Mercedes-Benz made its reputation as a purveyor of luxury sedans but now has shifted gears to an A-to-Z SUV strategy. Well, actually, A-to-G.
This latest entrant is the comfortable and competent 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB. This new SUV slots between the entry-level GLA small crossover and the nicely appointed GLC.
But it has a twist. Mercedes is equipping the GLB with an optional third row. That makes the new GLB the least expensive and smallest luxury crossover offering seven seats. Although it’s a tight squeeze for anyone less than a small teenager, the option is seen by the German automaker as capable of attracting family buyers who want a small SUV adorned with the Mercedes star.
There’s no doubt that the German automaker’s bigger SUVs, the GLE and the GLS, are far more comfortable – and far more expensive – people movers. Mercedes understands that. Its strategy is to offer an SUV for any stage of a buyer’s life. The GLA and GLB will get buyers into the brand. As their income and families grow, they will gravitate to the larger, more expensive vehicles. Mercedes wants to develop lifelong customers.
It needs lots of SUV offerings because the sedan business is declining. About 70 percent of new vehicle sales in the U.S. are SUVs and pickup trucks.
One of the GLB’s biggest attractions is its $36,600 starting price – plus a $995 delivery charge. That’s for the front-wheel-drive model and doesn’t include the third row. The third row adds $850. But altogether that’s about $20,000 less than a comparably equipped GLE. Don ‘t even ask about the GLS.
With any options and all-wheel-drive, the GLB quickly climbs into the mid-$40,000 range. But Mercedes’ other vehicle prices rise at a similar rate. This is a luxury brand. If you are going to play, be prepared to pay. That’s why shoppers need to ask themselves how much the premium interior, smart styling and prestige of a Mercedes is worth.
The $40,000-plus range buys a ton in a mainstream brand. Toyota, for example, is just releasing its 2020 Highlander. That is a far bigger vehicle with a larger third row and a standard automated driver assistance and safety suite equal to the Mercedes system. The new Ford Explorer, Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade also make great midsize, three-row SUV offerings in the same price range.
But if it is luxury you want, and you don’t mind a smaller vehicle in either the five- or seven-passenger configuration, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB is worth a look.
SIZE AND STYLING
The GLB has an overall length of 182.4 inches, about 8 inches longer than its GLA sibling. It has a wheelbase of 111.4 inches, 5 inches longer than the GLA. It also compares well to the more expensive GLC. Its overall length is just 1 inch shorter, its wheelbase less than 2 inches smaller. It has the upright, two-box design that consumers like. It features a 90-degree, rather than sloping, windshield. That provides extra interior room over the sporty, coupe-like design of many crossovers.
The SUV has 41 inches of headroom for front passengers. The long wheelbase provides 38 inches of legroom for second-row occupants. There are 62 cubic feet of cargo space in the five-seat configuration with the rear seats folded.
Mercedes designers gave the GLB a rugged off-road design. The all-wheel-drive variant comes with an off-road engineering package for more adventurous customers.
POWERTRAIN AND MPG
The GLB has a sweet 2-liter, four-cylinder engine. It produces up to 221 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It is mated to an eight-speed, dual-clutch transmission. The 0-to-60 acceleration time is 6.9 seconds. The GLB has a top speed of 130 mph.
All of this proved more than adequate in several hundred miles of driving on the highways and in the mountains of northern Arizona. The GLB easily passes big rigs on mountain passes.
The EPA rates the front-wheel-drive model at 23 mpg in city driving, 30 on the highway and 26 combined. The all-wheel-drive GLB gets slightly better mpg – 31 – in highway driving.
It comes standard with 18-inch wheels matched to run-flat all-season tires.
The 2020 GLB comes standard with the automaker’s new-generation Mercedes-Benz User Experience, or MBUX, infotainment system. It is one of the better systems in the business because the speech recognition works. It also can discern whether the driver or the front passenger is giving the commands. The system uses “Hey Mercedes” as its wake phrase, which means you have to be careful to not talk about the car unless you are providing a command. Saying a phrase like, “I really like my Mercedes” triggers an inquiry from the system. The vehicle also comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
There are a 7-inch digital instrument cluster and a 7-inch touch screen multimedia display. Those grow to 10.25 inches with the optional premium package. That makes for a seamless horizontal display across the left two-thirds of the dashboard. It’s one of the options buyers should consider. The package includes blind-spot alert, keyless entry and power folding mirrors.
Mercedes has equipped the GLB with a modest standard driver’s assistance and safety package. It has cruise control and automatic emergency braking. An attention-assist system warns drivers who are acting drowsy.
An optional driver assistance package adds more features, allowing the vehicle to drive itself partially with attention from the driver.
The Driver Assistance Package includes an adaptive cruise control system that can
automatically adjust your set speed for traffic ahead. The package has route-based speed adaptation, which slows the GLB in anticipation of curves, junctions, roundabouts, toll booths and exit roads. The active steering assist intervenes to help the driver stay in the
center of the lane on straight roads and slight bends.
The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB is a comfortable vehicle that probably works best in its five-passenger configuration as a true entry-level luxury SUV. Adding the larger screens and driver assistance package drive up the price but are worthwhile technological upgrades.