Driven: SA-bound Mercedes GLB is capable and practical
As the demand for SUVs and compact cars worldwide continues, it's no surprise that Mercedes-Benz have increased their options in this segment with the introduction of the compact SUV GLB.
So if you’re looking for a compact car from Merc you now have a choice between the A-Class hatch, A-Class sedan, B-Class, CLA, GLA and of course now the GLB.
It’s certainly a growing niche and the GLB covers all the bases and then some and even though it’s classified as a compact SUV its proportions are deceptively large.
The wheelbase is 10cm longer than the B-Class, it’s just over 4.6 metres in length, just over 1.8 metres wide and stands a tad over 1.6 metres in height.
There’s a number of variations of the GLB but South Africa will initially only get two offerings in the form of the two-wheel drive GLB 250 petrol and the GLB 220 d 4MATIC.
Both four-cylinder engines have been updated for the GLB with increased power and torque as well as reduced emissions.
The 2.0 litre petrol unit pushes out 165kW and 350Nm of torque and Mercedes-Benz claims a top speed of 236km/h and a 0-100km/h time of 6.9 seconds.
The 2.0 litre oil burner has 140kW and 400Nm of torque which will get you to 217km/h and to 100km/h in 7.6 seconds. Both engines are coupled to an eight-speed dual clutch transmission.
If your family is larger than the average, or you need extra seats to cart friends or family about there is an optional third row of seats, making the GLB a handy seven-seater.
Mercedes says people up to a height of 1.68 metres can be accommodated but when we inspected them, it will be a tight fit at that height. They do get drinks holders, stowage compartments and a separate USB port.
As with all seven-seaters boot space is severely restricted but it should be fine for the school run and folded down there’s more than enough space for a family’s holiday luggage.
The cockpit is typically Mercedes-Benz quality with high-end finishes throughout, the large iPad type screen and the MBUX infotainment system. Because the GLB has good off-road ability, the designers created a rugged aluminium-looking tubular element in the dashboard on the passenger side. It’s also apparent in the centre console and along the doors.
At the launch in Andalusia, Spain, we got to drive both except that they didn’t have the GLB 250 in two-wheel drive.
Oh, there’s also an AMG version that we got to experience that makes all the right noises, so here’s hoping
The front has McPherson suspension struts and in the rear an acoustically and vibrationally decoupled multi-link axle with compression springs. Adaptive adjustable damping is available as an option.
There’s really not that much difference between the performance of the engines, keeping in mind that its an SUV aimed for comfortable drives and not track days. Acceleration is exceptionally smooth with the eight-speed box adapting easily along the tight and twisty roads that we drove on. The 220 diesel tended to be a bit more noisy inside the cockpit under hard driving but purred along silently at cruising speed on the highways.
The handling is remarkably astute with a firm ride quality and it never wallowed into the bends or exiting on the odd occasion that we managed to play a bit in the passes where traffic allowed. The steering feel is direct and responsive with little play and good feedback in either comfort or sport mode.
Under braking the GLB stays true and cruising down a pass with some hard pushing of the pedal there was no fading either.
I also drove the GLB 220 d 4Matic through an off-road course that the organisers had set up in the mountains. It had rained hard in the run-up to our rotation and the course was well soaked and slippery.
In off-road mode power is distributed equally to both front and rear wheels with traction control doing its thing when the wheels start to spin. Using the cameras gives an interesting perspective driving off the black stuff while hill start assist, downhill speed assist and a 35 degree break-over angle gives the GLB far more ability than any owner is likely to ever use.
Most South Africans are likely to opt for the two-wheel drive GLB 250.It will be a very good buy considering you still get enough ground clearance to miss the “middle mannetjie” and it will comfortably get you around dirt game reserve roads.
Driving assistance systems abound with some S-Class features having been brought across such as the improved camera and radar system that allows it to drive in semi-automated mode and intuitive active lane change assist.
Mercedes-Benz have done an exceptional job of the GLB. It’s more than just another rehashed, reconfigured SUV.
The GLB deserves its place among its Mercedes siblings. I have no doubt when it arrives here in second quarter of next year it will be a popular choice.