First Look – 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB 250
Blocky Compact SUV Boasts Optional Third Row
Mercedes-Benz will add yet another SUV to its lineup for 2020, the compact GLB 250. Based on the same front-drive-biased architecture as the small A-Class luxury sedan, the GLB will arrive in U.S. showrooms by the end of this year.
Styling-wise, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB adopts many of the brand's current design cues, such as C-notched headlights that match the grille's contours, narrow taillights, and smooth body surfacing throughout. Setting it apart from its GLA, GLC, and GLE siblings are a much boxier profile inspired by the GLS luxury SUV and the legendary G-Class. The GLB also gets a unique frenched-in hood cutline that separates it from the fenders and front bumper, and its unusual LED light signatures are distinctive from anything else in Benz's stable.
In many ways, the new little SUV resembles Benz's first attempt at a small ute, the GLK. That SUV was replaced by the much sleeker GLC, but the GLB 250 allows us to imagine what it might have looked like if it lived into a second or third generation. Because of a shortish dash-to-axle ratio, the new GLB doesn't totally hide its front-wheel-drive roots (also looking a bit like a Jeep Renegade in the process). However, it's an inoffensive-at-worst and attractive-at-best compact SUV otherwise thanks to its handsome styling features.
Inside, the Mercedes-Benz GLB is intensely modern, featuring a similar twin-screen infotainment/gauge cluster display as its siblings, including the GLS and G-Class. It also incorporates the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) that we enjoyed on the GLE when we drove it last year. MBUX features a variety of human-machine interfaces, including the touchscreen, thumbpads on the steering wheel, and "Hey Mercedes" voice recognition. Materials quality on the preproduction examples Mercedes trotted out at the model's reveal are relatively nice, although dash and door trim below knee-level are predictably rendered in hard plastic. That's a bit disappointing but not surprising—Audi employs similar materials in the Q3 and BMW in the X1.
What is surprising is the GLB's available third-row seat. Measuring just 182.4 inches from stem to stern, the Mercedes-Benz GLB 250 is shorter than the C-Class sedan, yet it boasts spacious seating for five with emergency-use space for two passengers in the way-back. Predictably, room back there is tight for adults of almost any size, and we doubt even small kids would like spending more than an hour back there. But opting for the third-row seat also brings along a second-row seat with six inches of fore-aft adjustability, and this 6-foot author was able to adjust all three rows of seating so that his knees didn't touch the seatback in front. Riding in the backseat for short jaunts to lunch or the carpool dropoff is totally reasonable.
Under the Skin
The GLB uses Mercedes' corporate 2.0L turbocharged I-4 for motivation; in this application it makes 221 hp and 258 lb-ft. Mated to a standard eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, we predict nippy, but not scintillating, performance from the GLB, thanks to the engine's peak torque plateau of 1,800 to 4,000 rpm. A MacPherson strut front and multilink rear suspension should provide a reasonably smooth ride, although it probably wouldn't be fair to expect canyon-carving brilliance from this smallish SUV.
The Mercedes-Benz GLB 250 will be available with front-wheel drive as standard, but opting for 4Matic all-wheel drive brings along the Off-Road Engineering Package. The setup adds an additional drive mode to the SUV, adapting its power delivery, ABS, and stability control intervention to better suit driving on dirt. The package also features an off-road-specific display for the infotainment screen depicting power delivery, incline and roll angles, and technical settings. It also includes Downhill Speed Regulation, a hill-descent feature that holds a driver-selected speed between 1 and 11 mph, automatically modulating the brakes as appropriate to maintain control.
The GLB will be available with a predictably modern suite of active safety and driver-assistance features. Active Speed Assist enhances Distronic adaptive cruise control with a function that anticipates curves and automatically slows in advance, and Active Steering Assist and Active Lane Change Assist help keep the GLB 250 from departing its intended lane. Active Parking Assist not only helps the owner position the SUV within a space, but it also enables full-speed traffic jam assistance, restarting the GLB when traffic ahead begins to move.
G-Class Lite or Maxi A-Class?
SUVs are a cash cow for practically every automaker, from the lowly (but bestselling) Nissan Rogue to the wild Lamborghini Urus. As such, it wouldn't be surprising to see the GLB become Mercedes-Benz's bestselling product, particularly since the company's recent compact cars have as much a feeling of solidity as its more traditional luxury products. Pricing and fuel economy have yet to be announced, but we anticipate GLB to slot in well under the GLC. Plan on paying about $36,000 for a base GLB 250 or $38,000 for one with 4Matic—add in a few nice options and the available third-row seat and we think a well-equipped GLB would sticker for $45,000 or so. As long as it retains the hewed-from-an-ingot feeling for which vehicles from Stuttgart are known, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB 250 should be a hot commodity.