The majority of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) produced today have some sort of coupe-like styling cues – be it a sloping roofline or large air intakes. Consumers want the “sport” part of an SUV.
So, the Mercedes-Benz GLB comes as a surprise, for it is unabashedly boxy.
The carmaker says that the squarishness improves overall space and practicality. I say that it also makes the GLB unique and attractive. The car bears some resemblance to the G-class, Mercedes’ even boxier true-blue off-roader.
Sitting between the GLA and GLC models, the GLB is Merc’s most compact seven-seater SUV, which means it should be popular with city dwellers with growing families.
The car’s hip point is just right, making ingress and egress as easy as in the B-class hatch. Its cabin is as pretty as the ones in the latest Mercedes models. The test cars here are equipped with a pair of 10.25-inch screens for instrumentation and infotainment.
It also has a voice control system, which is activated by saying “Mercedes”. I did not see the need for it. Apart from it suddenly activating without my prompting, I am also unnerved by the fact that it is always listening. (How else can it be activated at a moment’s notice?)
For practicality, there are generous storage spaces between the front seats and in the door bins, although the ones in the rear doors are rather small.
More useful are the USB-C ports found throughout the cabin, allowing you to charge smartphones on the go. There is also a wireless charging tray for added convenience.
Although fairly compact, the GLB has a class-leading 2,829mm wheelbase – 100mm longer than that of its hatchback sibling.
Mercedes claims that the third row can fit occupants up to 1.68m tall. But I think it is best reserved for children below 1.5m.
In Singapore, the GLB 200 will form the bulk of sales. That variant is powered by a turbocharged 1.33-litre four-cylinder with 163hp and 250Nm. Very road tax-friendly.
But the GLB 200 is not an engaging drive. While the same drivetrain feels fairly urgent in the 1,410kg B-class, it is not in the 1,555kg GLB 200. The B200 does zero-100kmh in 8.2 seconds, but the GLB 200 takes 9.1 seconds. It is bound to feel lazier when fully loaded.
That said, the GLB 200 will suit local conditions, where there is a shortage of winding roads but no lack of congestion.
The GLB 35 AMG 4Matic is a far more exciting and enticing proposition. Its turbocharged 2-litre is good for 306hp and 400Nm. It is also paired to an eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox, the first such application in a compact Mercedes.
Acceleration is brisk, with the century sprint arriving in 5.2 seconds. Of course, the GLB 35’s sportier suspension, lower ride height and greater torsional rigidity also contribute to its driving dynamics.
Where the GLB 200 rolls and sways from left to right when pushed in corners, the AMG model hunkers down and presses on. The 4Matic all-wheel system, which has fully variable torque distribution between front and rear axles, enhances surefootedness.
Yet despite this and its 21-inch wheels, the firm ride is never uncomfortable, even with the dampers in the stiffest setting.
Whether you prefer the plain-vanilla model or hotter AMG one, one thing is clear – the GLB is the queen of the B-class range.
This article was originally published in The Straits Times.