by Gabe Beita Kiser
Mercedes was very clear about its intentions for the GLA when the sub-compact SUV hit the market: it wanted to give young and upwardly mobile buyers with a desire for utility a starting point that would get them hooked on the brand and lead them to bigger and more expensive Mercedes purchases as they moved up the career ladder. But Millennials aren't all about looks, they need utility too. And with the SUV market continuing to grow, enough that the Tri-Star was able to split the GLC and GLE lines to make SUV and SUV-Coupe versions, Mercedes figured its compact GLA needed a more practical counterpart. And that space between the GLA and GLC is where the GLB comes in. With more rugged looks than the GLA and enough space to justify its purchase to young parents, the GLB expands Mercedes' reach to conquer buyers who want luxury without the GLC's price tag, but who also turn their noses up at the impracticality of the GLA.
Despite sharing the same front-wheel drive MFA2 (Modular Front Architecture) platform as the A-Class, the GLB is only an inch shorter than the GLC in terms of overall length and 1.7 inches shorter at the wheelbase. The 5 inches of extra wheelbase and 8 inches of added length it carries over the GLA goes to carving out room for one of the GLB's hallmark features, its third row of seats that brings total available seating capacity to seven. Boxier exterior dimensions also help open up space inside, which should allow families and single young buyers with plenty of friends to go on road trips in relative comfort. While Mercedes has yet to release dimensions for the third row, we have to assume it won't be a comfortable place for adults.
But when the available third-row seats haven't been optioned or aren't in use, owners can fold them down to open up 62 feet of cargo space. That makes the GLB more versatile than many of its competitors while simultaneously allowing the SUV to challenge the people-carrying capacity of the GLC and the G-Class.
While the original plan for the GLB was to make it a "baby G-Wagon," designers knew it wouldn't be possible to directly copy that aesthetic over to a front-wheel drive platform. So they took inspiration from the G-Class instead, giving the GLB a boxier grille, headlights, and overall shape than both the GLA and GLC. That helps strike the perfect balance between handsome, rugged looks and real-world advantages, like short overhangs that are good for off-roading as well as headroom and overall interior space that's left unhindered by athletic low roof lines.
The interior also adopts a styling language similar to the one seen on the A-Class by boasting a simplified yet defragmented look, with the instrument panel, widescreen cockpit display, and air vents all seeming to stem from a single slab of aluminum on the dash.
Because the A-Class is aimed at younger tech-savvy customers, Mercedes tried to win over its audience with technology. So it used the sedan as the platform to debut its new MBUX (Mercedes Benz User Experience) infotainment software. And since the GLB is a relative to the A-Class, it also comes with MBUX. Like the A-Class, the GLB gets standard dual 7-inch displays, one for the infotainment screen and another one for the fully digital gauge cluster, while twin 10.25-inch screens remain an option. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are baked into the system regardless of screen size, as is Mercedes' new intelligent voice assistant.
All are easy to use thanks to a steering wheel that has two touchpads, one for each screen, and the latest version of Mercedes' center console-mounted touchpad selector. Plenty of standard features make it to the GLB, including active braking, crosswind assist, a rearview camera, USB-C ports, and more.
Available features include optional LED headlights and foglights, driver assistance features like automatic cruise control and park assist, and an Off-Road Engineering Package that brings downhill descent control and hill-start assistance into the picture. A panoramic sunroof and adaptive suspension similar to the A-Class' will likely also be on the order sheet.
The nice thing about the Off-Road Engineering Package is that it comes with the all-wheel drive 4Matic-equipped GLB. The system sends 80% of the engine's power to the front wheels in more normal modes. Sport mode changes the front/rear split to 70/30 and the off-road mode brings it all the way to 50/50. At launch, the GLB will only come with one powertrain, a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four producing 221 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. After being transmitted through an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, that kind of output should be enough to send the GLB from 0-60 mph in 6.9 seconds.
While the GLA will feel connected to the road like its A-Class cousin, its driving style will skew more on the comfortable side. True performance heads will be happy to know that Mercedes' recently unveiled M139 engine should be making it to the AMG GLB 45 model, which will make up to 416 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque in S trim and 382 hp in its more toned-down non-S version.
Mercedes hasn't released pricing for the GLB yet, but expect the only models released so far, the GLB 250 and GLB 250 4Matic, to start in the narrow gap between the $35,000 GLA and $40,000 GLC, at $37,000 for a five-seat front-wheel drive version. 4Matic could come with a $2,000 premium, just as it does on the A-Class.
Though the GLB is supposed to compete in the same space as the BMW X1, Jaguar E-Pace, Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, and Audi Q3, its third row puts it in the unique position of being a better rival to larger SUVs like the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 (even though both of those SUVs can only seat a maximum of five). That should help justify what we expect to be a slight price premium over its rivals' subcompact SUVs.
As long as Mercedes prices the GLB reasonably, it should be a hit. The main reason for that, of course, is that the GLB is a small SUV sneakily designed to cater to a niche segment that the competition has somehow not yet recognized. Yes, the Audi Q3 and BMW X1 are subcompact luxury SUVs, but they're seriously lacking in versatility when compared to this new Mercedes. What's more, the GLB also caters to buyers who not only want versatility out of their luxury SUVs but also a more masculine and rugged look as well as the capability to back it up. So yes, for all the flak that Mercedes has been getting for calling the GLB a "baby G-Class," in a way, it's not wrong.