Wheels first drive review
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
Second Opinion: MOTOR feature review
Motor focuses exclusively on high-performance cars, offering a heart-stopping, hair-raising blast into the world of prestige and performance culture.
Yet another small performance SUV? Well, how does AMG's newest stack up?
By: James Disdale
These days, no self-respecting SUV line-up is complete without a high-performance halo model, and the Mercedes-AMG GLB35 is no exception.
Thanks to its A-Class underpinnings, adding some spice to the GLB was a fairly straightforward process – the same 225kW turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine and eight-speed dual-clutch auto found in the A35 hatchback, and a derivation of the familiar 4Matic four-wheel drive system, which in this instance can run a torque split from 100 per cent front-wheel drive to 50/50.
Significant suspension changes from the standard GLB include bespoke steering knuckles and control arms up front, and tougher rear hubs designed to take higher cornering loads. The springs and dampers are stiffer, while adaptive dampers are an option (fitted to our test car). There’s also new speed-sensitive electrically assisted steering and larger AMG brakes (350mm front and 330mm rear).
Externally are the usual AMG calling cards, including multi-spoke 19-inch alloy wheels (20s and 21s are available) and a bodykit that runs to a deeper front splitter, twin-exit exhausts, new rear bumper and prominent tailgate spoiler.
A similar AMG interior makeover includes the frankly bewildering AMG Dynamic Select driver modes, delivering numerous combinations of separate throttle, gearbox, driveline, steering and stability control settings. It’s all too easy to disappear down the rabbit hole as you delve deeper and deeper into various sub-menus.
Otherwise, the cabin is pretty much standard GLB, with the same versatile, if a little cramped, seven-seat layout, along with a high standard of fit and finish, with only scratchy plastics used lower down distracting from its premium appeal.
The Mercedes-AMG GLB35 is essentially a heavier, higher and longer A35. It’s fairly rapid in a straight line and reasonably grippy and composed – for an SUV. It’s not characterful or engaging, but the combination of raised driving position, muscular engine, four-wheel drive traction and (relatively) compact dimensions means you can make quick progress over give-and-take roads.
As in the A35, the 2.0-litre turbo is effective rather than exciting, a rich seam of torque meaning there’s no thrilling rush to the redline but rather a sense of relentless acceleration. The engine is smooth enough too, while the muted growl and occasional burble from the exhausts on the overrun deliver just enough sporting intent, and the dual-clutch gearbox fires home ratios quickly and slickly, responding to the wheel-mounted paddles with admirable crispness.
As you’d expect, traction is impressive (on dry roads there isn’t the merest chirrup of wheelspin) and the brakes bite progressively and powerfully.
Guide the car through a series of corners and there’s greater heft to the steering than in the standard GLB, even in Comfort mode, while body movements are more tightly controlled, both vertically and in roll.
Grip is strong, while torque vectoring helps keep the nose locked on your chosen trajectory and encourages the car to subtly rotate into a corner. So the GLB35 feels remarkably agile, even if it responds a tad more lazily than the A35, particularly through rapid changes of direction.
This is an eight-tenths sort of car, one that’s happier being driven briskly but within its limits. You wouldn’t drive a GLB 35 just for the hell of it; it’s ultimately too high, large and heavy for that, plus there’s little in the way of communication and adjustability. Yet it can cover ground with surprising alacrity, that aforementioned mix of visibility, power and traction allowing you to pick apart sinuous roads with clinical efficiency.
A corollary of the improved suspension and damping control is a marginally firmer ride, the larger-wheeled GLB 35 thudding over sharper imperfections and introducing more roar on coarse surfaces. Still, the rest of the car is fairly refined, with low levels of wind and mechanical noise, while over longer and smoother undulations the car rides with greater suppleness.
However, if you can live with five seats but still want a family car that can carry a similar amount of luggage, goes even harder and handles with real verve and engagement, it’s hard to look beyond the far more affordable and equally four-wheel drive Volkswagen Golf R Wagon.
All about the drive on MOTOR reviews
BENTLEY BENTAYGA SPEED SPECS
Engine: 1991cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo
Power: 225kW @ 5800-6100rpm
Torque: 400Nm @ 3000-4000rpm
0-100km/h: 5.2sec (claimed)
Price: $85,000 (est)
Likes: Flexible, practical interior; handling and agility; performance; all-paw traction
Dislikes: Overall mass, which could affect brake performance; feel-free steering; high price
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars