Mercedes-Benz GLB at Car of the Year 2021

Compact, quirky and uncommonly quick, but at what cost?

Wheels Car of the Year 2021 contender Mercedes-Benz GLB

On the face of it, the Mercedes-Benz GLB is an answer to a question nobody seems to have asked.

Yet, in some ways, the self-consciously dorky/ultra-cool (please choose) SUV might just be the most convincing of all the current crop of front-wheel-drive-based Benzes.

Spun off the MFA2 architecture introduced by the existing A-Class hatchback in 2018, the GLB is a tall-bodied, high-riding three-row premium SUV, with styling that references the massive full-sized GLS, with a hint of G-Class Geländewagen attitude added in.

2021 Mercedes Benz GLB Performance Jpg

As the ‘B’ implies, the newcomer fits between two popular SUVs – the GLA crossover and the much-larger GLC. And when you consider that the former is barely bigger than the hatch that begat it, Mercedes’ need for something heftier against Audi’s Q3 and the BMW X1 is obvious.

Question answered, then.

Just to teach its compatriots a lesson, that nifty third row also gives Stuttgart a lure with which to snag Land Rover Discovery Sport buyers.

2021 Mercedes Benz GLB 35 Rear Jpg

Thoughtful design defines the Benz’s packaging, with a stretched wheelbase and long back doors for easier access to all rear seating. The tall roof liberates space inside, deep windows add light and vision and the middle row slides for exceptional legroom. Note, however, that only passengers under 170cm tall are recommended for row drei. When it’s folded, the available cargo area is cavernous.

From the front seats forward, we’re talking pure A-Class, down to the glitzy 10.25-inch touchscreen, ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice control, multi-configurable digital instruments, turbine-chic air vents and bags of storage. Similarly, all the expected safety kit is present. And there’s a decent amount of gear included, too.

2021 Mercedes Benz GLB Air Conditioning Vents Jpg

On the other hand, the squeaky trim and sub-par plastics undermine Mercedes’ reputation for quality. The same applies to the base GLB 200’s Renault-sourced 1.3-litre four-pot turbo/front-drive powertrain, which Mercedes wouldn’t supply for COTY assessment, but from past experience, also lacks the finesse expected from a Benz.

Little wonder then that the GLB 250 4Matic is where most of the buyers migrate up to. This is a searing, stirring performer, a rev-hungry 165kW/350Nm turbo 2.0-litre belter backed up by a slick auto, sharp handling and a hunkered-down chassis that faithfully follows the driver’s command.

2021 Mercedes Benz GLB 35 Engine Jpg

And if that’s not enough, the range-topping 225kW/400Nm GLB 35 AMG amplifies all that with dazzling ferocity, for knockout acceleration. Slightly unhinged, it relentlessly piles on speed, accompanied by a soaring soundtrack and genre-bending grip that lives up to the storied suffix applied to that otherwise slightly sad-looking tail treatment. This is unfeasibly fiery without being frenetic.

Frustratingly, however, both the 250 and 35 AMG cost a lot of money, skirting $80K and $95K respectively with a couple of choice options. Then there’s the ride quality, which is fine in Comfort mode thanks to the standard adaptive dampers (except GLB 200), but in Sport mode it brings back that old bugbear of rattly cabin bits.

2021 Mercedes Benz GLB Handling Jpg

If Mercedes is sick of hearing this criticism, then a back-to-back drive with cheaper crossovers – such as the Mazda CX-30 – reveals the extent of our dissatisfaction here.

Still, the higher-spec GLBs might be the answer for well-heeled enthusiasts seeking an engaging, family-orientated, urban-friendly SUV with a decent dollop of character to boot. Too uneven to progress further in COTY, but fun all the same.

Richard Ferlazzo on the Mercedes-Benz GLB's design

2021 Mercedes Benz GLB 35 Front Jpg

“The boxy upright styling with softened edges does nothing for me but it still looks rich and robust for its compact size. Similarly, the interior has all the usual cool infotainment screens, turbine-style air vents and funky lighting, but the door-trims felt flimsy and some of the hard plastics were disappointing.

Also, the slender gear selector stalk feels fiddly and underdone. Moreover, the third-row packaging is for kids only under a certain size which makes it less versatile. Nonetheless, it will likely hit a sweet spot for some buyers.”

2021 Mercedes Benz GLB 35 Badge Jpg

Variants Tested: 
- 250 4MATIC ($80,560 as-tested)
- AMG 35 4MATIC ($96,285 as-tested)


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Byron Mathioudakis

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