basics, including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, but the highlight of MBUX is its natural voice recognition technology, which responded to my standard test queries and commands without error or confusion.
Additionally, this example of the GLB had the Multimedia Package, which equips the SUV with a navigation system with augmented video. This feature uses the forward-facing camera to provide a live video feed with turn-by-turn directions laid over the imagery. The feed shows on the right MBUX touchscreen and is especially useful when you’re trying to find an address in densely populated parts of a city.
A high-definition surround-view camera system is also available, included as a part of the Parking Assistance Package. It’s quite useful, though this small and square SUV is exceptionally easy to park without it. If you’d rather not park on your own, this package also includes a semi-autonomous active parking assistance system that steers, shifts, and brakes while putting the GLB into a parallel or perpendicular parking space.
Whether you think the Parking Assistance Package is worth the added cost is up to you. There is no question, however, regarding the value inherent in the 12-speaker Burmester premium sound system. It sounds terrific and looks great thanks to stylized aluminum speaker grilles.
Several safety features are standard on the Mercedes-Benz GLB. You get a driver monitoring system, a backup camera, forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, and a Pre-Safe front collision preparation system. Emergency call service, accessed using the overhead SOS button, is also standard and is free for as long as you own the GLB.
Above and beyond these features, second-row side-impact airbags are available, along with blind-spot monitoring with Exit Warning Assist, which alerts occupants to approaching traffic or cyclists when parked parallel to a curb.
Most of the GLB’s available safety features come in the optional Driver Assistance Package. We’re talking active speed- and lane-maintenance systems like adaptive cruise control and lane-centering assistance, as well as unusual features like evasive steering assistance and an automatic emergency stop assistance system that works to bring the GLB safely to a halt if a driver becomes unresponsive. Enhancements to the standard Pre-Safe technology are also in this package, adding rear-impact preparation and a feature that protects against ear damage at the moment of impact.
As far as features that we can actually test go, these advanced driving assistance and collision avoidance systems operate with accuracy and refinement, which encourages rather than discourages their use.
Normally, we include crash-test ratings in this section of a review and in the overall vehicle rating, but neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) had performed tests on the new GLB as this article was published.
At its base price, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB is appealingly affordable. The problem is that, like with the competing BMW X1 and Audi Q3, the MSRP rises fast with desirable extras. And they’re all desirable.
Still, selective optioning can provide most of the best upgrades for less than $50,000. This is especially true if you’re willing to forego the AMG styling, 20-inch wheels, panoramic glass sunroof, and Parking Assistance Package, which leaves some money for things like real leather upholstery and heated and ventilated front seats.
Also, if utility is the objective, the GLB offers more of it than either the GLA or the GLC, helping to make the cost-effectiveness case in comparison to its corporate siblings.
But, in general, is buying a 2020 Mercedes GLB a cost-effective path to small luxury SUV ownership? Not really. Here, you’re paying a premium for that Mercedes star on the grille.
Sure, this SUV is also technologically advanced, enjoyable to drive, and makes you feel special when you’re behind its steering wheel. These qualities are all worth something. But at the same time, there are larger and more powerful alternatives, better-equipped alternatives, and alternatives with superior ownership perks for the same, or an even lower, price.
Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience reviewing cars and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, J.D. Power, the New York Daily News, Autobytel, and Vehix. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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