Most subcompact luxury SUVs come across as a bit cynical; built to a price on less sophisticated bones than its pricier, more refined siblings. It sure seems like people buy them cause they can't make the payment on one of those pricier, more refined siblings they really want. With the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLB-Class, however, there is enough that's distinctive, versatile and stylish in its execution that it manages to exceed expectations for the segment and stand more assuredly on its own feet. Segment leader? The Volvo XC40 might give it a run for its money, but it's also different enough, that an argument of 1a and 1b can easily be made.
A big reason for the GLB's transcendent appeal is its extra-large size for the segment and extra-boxy shape. Add in the versatility of a sliding back seat, and you have a subcompact SUV with a midsize SUV's interior space. We were stunned by how much its cargo area could swallow. However, besides the cabin's packaging, its striking design stands out in a segment that often comes across as a bit cheap. The bold rotary air vents and pretty dual-screen infotainment system carry a lot of the weight, but materials quality is better than average for the segment, too. And although the GLB is indeed built to a price on less sophisticated bones than its pricier, more refined GLC sibling, we think it's a dropoff that's more than fair for the price. In fact, we can easily see someone happily choosing a GLB over a GLC just because they like it better, with saving money as a bonus. We can't say the same thing about a BMW X1, Audi Q3 or even the Mercedes GLA 250.
What's new for 2021?
The GLB gets the AMG 35 treatment for 2021, gaining the same 302-horsepower engine and myriad performance upgrades as its AMG GLA 35 sibling (plus the A 35 and CLA 35). It also gets sportier design flourishes, most notably seen in AMG's Panamericana grille. The regular GLB 250 now comes standard with blind-spot warning and a 115-volt power outlet.
What's the GLB-Class interior and in-car technology like?
Mercedes-Benz put quite a bit of thought into the GLB’s interior packaging. It offers lots of clever storage in both the passenger cabin and cargo area, making it more practical than most luxury offerings in this segment (and indeed many others). The GLB’s driving position is excellent, and its front- and second-row seats are comfortable and supportive with plenty of adjustment.
The GLB is on the inexpensive side for a Mercedes-Benz, but the quality of materials and available options are on par or better for expectations at this price point. The fancier options will drive up the price, of course, but even the fundamental components are high-quality and precise.
Every GLB includes the latest iteration of Mercedes-Benz’ MBUX infotainment suite, which is controlled by your choice of a central touchscreen (7 inch standard, 10.25 inch available), center console touchpad, steering wheel controls and natural-language commands. While we like this "have it your way approach" and appreciate this system's rapid responses and pretty graphics, it just isn't easy to use. Having only three icons on the home screen leads to far too much swiping and clicking, many icons are too small and the same color as the background, and there's quite frankly just an overwhelming number of functions to control and settings to change.
How big is the GLB-Class?
The GLB's wheelbase is closer to that of many midsize offerings, and its overall length exceeds that of most competitors. You don't really notice this behind the wheel – still feels pretty small – and this extra length combined with the boxy design results in the GLB being a cargo-hauling rockstar. On paper, Mercedes says the GLB offers 24 cubic feet with the second-row seats up, but in reality, there's actually far more than that (at least when in comparison with its crossover rivals). Its rear load floor can be lowered to accommodate larger items, but even with the floor in its standard position, the GLB can swallow more cargo than crossovers in the bigger, pricier compact segment.
This extra length translates into tons of second-row space, where passengers will find sliding and reclining seats for extra comfort (you don't get those in the mechanically related GLA). The combination of fold-down seatbacks and sliding bases can also be exploited for additional cargo space if the roomy hatch alone will not suffice, making the GLB a versatility rockstar, too.
The GLB also has available third-row seating, which its smaller competitors and even those in the larger compact class lack. We suppose this option doesn't hurt, but these optional rearmost seats just aren't that habitable, even for kids. We'd skip them or get a non-luxury three-row vehicle for the same price.
What are the performance and fuel economy?
The GLB 250 is offered exclusively with a punchy 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder producing 221 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, which is on par for the class. It has an eight-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard and with it, the GLB is rated at 23 mpg city, 31 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined. It's basically the same with the optional 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. Mercedes-Benz says the GLB 250 will do 0-60 in 6.9 seconds. That's respectable for a CUV of this size.
For 2021, the Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 arrives (pictured below). It also has a 2.0-liter turbo, but it's been massaged by AMG to produce 302 hp and 295 lb-ft. The eight-speed DCT and standard 4Matic are AMG variants, too. It'll hit 60 in 5.1 seconds and sounds really cool doing it.
What's the GLB like to drive?
The GLB 250 is more about luxury and comfort than performance. Thanks to its long wheelbase and supple suspension, it delivers in spades for this segment. The optional adaptive suspension will tighten up the handling on demand, but even with that option that we're guessing will rarely show up on dealer lots, the GLB 250 never rises to the level of "fun to drive." That's perfectly OK, though – it doesn't need to be.
The GLB 35 does need to be, and although we have yet to drive it, our experience with the mechanically related AMG GLA 35 would indicate that its slightly bigger and considerably boxier sibling should have nearly the same zest. We at least know that it'll be just as quick and sound just as cool.
As for what's under the hood of the standard GLB 250, the standard four-cylinder provides plenty of punch but does come off a little thrashy compared to what you'll experience in pricier Benz models. Indeed, overall refinement is where the GLB shows its lower price tag. The ride, steering, throttle and transmission response, and driving experience in general are quite simply less sophisticated, but it’s a reduction that's at least commensurate with that price tag and actually not as great as what you'll find missing in the BMW X1, Audi Q3 and others in the segment.
What more can I read about the GLB-Class?
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While we have yet to drive the GLB 35, we have had a go in its smaller, rounder GLA sibling. It comes across more like an extra-large hot hatch than a small crossover. We expect the GLB won't be as sharp to drive, but it'll also be more functional as every GLB-Class is relative the GLA.
What features are available and what's the price?
The GLB 250 starts at $39,295 (including the $1,050 destination charge) and comes with quite a bit of standard equipment, including a power liftgate, heated mirrors, dual-zone climate control, power front seats, driver memory settings, MB-Tex synthetic leather seating, the MBUX infotainment system (with 7-inch central screen), Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration. 4Matic all-wheel drive adds $2,000 to the base price.
While some features (such as integrated navigation) are firewalled behind expensive packages, many of the quality-of-life options are offered à la carte. These include the adaptive suspension ($990), Burmester premium audio system ($850) and wireless device charging with one-touch NFC pairing ($200), among others.
For those who want a sportier look, the AMG Line and Night packages ($3,000 bundled together) deliver just that with sporty bumpers, blacked-out exterior trim, a flat-bottom steering wheel and five-spoke, 19-inch wheels. We will say, however, that to our eyes the AMG Line's lower bumper piece appears to lower the car and therefore creates more of a luxury Scion xB vibe than a small SUV. You can see the design differences in the gallery below.
By definition, the AMG GLB 35 ($50,745) always has this going on. Besides its more powerful engine, it gets AMG-tuned transmission, 4Matic, suspension, steering, brakes and exhaust. You can also outfit it with AMG sport seats and steering wheel, plus other racier-look items.
What are its safety equipment and crash ratings?
Standard safety equipment on the GLB includes forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, blind-spot warning, a driver inattention warning system and a stability control system that reacts to crosswinds.
Second-row side airbags are available as stand-alone options. The Driver Assistance package includes the same substantial array of advanced, well-executed safety tech that's available on much pricier Mercedes models. These include a highly advanced adaptive cruise control system (offers stop-and-go traffic capability, automatic lane changes, highway steering assistance and automatic speed changes based on speed limits), cross-traffic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, evasive steering assistance, and crash preparation technology that activates the seat-belt pretensioners early, and adjusts sound to protect occupants’ ears. There is also a Parking Assistance Package that adds surround view cameras and automatic parking.
The GLB has not been crash-tested by a third party.
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