Mercedes-Benz reckons its A B Cs are as easy as a competitor's 1 2 3s, which is why it's adding an all new nameplate to the world's ever-expanding list of premium small SUVs.
What you're looking at here is the GLB, and as the name implies – it's the latest addition to the Deutsche juggernaut's 'compact' family. Mercedes is a little late to the show, though, with its main competitors, Audi and BMW, already offering two small SUVs each.
Not to be outdone, Merc's GLB is a totally different take on the small premium SUV formula, especially since, well, it's not all that small...
Read on to find out what that's about, as well as what we made of the GLB at its international launch.
Mercedes-Benz GLB-Class 2020: BASE
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with? 7/10
We don't know how much the GLB will cost when it comes to Australia, but Mercedes says to expect it to fall in a sensible void between its GLA (currently $44,700 - $94,382) and the GLC ($66,100 - $168,100).
While standard inclusions on the Euro cars as tested here were decent, we expect they will increase for base Australian cars, along with a price hike.
Prices will largely depend on the choice of engine grade and out of the six options available globally, Australians will only be offered three petrol powertrains (Mercedes has decided against bringing the three diesel options to our market, citing a relative lack of demand).
Of course, option packs will transform each car, and there are many of them, but there are some revealing downfalls in the internationally specified cars. LED headlights, lane keep assist, and blind spot monitoring are part of an option pack in Europe. We hope these items, or at very least blind spot monitoring, is added to the standard features list for Australia.
Is there anything interesting about its design? 8/10
The GLB is ugly... in a good way. I think so, anyway. It shuns the slick lines of the GLC, and Benz sedan family in favour of something unusual.
You'll notice straight away the chunky lines and upright front and rear fascias of the GLB, along with its light fittings that are wrong, but also right?
Then there's the shutline of the bonnet which rides across the top, creating a distinct off-set line, which is rudely interrupted by a jutting bit of chrome over the rear wheel arch.
The cabin is generally well refined. (GLB 35 AMG variant pictured)
Up front is upright, but comfortable in all grades. (GLB 35 variant pictured)
It's almost so intentionally jarring that it feels like it's meant to conjure up visions of a mini G-Class. Benz says many of these design elements were internally dubbed 'squircles' due to their blending of angles and curves.
There's a lot to look at, and admittedly I wasn't initially a fan, but like many new design languages, you have to see it in the metal to appreciate it. I found it only became more endearing with time.
Just like the rest of the Benz compact vehicle family, the GLB has a new interior full of screens and round design elements. If you're a fan of the A-Class' interior you'll be a fan of this, too, although the GLB even ups the quality with some genuinely nice materials strewn about the place.
The GLB 35 rides the best, with its ridiculous wheels overcompensated for by impressive active dampers.
The position of the wheels also helps prevent the GLB from feeling too nose happy. (GLB 250 variant pictured)
Special attention was paid to things like the little tubular metal fittings in the dash and doors, meant to represent grab handles and the LED lighting on higher spec cars reflected inside the air vents is always one of those wow factor items.
The dual 10.25-inch screen set-up is controversial. Some will love it, some will be begging for a set of analog dials.
Once you've adjusted to it though, it's relatively easy to use – with a couple of caveats we'll explore in the practicality section.
How practical is the space inside? 9/10
The GLB's thematic purpose in the Benz family is to be the practical option to the upcoming GLA's 'sportiness' and larger GLC's luxury. Although it's not that much smaller than the GLC, the GLB is packaged in a radically different way.
For one, it can be had as a seven-seater, and at this size there's not much that can compete in the luxury space. Again, that makes its closest rival the Land Rover Discovery Sport which is dimensionally similar and also offered with seven seats.
Audi and BMW don't quite have anything like it (despite fielding a Q2 and Q3 or X1 and X2 respectively... ), and that could well be the GLB's master stroke. It almost fills its own niche. Mercedes is heavy on the idea that this will be the perfect SUV in its line-up for growing families.
The GLB is a bit of a practicality wizard, too, able to make use of a huge 500-litre boot with the rear seats stowed. (GLB 35 variant pictured)
Or 570 litres as a five-seater. (GLB 35 variant pictured)
Like those VW group rivals, the GLB is a bit of a practicality wizard, too, able to make use of a huge 500-litre boot with the rear seats stowed, or 570 litres as a five-seater.
The second row is on rails, so you can either max legroom or max boot space respectively. I was genuinely surprised with how spacious the third row is.
The packaging is brilliant, I can fit in there, not only with my head completely upright (just touching the roof), but also with actual knee room! The second row seats are also designed as such that your feet can tuck under them, so you don't feel squashed.
Even with another adult in the rear row it's wide enough to not cause problems.
Keep in mind though, with all three rows deployed you'll almost be sacrificing 100 per cent of that massive boot. I couldn't even fit a basic duffel bag in the shelf of space left over.
The second row offers simply heaps of legroom for passengers, even with adults in the third row, and it's surprisingly wide and deep. I found the panoramic sunroof, fitted to some launch cars, ate into the headroom, although it was still more than enough.
The second row offers simply heaps of legroom for passengers, even with adults in the third row. (GLB 35 variant pictured)
I was genuinely surprised with how spacious the third row is. (GLB 35 variant pictured)
Up front is upright, but comfortable in all grades, with the GLA 35 having the most comfortable seats, by far. There are a few trenches strewn about the place, decent cupholders and a centre console box which hosts USB ports.
Trim quality was a notch above the A- and B-Class across the dash, mainly thanks the the choice of materials in the GLB's design.
I do have a few minor issues with visibility though. The A-pillar is upright and, at times, takes up too much of your line-of-sight, especially when approaching corners.
In my seating position, the top of the steering wheel obscures bits of the digital dash, and vision out the back was okay but not stellar thanks to the GLB's almost flat rear window.
Benz' digital dash suite is capable of almost everything that Audi's benchmark 'Virtual Cockpit' does, although using it is a bit awkward, with many sub menus and odd touchpads for flicking through them on the steering wheel.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission? 8/10
We'll only address the petrols as they are the only units destined for our market. The entry-level car is the GLB 200 which has Mercedes' familiar 1.3-litre four-cylinder turbo engine (120kW/250Nm) shared across the A- and B-Class, as well as various Renault models. In this case it's mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
Powered again by a 2.0-litre engine, the AMG-tuned GLB ups the ante to 225kW/400Nm. (GLB 35 AMG variant pictured)
Next up is the GLB 250. The 250 is a 2.0-litre engine with significantly higher outputs (165kW/350Nm). It is offered only with Benz' '4Matic' all-wheel drive. It is offered with an eight-speed dual-clutch auto only.
Then there's the star of the petrol-powered show, the GLB 35 AMG. Powered again by a 2.0-litre engine, the AMG-tuned GLB ups the ante to 225kW/400Nm. It is offered with an AMG tuned eight-speed auto, and adds the 'Sport +' drive mode.
How much fuel does it consume? 8/10
Fuel consumption figures are as varied as the engine choices, the base GLB 200 will consume 6.2L/100km on the combined cycle, while the GLB 250 adds more than a litre to that number at 7.4L/100km, and despite its performance focus, the GLB 35 will supposedly do 7.6L/100km on the combined cycle.
Real-world figures will have to wait until we get our hands on Aussie-spec GLBs to do a fair week-long test. Stay tuned for that.
It is yet to be confirmed, but we'd be surprised if the GLB required anything less than 95RON mid-grade unleaded petrol.
What's it like to drive? 8/10
Driving the GLB was surprising. It's comfortable! It doesn't seem to matter which grade you pick, either. In fact, the GLB 35 rides the best, with its ridiculous wheels overcompensated for by impressive active dampers.
Families will love the plush seats and ultra-compliant ride. Some Benz magic must have gone into the suspension calibration, but we think the ride is also helped along by the long wheelbase.
The position of the wheels also helps prevent the GLB from feeling too nose happy. You don't feel at risk of understeer at all, and this is probably due to the fact that the front wheels are actually quite far ahead of the A-pillar.
In terms of handling, the GLB is great. The steering is light, but direct in Comfort mode. Sport mode is more of a mixed bag, with the wheel feeling a bit too artificially heavy. In 'Individual' mode you can set it up to have the suspension and transmission set to Sport, with the Comfort steering.
Driving the GLB was surprising. It’s comfortable! It doesn’t seem to matter which grade you pick, either. (GLB 35 variant pictured)
Obviously the GLB 35 is a hoot in terms of power available. It's fun, if a little silly. I was surprised how sedate the exhaust is, even in Sport +, a show-pony the GLB 35 is not.
That goes for all grades, too. The cabin is generally well refined.
The 250 is the right car for most drivers, with plenty of power on tap, and a reasonably smart eight-speed dual-clutch. This transmission's major drawback was how annoying it was in Sport mode, sticking in gear and revving the engine out unnecessarily.
Surprisingly, we also had the chance to sample the base model 200. This car rode just as well as its higher-spec counterparts, and it was just as quiet, too, but the 1.3-engine took a long time to get to its sweet spot.
Families will love the plush seats and ultra-compliant ride. (GLB 250 variant pictured)
The extra weight of the GLB over the A-Class and B-Class was evident, and the seven-speed auto seems a little less intelligent and slick-shifting than the eight-speed on the other two grades.
There was a long waiting time for peak torque, meaning foot to the floor for several seconds before anything really happened.
That having been said, the 200 is still an attractive option to cut the cost of a GLB for someone who will mainly use it for city or urban driving.
Which leads to one of the GLBs drawbacks – it doesn't feel like a 'small' SUV behind the wheel. You feel every last bit of its dimensions when negotiating a three-point turn with its almost 12-metre turning radius or trying to navigate tight city streets.
Overall though, the GLB offered a surprisingly comfortable, quiet and even entertaining drive experience for an SUV.
The 250 is the right car for most drivers, with plenty of power on tap, and a reasonably smart eight-speed dual-clutch. (GLB 250 variant pictured)
Warranty & Safety Rating
3 years / unlimited km
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 7/10
Thanks to those kooky Germans and their love for high-speed freeways, every GLB will ship with high-speed auto emergency braking with standard pedestrian and cyclist detection.
It also gets lane departure warning (delivered by vibration through the steering) and a limited version of lane keep assist that works on solid lines and helps swerve away from oncoming vehicles.
Additionally via an option pack on the Euro cars we tested is 'Pre-Safe Plus' which adds blind spot monitoring, improved lane keep assist with lane change assist, and a system which uses a rear radar to detect incoming collisions and lessens the risk of whiplash.
ISOFIX and top-tether chid seat mounting points are available on both the outboard seats in the second row, and in the third row in seven-seat variants. (GLB 250 variant pictured)
We don't know what will be on Australian-specified cars yet, so stay tuned for an update.
The GLB has a total of six airbags, and in case you're wondering, the GLB's side curtain airbags are capable of protecting even the third row.
ISOFIX and top-tether chid seat mounting points are available on both the outboard seats in the second row, and in the third row in seven-seat variants – for a total of four child seat ready positions.
We'll have to wait and see what ANCAP rating the GLB scores (with standard safety equipment for this market to be confirmed), although it already wears a maximum five star Euro NCAP rating.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 7/10
Like Audi and BMW, Mercedes persists with a three-year/unlimited km warranty. If you believe BMW, they say consumers in this price bracket don't expect longer warranties, but it would be nice, no?
The first German to do it will win a distinct advantage, but for now the GLB's warranty promise is par for the course.
Service pricing has not been plotted out for the GLB in our market yet but expect to be able to package in several years at a fixed price on finance, as you can on other Benz vehicles.
The GLB is set to mix up the Australian premium small SUV landscape by launching something a little different to most of its competitors. It's bold and interesting to look at, which is a good sign for a brand that's spent the last few years going to great pains to homogenise the styling of its main models.
Importantly, it manages to look interesting and drive well, while living up to an ambitious practicality promise.
Whether consumers warm to it or not will largely depend on its standard specs in Australia, so stay tuned closer to its second quarter 2020 launch to see exactly how competitive Benz can make its not-so-small small-SUV...
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.