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MERCEDES-BENZ GLB 250
- More cheeky looking than other Merc SUVs
- Sporty to drive, lively rolling acceleration
- Clever packaging inside the box
- Big price step from GLB 200 to 250
- Dual-clutch gearbox dithers on hills
- Intrusive driver-assists on our test car
Carmakers are always rattling on about how they’re looking for “white space”: places in the market that aren’t being filled by themselves or rivals. Not an easy task these days.
But Mercedes-Benz has found one right here with its all-new GLB: a premium-brand compact SUV that also has seven seats. It brings the Benz family of seven-chair SUVs to three, but the big thing is that the GLB starts at a whopping $53,800 less than the entry-level GLE.
The other interesting thing about GLB is that it has a very different look to the Three-Pointed Star’s other SUVs. While the larger GLE and GLS have a bit of a Russian doll thing going on, the GLB is boxy, and functional-looking and even a bit cheeky. A dash of G-Wagen. We like.
We’ve just had our first taste of the GLB. Disclaimer time: what you see here is the $92,900 GLB 250, which is a big step up from the entry $78,900 GLB 200: larger engine, eight gears instead of seven and a lot more standard equipment.
But at even at a price dangerously close to six figures, this is an engaging and cleverly packaged machine. While it might be the baby of the Benz seven-seat family, it’s not actually that small. At 4643mm in length, it’s still larger than a Toyota RAV4 – itself a model that has grown substantially over previous generations.
With a 165kW/350Nm 2.0l turbo engine and eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox, the GLB trades some of the GLE’s slick performance for sportiness.
There’s an urgent gurgle from under the bonnet under load and while the automated-clutch transmission can dither a bit on hills (the larger Benzes have traditional automatics), it’s an engaging thing – excuse the pun - when you’re pressing on.
The downside of our test GLB was an overly intrusive suite of driver-assistance aids, especially the lane-keep which seemed intent on keeping the car between the white lines even when the driver was indicating and intent on changing course.
In fairness, the GLB has exactly the same tech as other new-generation Benzes and they haven’t annoyed us to the same extent. We’ve got more time coming up in a different GLB 250, so let’s wait and see.
The GLB’s main job is to be a family SUV and it does that really well. The wheelbase is 100mm longer than the B-class, the second-row seats slide 140mm fore-aft and even the third row seats have Isofix mounting points for child seats – a rare thing. The rearmost passengers also get their own cupholders and USB ports.
You can do plenty of mixing and matching, with the second row split 40/20/40 (multi-stage backrests as well) and the 50/50 third row folding flat into the floor to give you a five-seat SUV with 560l of loadspace if that’s what you want.
There is a limit, of course. Access is still a bit tricky through the second row to the back and once you’re there, the third-row squabs are basically mounted on the floor so you have to sit in a pretty knees-up position. It’s definitely an occasional third row, but then that’s the idea of cars like these.
The GLB’s blend of driver appeal and practicality means we’re looking forward to the Mercedes-AMG version (you knew there had to be one, right?). The GLB 35 $104,900, packs 225kW/400Nm and a bunch of dynamic enhancements including AMG Ride Control suspension.
Within a year, Mercedes-Benz has gone from offering a single, super-sized and super-expensive seven-seater to now having a choice of three.
Meet the family: GLE (2019-)
Back in its days as the ML-class, this was Mercedes-Benz’s original premium crossover. You could argue it was the original premium crossover full stop, since there was nothing quite like it back in 1997. Now we have the likes of the Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne – and so very many more.
But the model only recently graduated to seven-seat status, with the latest iteration launched in 2019. The “ML-class” name was changed to “GLE” in 2015, to align the SUV with the E-class sedan; but the third-row seating only came last year, with an all-new model.
Meet the family: GL/GLS (2006-)
More name-changed to get confused over, but at launch in 2006 as the GL-class, this was Mercedes-Benz’s first seven-seat SUV. And one of the first premium seven-seaters, being launched around the same time as Audi’s Q7.
A 2016 facelift marked the name change to GLS (to align it with the S-class sedan) but the big leap forward came last year, with an all-new model that brought Mercedes-Benz’s latest styling cues and technology – including the widescreen virtual dashboard and MBUX operating system also used in the GLB and GLE.