SUV Traditionalists Rejoice: Everything old is new (and better) again.
If you look at modern, sculpted, bullet-shaped SUVs and shake your head because they don’t look like SUVs to you, get ready to smile at the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB.
And, if you need luxury — and yes, that is a valid need— space and SUV function, keep reading; this could be your next car.
Mercedes-Benz went back to its roots for the GLB, a boxy-shaped mid-sized SUV with off road capability, flexible interior space and access to top technology. Everything you need is either at your fingertips or, just ask “Hey Mercedes” and the car will do it for you.
The GLB will take Mercedes-Benz fans back to those first days of luxury SUVs when the brand introduced the M-Class and shocked the world: an SUV couldn’t be luxury, too, could it?
The people at Mercedes-Benz believed, yes, luxury brands should make SUVs, and rolled out the first M-Class SUVs from their plant in Vance, Alabama. Soon, not only did every other brand fall in line, but every SUV maker upped its game to offer luxury features and details. A short 20 years later, SUVs are the best-selling type of car and luxury SUVs fill a lot of those orders.
First Things First: The Shape! The Space! A Third Row!
The boxy shape of this compact SUV lets you know two things right away: Everyone will have enough headroom and you can drive over the mounds left by the snowplow at the end of your driveway. So, the kids can do their homework in the car and not get car sick, and they are not stuck at home when it snows because you can’t get out of your driveway. Those two things are priceless (and may have been the deciding factor on at least a few car purchases in our family!).
And then, that day when the school calls to say they are releasing your precious angels early because of a snowstorm and your neighbor is in the city and can’t get to school for pickup? You can pop up the 3rd row and accommodate two more passengers (ideally, small-ish passengers, however). And you’re glad to do it; she’s come to your rescue before, too.
Some caveats and some bonuses: Among the caveats, the 3rd row (an $850 option), which I have not been able to try out yet, is small; there’s plenty of headroom (34” from the seat bottom to the ceiling) but legroom is similar to an airline coach seat (29” from the seatback to the seat in front of you). Space behind the third row is also small, so book bags and other cargo may need to be wedged into open spots, or there is the option to use only one of the seats and still have half the cargo space.
However, the center row seats are on a rail and slide forward or back about 6 inches, giving 3rd-row passengers additional legroom, or letting you pull center row seats closer to the front so you can easily reach a child in a car seat. Cargo space behind the second row is about 20 cubic feet (it’s 62 cubic feet with the second 2nd row folded flat).
Another bonus is that this SUV is tall (7.8” of ground clearance) but not overly long or wide, so it’s easy to park— something that not all SUVs can claim.
Affordable, Approachable, Accessible Luxury, So Go Ahead, Spoil Yourself
The Mercedes-Benz GLB has a starting price of $36,600 (add $2,000 for 4Matic all-wheel drive) that includes some nice features like keyless start, push-button liftgate, and the Mercedes-Benz User Experience, or MBUX. This system has with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto the “Hey Mercedes” voice assistant feature. Your kids will have a lot of fun with this.
To really make it a Mercedes-Benz, though, you’ll need to add at least about $10,000 of upgrades. The ones I’d consider a must-have include:
- Third row seats: $850
- Driver assistance with adaptive cruise control, stop and go traffic jam assist, blind spot monitors, lane keep assist, lane change assist, active steering assist, evasive steering assist, route-based speed adaptation (when using adaptive cruise control this slows you when the speed limit changes): $2,250
- Premium package with a 10.25” center display screen, digital instrument cluster, and power folding, auto-dimming side mirrors: $1,650
- Multimedia package with navigation, augmented reality (overlays navigation prompts on a live view of the road ahead of you); if you want to use navigation via “Hey Mercedes” and have it display in your information cluster, you need this option: $1,150
- Surround view camera and auto park assist: $1,090
- Heated and vented front seats: $1,030
- Panoramic Sun Roof: $1,500
- Sport steering wheel: $360
- Head up display: $1,100
- Burmester premium sound: $850
The price of the AWD model with these features: $51,425, which includes delivery but not tax.
The price of the model we test-drove with AMG styling ($2,240), night package ($400), wireless charging ($200), 20” wheels ($1,050), adjustable damping suspension ($990) and upgraded paint, upholstery and trim ($2,495): $58,520, including delivery.
Yes, It’s OK to Need Luxury, and Here’s How the GLB Fills That Order
Like the original M-Class, the GLB fills a lot of needs: space, flexibility, capability on rough roads. But, just because you can drive over snow mounds or up steep, gravelly hills doesn’t mean your car should make you rough it when tailgating at your kids soccer match, right? You should be able to sit in your car in comfort and it should look as on point in front of the Four Seasons as it is on a National Park trail.
So, GLB gives you all that. The interior appointments are classic Mercedes-Benz, from the aviation-inspired round air vents to the beautiful aluminum or wood trim and leather seating. And the 4Matic option gives you Mercedes-Benz all-wheel drive; among the drive modes is ‘slippery’ which gives you even more traction when you need it. Opt for the active damping system and you’ll have even more off-road ability and more fun driving through fast curves and tight corners, which in itself can be a necessary luxury.
MBUX For The Win
Probably the biggest bonus in this approachable, affordable luxury SUV is the MBUX system. It functions from a single screen that spans about two-thirds of the dashboard, giving all passengers a clear view of the screen. And, everyone can play “Hey Mercedes” and ask the system to turn on the heat or A/C, change the radio station or tell a joke. Like this.
You can also connect your phone to the MBUX and use Apple CarPlay, use your own music, make calls and more. There are 5 USB-C ports; the ones in the center armrest console connect to the MBUX system. There is one under the dashboard and two on the rear of the center console for back seat passengers. If you’re not using phones or tablets that use USB-C, you’ll need adapters (which is what we used on our test drive).
What Is It Like to Drive?
One of the biggest surprises in the GLB is the very capable drive experience from a relatively small engine: this 2.0 liter 4 cylinder turbo engine produces 221 horsepower and 258 torque; it was completely capable with two of us in the car, and even handled the mountain roads of Arizona just fine. Of course, it was more fun in Sport mode, but for me, eco or comfort was preferable; that got us nearly 27MPG in combined city and highway driving.
If you’re hauling small kids and light cargo like backpacks and gym bags, it’ll be fine. But if you have full-size adults and lots of heavy cargo, you might want to upgrade to something with a V6 for more power and a full-size 3rd row.
But for those who love the look and feel of classic SUVs but want and need luxury, a compact size and lots of flexible interior space? The GLB will leave you with a smile.
What We Listened to in the Mercedes-Benz GLB
If the interior of this car doesn’t inspire you to turn up the music, the Burmester premium sound system will. This is what we listened to on our test drive.
Disclosure: I was a guest for Mercedes-Benz for this test drive. Travel and accommodations were provided but all opinions are my own.