Mercedes-Benz GLB 250 First Drive: Giving People What They Want

by Ron Van Harten

Mercedes’ tidy SUV is practical and enjoyable to drive

Hey, can we talk? You, the car enthusiast who devours MotorTrend for the high-end stuff. And you, too, the retail-ready shopper who comes to us for practical buying advice. You both have lots of questions about the new Mercedes-Benz GLB crossover. But what you really want to know is, simply: Is it any good?

Let me respond just as simply: Yes, it is.

The enthusiast wants to know if it’s a real Mercedes, one that’s worthy of wearing its three-pointed star among stalwarts like the GLS, GLE, and our 2017 SUV of the Year, the GLC. Does it drive like a Mercedes, even though it’s a front-wheel-drive layout? Meanwhile, the smart shopper wants to know if the GLB feels like a Mercedes on the inside, if it’s a good value, and whether there’s space for all their needs.

Yes, it does all those things.

These are fair questions to ask. This is only Mercedes’ second crack at a front-drive SUV. It’s also taking a risk by mating a compact footprint with three rows of seats.

Let’s just get the latter out of the way: The third row is optional, and it’s for children only. Why even offer it, then? Because it’s a great selling proposition to get your whole school-run carpool in a Mercedes SUV for a budget price. As shoppers at every price point turn their eyes away from minivans and toward SUVs, especially luxury ones, it’s a market segment just waiting to be served.

Similar to its direct competitors, the Land Rover Discovery Sport and Volkswagen Tiguan, the GLB’s third row is for emergencies only—so don’t rely on it too much. The sliding and reclining second-row seats will see far more use, and they have plenty of space for adults, nearly adult kids, and car-seat-bound children alike. The front seats, as always, will get the biggest workout, and they’re up for it, remaining comfortable after 400-plus miles on the road (unlike the too-narrow, too-firm versions in the mechanically similar CLA-Class sedan).

If you’re cross-shopping the CLA- or A-Class sedans, you’ll find the GLB’s forward cabin otherwise familiar. The instrument panel and center stack are doppelgängers, and you’ll notice many of the same features.

Agree to a high enough price at the dealer, and you can get a combination of adaptive cruise control, advanced lane keeping, and navigation data that functions nearly as well as Tesla’s Navigate on Autopilot. Activate cruise, and it’ll slow the vehicle for corners, handle stop-and-go traffic, and change lanes when you activate a turn signal. It’ll even display a forward-looking video feed on the infotainment screen and overlaid reminder arrows pointing you into the next waypoint (albeit a bit late in the process).

Sadly, the cumbersome user interface is multilayered and difficult to use. The infotainment screen, at least, is touch sensitive, but the touchpad controllers on the center console and the steering wheel rarely understand your inputs.

Once underway, the GLB rides and drives like a tall sedan, hugging the ground but giving you an elevated view of the road. The suspension rides comfortably while keeping the body reasonably flat in a curve so no one gets thrown around. The steering is responsive and has a nice weight to it without being too heavy. Similarly, the brakes offer plenty of stopping power if you need it, but they aren’t grabby, so it’s easy to stop smoothly.

Its all-wheel-drive system, should you choose to buy it, is invisible to the driver when engaged, which generally only happens if a front wheel loses traction. (You can manually engage it with the Off-Road driving mode.) However, the minimal ground clearance advantage over a sedan means it’s a SUV in name only—don’t bother going off-pavement for fun.

The engine’s 221 horsepower is more than adequate. With a pair of adults on board, the GLB 250 doesn’t feel strained getting up to speed when merging with interstate traffic. Give credit to the new eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which never has a stumble when smoothly picking the proper gear. Compared to the CLA’s seven-speed, the GLB’s transmission is a revelation.

The GLB is let down by the interior noise level, particularly tire and wind noise on the highway, which is excessive for a vehicle wearing a Mercedes badge. Raising your voice to be heard in a German car? Unacceptable.

The good news is Mercedes didn’t let the accountants price this thing. You would have to check almost every box on a GLB to top $50K. But dial back on the over-the-top options, and you have impressive tech and luxury for the price of a loaded mainstream-brand compact SUV. With more customers prioritizing panache over capacity, the GLB makes a lot of sense.

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