Motoring correspondent Mark Gallivan test drives the new 2020 Mercedes GLB 200d to see how it stands out in an increasingly crowded SUV market.

Mercedes über alles? In a desire to add yet one more niche into the company’s SUV line up Mercedes’ Swiss Army Knife approach has spawned another luxury subcompact crossover to trounce the competition: the new Mercedes GLB.

This one is a direct SUV competitor to the five-seater BMW X3 and Audi Q5. The brilliant Land Rover Discovery Sport is of course a seven-seater alternative with true off-road capability. From €39,500 the Landie is the genuine 4×4 off roader. The GLB, X3 and Q5 are primarily designed for road use.

“It seems Mercedes has concentrated on passenger capacity and outright practicality but diluted the sparkle when driving the GLB”

In the class of premium crossovers the new Mercedes GLB has stolen a march by adding an optional (at €1,427 more) two extra seats in the rear luggage space making it the only seven-seater on sale in the class.

To differentiate the €52,231 version I tested (the GLB diesel range starts from around €45,000) from the existing Mercedes small crossover SUV herd it has swapped the curvy design used in the GLA and GLC with this upright shape and inserted the alphabet soup naming convention and squeezed it right in between them both. Hence Mercedes GLB follows the cheaper GLA, and precedes the more expensive GLC. An A, B, C of SUVs, if you will.

You can look elsewhere in this €45,025 lofty entry price range. Peugeot, for instance, will be more than happy to sell you the 5008 seven-seater GT Line 2.0 BlueHDi 180hp Auto for €46,300. But Irish buyers being Irish buyers and focused on bagging a brand new Mercedes to show everyone else rarely look over the fence to France for genuine alternatives.

This leaves the Mercedes GLB, yet again, slugging it out with Audi and BMW. Even with the absence of two extra seats. Extra seats aside though, how does the new GLB fare against both? The answer to that one depends on what type of driver you are.

Performance and power

If your commute involves the family, their schoolbags and sports gear, maybe carrying up to seven people then, yes, the GLB will be fulfill the brief perfectly. It’s a well assembled SUV, sufficiently premium SUV. Even the performance is perfectly respectable. The 150bhp engine I tested produces 320 Nm, gets from 0-100 km/h in 9 seconds and has a top speed of 204 km/h. The CO2 is 129 g/km and the road tax will be €270 for the year. So it’s in line with most compact premium SUVs with a 2.0 litre engine.

The GLB is assembled in Mexico and uses the MFA2 platform as shared with the A-Class hatch. To offer the extra room in the cabin it the wheelbase is lengthened by 100mm. It may not sound much but that additional space pays big dividends. Any tall driver will find a comfortable position in the GLB and the adjustment on the firm seats is ample.

Out on the road the GLB’s 8-speed automatic gearbox is smooth and the only objection I highlighted was the delay in engaging reverse and then drive from the column gearlever. I drove the Mercedes GLC some time ago and for my money I thought it offered a marginally smoother ride. But if you are buying in this segment neither the GLC or GLB’s ride truly settles down and there remains a constant jitter from the suspension.

The main culprit is the decision to engineer the GLB with more rigid suspension tuning that feels at odds with what buyers expect from a Mercedes crossover given the company’s reputation for wafting over surfaces. It’s marginal but the Volvo XC40 is more accomplished here. As for the BMW X3 and Audi Q5 both offer a less subliminally jarring, more compliant ride.

Spacious interior

Inside the GLB’s cabin the passenger space and visibility is a class best and headroom is very generous. I liked the pleasing cabin design and there were plenty of cubby holes to store items. Certainly, one of the GLB’s strongest features is the rear legroom in the second row of seats. It’s possible for second row passengers to enjoy up to 760mm of legroom. It is so generous you could make the mistake of thinking this was a GLB long-wheelbase model. Mercedes has done well here.

The downside in choosing the seven-seater options is how much it robs rear luggage space. In standard form with the rear seats upright the GLB offers 570 litres of space. This drops to 130 litres with a third row of seats added.

I was frustrated by the GLB’s small infotainment controls on the steering wheel the main centre console were difficult to use due to the lack of a central rotating controller like Mercedes uses in other models. On my test I never got to grips with the track pad controlling system.

But, and it’s an important one, if you like driving and enjoy the experience as a thrill rather than a chore then the GLB falls flat. It seems Mercedes has concentrated on passenger capacity and outright practicality but diluted the sparkle when driving the GLB. As long as you are a buyer that’s focused on the destination rather than the engagement along the way, the new GLB will satisfy like a new Mercedes should. It’s just a shame the innate sparkle went missing somewhere in the mix.

For me the new GLB has plenty of merit but it enters a segment that is baffling with so many polished models and brands to choose from. The allure of the Mercedes brand will decide if the GLB’s subjective shortcoming end up being the deal breaker.

You’ll like: Looks. Seven seats. Class best for cabin space. Feels more polished than rivals. The Mercedes badge reflects well on the owner.

You’ll grumble: Misses the expected sparkle that’s necessary at this price.

By Mark Gallivan

Published: 1 October, 2020

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