The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB 250. It slips up to seven seats in a wagon body that rides on the same mechanical goodies that spawn the CLA AMG 35. It applies a thick layer of digital screens and voice recognition and save-your-ass safety stuff, and polishes it all with the promise of an AMG model of its own.
That boxiness is certainly on trend at the moment, as can be seen in vehicles like the XC40, Kia Telluride and Mercedes’ own G-Class. There’s something charming about the little Benz box, although from certain angles (higher ones) and in certain configurations (the AMG Sport package), it can look a bit slammed, like a Kia Soul donning a fancy suit. The all-wheel-drive Mercedes GLB 250 4Matic includes an Off-Road Engineering package and a smidge more ground clearance that makes a subtle SUVish visual difference, but it doesn’t go far enough. Even if just for aesthetic purposes, it would be nice if there was a variant that’s even higher off the ground and more of a mini G-Wagen. A Jeep Renegade Trailhawk donning a fancy suit, if you will.
The GLB’s substantial and chunky style owes more to the big GLS than any of its other stablemates. The upright grille has similar proportions, and so do the boxed-in LED headlights. The GLB doesn’t have the spunky proportions of a GLA or the suave curves of a GLC either. The lightly played homage to vintage SUVs works down the GLB’s sides, where a slight upkick in the shoulder line leads to an unadorned rear end that could from a VW Tiguan. Its plainness is a virtue, but the GLB 250 can be dressed up with AMG Line or Night appearance packages, with the usual wheel-and-tire upgrades.
The GLB cockpit replicates the best of the G-Class and GLS-Class, with a band of metallic trim across its horizon and flags of wood or metallic trim in the doors. Big, round vents and twin digital displays wear glitzy finishes but ultimately look pared-down and straightforward. Base cars have 7.0-inch screens for the driver and the center stack, while upgraded GLBs go with dual 10.3-inch screens that dazzle with vibrant colors that match the available ambient lighting. Benz lets you choose the color you want to pipe into the GLB, whether your taste levels range from soft white to stripper-heel pink.
Regardless of drivetrain, every GLB 250 relies on the same turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four for motivation. With 221 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, the little four-pot pairs with an eight-speed automatic transmission to move the crossover reasonably swiftly. Mercedes claims both front- and all-wheel-drive models get to 60 miles per hour in 6.9 seconds, while the Environmental Protection Agency reports all GLB’s return fuel economy figures of 23 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg combined. Interestingly, the all-wheel-drive model’s 31 mpg highway rating betters the front-drive GLB’s 30 mpg figure.
With its peak torque available from 1,800 rpm and little lag from the turbocharger, the GLB 250 motors off the line with reassuring pull. Front-drive models even suffer from some wheel spin when accelerating at wide-open-throttle from a standstill. At highway speeds, however, the crossover feels more burdened. Acceleration at these velocities requires some planning, as the dual-clutch gearbox momentarily hesitates before downshifting and zinging the engine’s crankshaft toward its 5,500 rpm power peak.
In most situations, though, the eight-speed transmission proves an apt-enough companion to the forced induction engine. It swaps cogs quickly and innocuously. Meanwhile, manual control of the gearbox comes courtesy of a standard set of steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
The turbo-4 does two things just fine: It can scoot to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds with all-wheel drive and a top speed of 130 mph, according to Mercedes, and can sip fuel at a 30-mpg highway rate—again, according to Benz.
Like other Mercedes models, the GLB welcomes the brand’s latest infotainment system to its cabin. Known as the Mercedes-Benz User Experience, or MBUX, the setup allows users to interact with it by way of a console-mounted touchpad, steering wheel controls, a dash-mounted touchscreen, or voice command via a personal assistant, the latter of which works by saying the phrases “Mercedes” or “Hey Mercedes.” Unfortunately, the personal assistant function of the system remains more irksome than helpful, and it regularly interrupts conversations when it hears the very utterance of a word that sounds similar to “Mercedes” (at one point MBUX responded to the mention of the band “AC/DC”).
The front-wheel-drive Mercedes-Benz GLB 250 starts at $37,595, including $995 for destination, while the GLB 250 4Matic goes for $39,595. That’s more than both the X1 ($36,195) and Q3 ($35,695), and while the GLB at least has more standard equipment than the BMW (LED headlights, driver inattention monitoring, sliding and reclining back seat, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay), it has less than the Audi Q3 (which gets leather upholstery, heated front seats and a panoramic sunroof standard).