5 0 5
Plus & Minus
Flexible, practical interior; ride and handling; performance
Double-clutch transmission calibration; feel-free steering; high price
The Wheels Verdict: The GLB is a sensible and practical SUV from Mercedes-Benz. The AMG version adds an amusingly potent dose of genuine driver excitement without affecting these virtues. While there are question marks against steering feel and calibration of the dual-clutch transmission, the dynamics and comfort on offer, combined with the electronic sophistication you expect at this point in the market, make the GLB a worthy contender at the seven-seat luxury end of town.
WHAT IS THE MERCEDES-BENZ GLB?
GLB is an all-new SUV from Mercedes-Benz. Intended to slot between GLA and GLC, the newcomer is actually very close to GLC size. Based on the second generation of the front- and all-wheel-drive MFA architecture, the GLB shares tech with the current A-Class and CLA.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
The international launch of the GLB in the south of Spain provided our first chance to get to know this seven-seat SUV.
THE WHEELS REVIEW
Few sporty SUVs are as well resolved as the GLB 35. Quick and clever, this compact all-wheel-drive wagon delivers a convincing combination of performance and practicality. That’s a rare achievement.
The Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 tops the GLB line-up, which will reach Australia around June or July next year. First to arrive will be the Mercedes-Benz GLB 250 4matic. This all-wheel-drive mid-range variant will be quickly joined by the base-grade front-drive GLB 200, and the GLB 35.
GLB, as the name suggests, is intended to fill the gap between Mercedes-Benz’s existing small GLA and medium GLC SUVs. But the newcomer isn’t a precise in-betweenie fit. While the GLB is built on the second generation of Stuttgart’s MFA architecture, same as the new A-Class and CLA, its wheelbase is a neat 10cm longer.
This means the GLB is close to the GLC for length and wheelbase, while standing taller. And it’s way bigger than the soon-to-be replaced GLA. The GLB is the size it is for a reason. The Chinese market expressed a strong desire that it should have seven seats, and Mercedes-Benz decided to give them what they wanted.
The individually folding pair of seats that make up the third row are not tiny and cramped. They will accommodate adults without a problem. With the seven-seat interior comes a centre bench with 140mm of fore-and-aft adjustment, plus extra curtain airbags. The backrest folding split is 40/20/40, while the slider mechanism divides the seat 60/40. The angle of the centre-row backrests is also adjustable.
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While the GLB also will be built in five-seat form at Mercedes-Benz’s plant in Aguascalientes, Mexico, the seven-seat interior is likely standard across the range in Australia. With the local launch of the GLB so far off, Mercedes-Benz Australia is still some way from finalising details of specification and pricing.
From the front seats the view contains both familiar and fresh elements. The widescreen display of instrumentation and infotainment won’t surprise anyone who has been inside a current A-Class, except the screen is set into a ledge carved into the chunky, SUV-style dash.
Making room for seven seats has rendered the exterior of the GLB a little boxy. The upright shape, with its deep windows, means visibility from the driver’s seat is better than average in this age of chubby pillars and swoopy rooflines.
So the GLB is persuasively practical, but the real magic is in the way this new SUV drives.
Ride comfort was a priority during chassis development, in line with the GLB’s keep-the-whole-family-happy mission. The GLB 250 was superbly smooth on the lumpy roads of southern Spain, site of the international launch. The test cars were equipped with the adaptive dampers likely to be standard in the GLB 250 for Australia, and in Comfort mode the SUV has a soft, loping ride that’s only slightly degraded by switching to Sport mode.
Work with the relaxed cadence of the suspension, and the GLB 250 reveals unexpected dynamic depths. Until the points at which understeer sets in, the Mercedes-Benz is a fluid and faithful handler. The steering lacks anything much in the way of feel, but the chassis can be counted on to deliver predictable responses.
Performance from the GLB 250’s 165kW 2.0-litre turbo four is way better than adequate for a family-focused SUV, but the software calibration of the eight-speed double-clutch transmission makes it indecisive at times.
The Mercedes-AMG version amps up the GLB experience. The GLB 35’s 225kW 2.0-litre turbo four is basically the same engine as in the GLB 250, but AMG’s ministrations add a dose of intensity. The official 0-100km/h claim is a believable 5.2 seconds, which is a cracking pace for a seven-seat SUV.
More engineer love seems to have been given to the transmission calibration of the eight-speed double-clutch in the GLB 35; it’s much more likely to pick the right gear at the right time, though it’s still not flawless.
There’s a lot of AMG-specific hardware in both the front and the rear suspension of the GLB 35. Compared with the GLB 250 it has different steering knuckles, front suspension arms, rear wheel carriers and a direct-mounted rear suspension subframe. Bigger brakes front and rear are also fitted. But these changes don’t radically alter the dynamic character.
All GLB 35s at the launch event wore the biggest available rubber. The 21-inch tyres and the chassis upgrades deliver sharper steering and extra front-end bite. The wider contact patches also bring a noticeable increase in tyre noise, especially on coarse-surfaced roads.
Though it’s not as quiet and refined as the GLB 250 as a consequence, AMG’s changes to the GLB 35 do deliver the kind of stellar handling – for an SUV – they were undoubtedly aiming for. Even more impressive is that the GLB 35’s ride is also outstanding for a sporty SUV. Yes, the ride is firmer, but it’s nowhere near harsh. Even switching from Comfort to Sport mode of the standard adaptive suspension doesn’t turn the GLB 35 into a bucking disgrace.
On the subject of modes, the Mercedes-AMG offers a broader range of options than Mercedes-Benz-badged versions of the GLB. As well as the expected – in an AMG – Sport+ and pick’n’mix Individual modes, the GLB 35 has a new Slippery mode specially engineered for driving in low-grip conditions.
Sport+ was the natural choice for sinuous sections of the Spanish drive route. In this mode, the GLB 35 is a high-rise all-wheel-drive hot hatch. The AMG-programmed 4matic system does a great job of apportioning the engine’s hefty torque between the axles, and there’s next to no scrabbling or scrubbing.
While the steering is weighty, there’s not a great deal of road feel through the wheel. Still, the GLB 35’s responses to inputs are quick, accurate and reliable, and the big brakes don’t wilt under pressure.
Given the need to position the GLB between near-equivalent GLA and GLC models, smart guesses on price would be around $65,000 for the GLB 250 and about $85,000 for the GLB 35.
PRICE AND SPECS
Model: Mercedes-Benz GLB 35 4matic
Engine: 1991cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power: 225kW @ 5800-6100rpm
Max torque: 400Nm @ 3000-4000rpm
Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch
Price: $85,000 (estimated)
On sale: July 2020