The Mercedes GLB delivers to the market the first properly practical mid-sized SUV from the Three-Pointed Star. There's enough room for seven seats, enough capability for light off road excursions and enough of a premium feel to make other class rivals feel rather low rent. In short, it's a potentially appealing package. Especially in this updated form.
So, the GLB: yet another Mercedes SUV. But this one, launched back in 2019, has a little more substance than its compact stablemates. The GLA suits only quite small families and the GLC is too expensive for larger ones - and can't be ordered with the third seating row that many of them need. In the same way that at the top of the Stuttgart brand's SUV range, the G-Class offers a practical alternative to a GLE, such is the role of a GLB against a GLA or a GLC. Still with me? If you are, then you'll be interested in the way that Mercedes wants to use this car to address a growing niche on the mid-sized family SUV class, that for seven seats. The VW Group currently does quite well here with ones like the Skoda Kodiaq, the SEAT Tarraco and the VW Tiguan Allspace. The Koreans provide the Hyundai Santa Fe and the Sorento, plus there's the 7-seat Nissan X-Trail and SsangYong Rexton models. There have to be buyers in that sub-sector who'd like a premium badge. The GLB, only now offered in 7-seat form, caters directly to them and aims to do so more effectively in this lightly updated form.
Pretty much all the engineering in play here was originally developed for frugal family hatchbacks, not go-anywhere Gelandewagens. Still, it's reassuring to know that it's been evolved a bit for this GLB, a longer wheelbase combined with a wider track and a stiffer body. Plus the raised suspension is of the sophisticated rear multi-link kind that only the most expensive and powerful versions Mercedes smaller models normally tend to get. All of which helps to mitigate the roly-poly handling that you might normally expect a relatively compact, tall boxy SUV to deliver. We're a bit less impressed with the ride, which can't be embellished with the adaptive damping system available in other markets. The GLB offers the same engine and powertrain combinations that you'll find in other compact Mercedes models. Which in this revised model means plenty of in-built electrification. All the mainstream petrol engines now come with the brand's 48V mild hybrid system including the usual MHEV belt-driven starter-generator: that'll give you a 13hp boost when moving off. There are now only three mainstream engines, all of them four cylinder units driving the front wheels. As before, the powerplant portfolio kicks off with the GLB 200, which uses a 163hp 1.4-litre petrol powerplant mated to 7-speed 7G-DCT auto transmission. The alternative is the GLB 200 d, which uses a 2.0-litre diesel powerplant in a 150hp state of tune and must be had with 8-speed 8G-DCT auto transmission. If you want AWD, the same 2.0-litre diesel engine also features in the 190hp GLB 220 d 4MATIC. With that 4MATIC set-up, you get an 'Off-road Package'. This gives you hill start and descent assistance, LED Multibeam headlights and an extra off-road driving mode called Downhill Speed Regulation which includes a special infotainment display showing gradient, technical settings and your various incline angles. As before, at the top of the range, there's also a performance-orientated Mercedes-AMG GLB variant, using engineering we've already seen in the A-Class. The GLB 35 4MATIC now gains the 48V mild hybrid system and offers a 306hp 2.0-litre petrol turbo engine mated to AMG SPEEDSHIFT DCT 8G dual-clutch auto transmission. Power comes through an 8-speed AMG SPEEDSHIFT DCT 8G dual-clutch auto gearbox with a race start function. Plus there's an AMG Dynamic Select driving modes system that as well as the three modes featured in other GLBs ('Comfort', 'Sport' and 'Individual') also features two further ones ('Slippery' and 'Sport+').
The look of the GLB draws inspiration from Mercedes' grand 'G-Class' 'Gelandewagen' - which you need to know because otherwise, you might wonder why it's quite so squarical and van-like. Even Designer Robert Lesnik describes it as 'a box with rounded edges'. The dimensions are a little confusing too, this car actually being almost the same size as the GLC model it supposedly sits beneath in the Mercedes SUV line-up; this GLB's 4.63m length sees it measuring in only 21mm shorter than a GLC - and it's actually 18mm taller than that car. Changes to this revised version include a revised front bumper feauturing larger openings and body-coloured inserts. The LED headlamps and tail lights are also revised - and feature fresh lighting signatures. Wheel sizes range from 17 to 20-inches. Inside buyers get much the same 'widescreen cockpit' instrument layout as you'll find on all the company's modern compact models. And it's now controlled by an updated version of the brand's MBUX voice-activated interface, which sees a 10.25-inch central screen paired with a driver information display for the virtual gauges also of 10.25-inches in size. All this hardware integrates into a rather unusually shaped dashboard, this one with an aluminium-look 'tubular' lower element. And this updated model gets a redesigned steering wheel with touch-sensitive controls. In the second row, the boxy shape contributes towards quite a spacious feel. And if you're going for a GLB with 7 seats, you'll get an easy-entry feature to reach them. As for the boot space, well there's 560-litres of it in the 5-seat model, which to give you some perspective is 140-litres more than you'd get in an Audi Q5. And you can expand that by flattening the 40:20:40-split backrest to free up 1,755-litres. The third row pews fold flat into the floor when not in use.
Pricing starts at around £40,000 and there are three trim levels - 'AMG Line Executive', 'AMG Line Premium' and 'AMG Line Premium Plus Night Edition', with prices in the mainstream range rising up to around £48,500. Across the range you have to have seven seats. Think in terms of around £53,500 for the top high performance Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 4MATIC variant, only offered with top 'Premium Plus' trim. All mainstream models are well equipped. Even entry-level 'AMG Line Executive' variants come as standard with 19-inch five-spoke AMG alloy wheels, aluminium roof rails, LED High Performance headlights, the 'Dynamic Select' driving mode system, rear privacy glass and LED tail lights. Plus across the range all variants get a 10.25-inch central touchscreen with a MBUX multimedia system featuring 'Hey Mercedes' voice activation. There's a 10.25-inch instrument cluster screen too. The cabin also features ARTICO man-made leather upholstery, a wireless 'phone charging mat, a 180-degree reversing camera, two-zone Thermotronic climate control and heated front seats. Safety stuff includes Active Brake Assist, Attention Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist and Speed Limit Assist. This improved GLB is of course very well connected. Navigation functions, for example, can be based on traffic feedback from so-called 'Car-to-X communication' where information gets fed in from other similarly-equipped road users. As usual, there's a dowloadable 'Mercedes Me' app that connects you into your car and can tell you things like local fuel prices or the availability of parking spaces at your destination.
The engines used here deliver decent returns in other Mercedes compact models, so we'd expected the same from the GLB - which is broadly how it turns out. The base petrol GLB 200 manages a 39.2mpg WLTP-rated combined cycle reading, plus a 163g/km WLTP-rated CO2 emissions reading (BiK 37%). For the GLB 200 d diesel, the figures are up to 50.4mpg and 149g/km (BiK 34%). The GLB 220d 4MATIC diesel manages 47.9mpg and 156g/km of CO2 (BiK 36%). The Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 4MATIC manages 31.0mpg and 206g/km (BiK 37%). As you'd expect, the Mercedes after-care package is comprehensive, with a three-year unlimited mileage warranty that's matches BMW. This is built upon by Mercedes' Mobilo scheme which delivers breakdown cover for up to thirty years, as long as you continue to have your car serviced at a Mercedes main dealer. Ah yes, maintenance. As usual with one of the Stuttgart brand's models, there's an ASSYST PLUS dashboard service indicator that monitors engine use and tells you exactly when a garage visit is due. Fixed price servicing is available across the range and most buyers opt for the Mercedes ServiceCare plan that could cost you as little as about £28 a month based either on a two-service/two year deal, three years with three services or four years with four services.
At first glance, you might think the GLB an unnecessary member of the Mercedes SUV line-up. After looking closely at what it has to offer, we've ended up concluding that going forward, it's likely to be a vital part of it. Prior to the launch of this model, the brand had never before offered a car in this class that was really practical for a growing family, yet reasonably affordable. This is it. Are there issues? Well probably, you could pay slightly less and get a slightly bigger seven-seat SUV in this class from a volume brand but after trying a GLB, we think you may not want to. It has a premium, desirable feel that cars like SEAT's Tarraco, Skoda's Kodiaq, Hyundai's Santa Fe and even Volkswagen's Tiguan Allspace struggle to match. And the interior technology of those cars seems rather yesteryear compared to the cabin media tech on offer here. You probably won't have started off wanting a GLB in this class. But take a look at one and, if you're prepared to pay a slight premium, you could find it a difficult package to overlook.