The verdict: The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB is polished, poised and pretty, but as my kids ask over and over: “Why?”
Versus the competition: In the ever-crowded luxury SUV field, there are a lot of pleasant choices that make it increasingly difficult for any one of them to stand out; for the nice-but-not-extraordinary GLB, its optional third row is the only thing that sets it apart.
The GLB is all-new for 2020, joining a very crowded Mercedes SUV lineup that’s punctuated by more than a couple GL-named vehicles. Following the alphabet, the GLB fits in the tiny slot between the GLA and GLC in size and price, but unlike them it has an optional, two-seat third row and a much boxier shape. The GLA is bigger and boxier for 2021, which will make the models more similar in size. See all three 2020 models compared. What the GLB is not is related to the Mercedes B-Class hatchback, a global vehicle sold only in all-electric form in the U.S. and discontinued here in 2017.
The GLB goes head to head with other similarly sized and priced luxury SUVs, like the Volvo XC60, and could also be compared with larger, more expensive models that offer an optional third row, such as the Land Rover Discovery and Lexus RX; see them compared.
Comfort Over Performance
Overall, the GLB’s road manners are poised and comfortable but missing the sporty character you’d expect given its Mercedes pedigree and athletic styling.
Power from a stop is punchy. The sole engine is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder good for 221 horsepower and 258 pounds-feet of torque. It’s matched with an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic that prefers higher speeds. Around town, shifts are clunky and timing is awkward, but at highway speeds it delivers steady power quickly and seamlessly. Popping it into Sport mode adds even more oomph off the line and firms up steering feel.
A forthcoming AMG version will bump power to 302 hp and add a variety of performance-tuned equipment; the regular version skews more toward comfort than performance. The ride is good, with supple, bump-absorbing suspension tuning, but the handling feels very un-Mercedes. Its large turning circle and significant body lean lend it a lumbering, unsporty feel, especially around corners. My test model was equipped with the optional adaptive suspension ($990), which tightened things up a bit for a slightly crisper, more engaging drive.
It was also equipped with a semi-autonomous driver assistance system that combines radar adaptive cruise control and lane-centering steering. The latter is among the most subtle and gentle systems I’ve tested — as opposed to some others whose lane corrections have more of a ping pong ball-type action.
The system was easy to engage or cancel via the touchscreen multimedia system and was useful, though it falls short of fully-autonomous systems I’ve tested, like Cadillac Super Cruise and BMW’s Extended Traffic Jam Assistant. Unlike these systems, Mercedes’ feature is not designed for complete hands-free operation; it triggers visual and audio alerts if it detects the removal of your hands.
With so many automakers moving away from distracting track pads and controller knobs and toward giant touchscreen multimedia systems, I was leery of the GLB’s touchpad, but it’s just one of many ways the latest version of the Mercedes-Benz User Interface, or MBUX, can be controlled. Other ways include the central touchscreen, steering-wheel controls and the Hey Mercedes! voice activation.
I’m biased toward the touchscreen, which I preferred to use most of the time. A 7.0-inch digital gauge display and 7.0-inch touchscreen (both measured diagonally) come standard; my car was equipped with optional dual 10.25-inch screens that stretched across the top of the dashboard; they looked modern and slick and were intuitive to use, with a few caveats.
The screen itself was responsive but didn’t include every function, so I occasionally had to pivot to the trackpad and its supporting buttons for things like opening the safety systems menu or going back to the home screen.
Overall, the system’s menu structure is straightforward. Inputting a nav destination, for example, was simple, but some functions take more steps than they should, like saving an audio station preset. In comparison, I find Volvo’s system less complicated, but MBUX is definitely easier to figure out than the Lexus or Land Rover systems — the latter is a migraine in the making.
The GLB’s wide screen and large, clear graphics are great for visibility, but here again things get a little weird. Some functions, like the exterior camera and navigation, can be displayed side-by-side on the screen, which is helpful, but this arrangement doesn’t extend to other functions. It’d be helpful to have the screen split between navigation and audio, for example.
I was especially wowed by the optional augmented-video component of the navigation system, which uses a forward-facing camera in tandem with the navigation system to display street names and directions on top of the video image.
There are also plenty of ways to link your phone: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, five USB-C ports and Bluetooth are standard; a wireless charging pad is a $200 option.
Room and Comfort
As expected, the GLB’s cabin delivers all the snazz you’d expect from a luxury vehicle. My car wore an upgraded red and black leather package with red contrast stitching and brushed metal trim; everything looked and felt top-notch. A switchable 64-color ambient lighting package added a pop of color.
In terms of space, it also didn’t disappoint. The front seats are comfortable, with lots of adjustability and cushioning. A low beltline and tall windows mean visibility from the driver’s seat is good.
In back, the second-row seats are firmer but room is still plentiful; they slide 6 inches to manage people and cargo room, as well as open up access to the third row (when equipped). I tested a two-row model, and Mercedes says its second row has 1.2 inches more legroom than the three-row version. At 38.1 inches, the two-row GLB just about matches the second rows of the Land Rover Discovery and Volvo XC60, and it’s much more than the Lexus RX 350L. The GLC offers a similar amount of rear legroom as the GLB. In rear headroom, the GLB offers just a smidge more than its competitors, including the GLC.
The backseat has two sets of lower Latch anchors, exposed for easy access and child-safety-seat attachment. Two car seats fit nicely, though our rear-facing ones required the front seats to be moved up a bit; taller occupants will need more space to be comfortable. Check out our Car Seat Check.
The backseat folds in a 40/20/40 split, more flexible than the usual 60/40 split — especially when hauling long, skinny items — and the cargo area is deep with a usefully wide opening. By the manufacturer’s numbers, a five-seat GLB has 20.1 cubic feet behind the second row and 62.0 cubic feet with the seatbacks folded.. That’s less than the Discovery but more than the RX 350L and XC60. In the three-row version, those figures are 56.7, 24.0 and 5.1 cubic feet behind the first, second and third rows, respectively.
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Safety and Dollars
The 2020 GLB starts at $37,595 in base, front-wheel-drive trim — much less than the larger Land Rover Discovery and Lexus RX 350L and a bit less than the similarly sized Volvo XC60 (all prices include destination). The optional third row is an additional $850. Although its base price is reasonable, options add up quickly if you want (expect?) luxury features like heated and ventilated seats ($1,030), a head-up display ($1,100), blind spot monitoring ($550) or the larger of the two available multimedia screens (bundled in a $2,200 Premium Package).
Active brake assist automatic emergency braking is standard, and optional safety features include adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, lane keep assist with lane change assist, blind spot assist, and a park assist system. Many of them are bundled into the Driver Assistance Package ($2,250) or Parking Assistance Package ($1,090) and are not available as stand-alone options.
The GLB has a decent amount of both pros and cons, but is there a tip-the-scales reason to choose one? The answer lies with the third row. If you’re interested in a small Mercedes SUV with an optional third row, you have one choice: the GLB. If the third row isn’t necessary for you, there are a lot of other pleasant choices in the GLB’s price range.
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