Mercedes-Benz improves on the small, two-box CUV.
What’s in the box? Well, if the proverbial box is the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB 250, then the answer is seating for up to seven. That’s right, the three-pointed star’s second-smallest crossover offers an optional third row of seats.
Slotting between the 8.5-inch shorter GLA 250 and the 1.4-inch longer GLC 300, the GLB 250 has its sights set on the likes of the BMW X1 and Land Rover Discovery Sport, the latter of which is also available with a vestigial third row. Of course, Mercedes only brought two-row GLBs to its drive event in Arizona, which saw us travel more than 300 miles from Scottsdale to Sedona and back.
None too surprising, really, given the GLB’s rearmost row’s 29.1 inches of legroom makes the C-Class Coupe’s 32.0 inches of rear-seat legroom feel like an S-Class by comparison. Chances are that if Mercedes did bring a seven-seat GLB to Arizona, the media members in attendance would simply complain about the $850 option’s cramped quarters.
Playing It Safe
Sure, the German brand chose the coward’s way out by not offering us the chance to play with one of the GLB’s most hyped features, but the truth is, the Mercedes crossover’s third-row is largely ornamental. It’s a nice option for consumers who want the ability to carry seven on occasion. Those who semi-regularly require a third-row of seats, though, ought to look at something with more space such as a minivan or mid- or full-size crossover or SUV.
The GLB’s second-row is arguably its magnum opus, anyway. With up to 38.1 inches of rear legroom, the three-across rear bench betters the stretch-out space of the bigger GLC by almost an inch. It also offers 6.0 inches of longitudinal travel, which affords more legroom to those in the available third-row seats or more space for cargo in the 20.0-cubic-foot hold that lives behind the five-passenger model’s back seats (Mercedes didn’t provide cargo figures for the three-row GLB). Fold the 40/20/40-split second-row seatbacks, and cargo space grows to 62.0 cubes – 6.4 and 5.5 more than the two-row Discovery Sport and pricier GLC, respectively.
Forgoing the GLB’s rearmost row also avoids adding more than 120 pounds of fat to the GLB, which weighs 3,638 pounds in front-drive form. Drop $2,000 for all-wheel-drive – 4Matic in Mercedes parlance – and the five-seat crossover tips the scales at 3,759 pounds.
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.
Come For The Comfort, Stay For The Tech
Engaging driving dynamics, however, are not the GLB’s forte, and the crossover’s $990 worth of adaptive dampers give it a cushy ride that coddles its passengers over rough tarmac and exacerbates body roll through twists and turns – even on $1,050 worth of 20-inch wheels wrapped in low-profile Bridgestone Alenza 001 tires. Switching to Sport mode stiffens the dampers and better controls the crossover’s body motions (it also alters the default front-to-rear power-split from 80-20 to 70-30 on all-wheel-drive models), but it does so at the expense of ride quality.
Frankly, there’s no need to swap to Sport mode. The GLB is unapologetically anodyne and Sport only calls attention to the crossover’s somewhat squishy brake pedal and numb – albeit light and direct – steering; attributes that feel perfectly in character with the boxy Benz in its default Comfort mode.
Frankly, there’s no need to swap to Sport mode.
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”).
Although a 7.0-inch dash-mounted touchscreen and 7.0-inch digital gauge cluster are standard, opting for the $2,200 Premium package replaces both with larger 10.3-inch units that feature crisp and clear graphics, but somewhat confusing menus that often require multiple steps to access simple functions. The package also adds a proximity key, hands-free activation to the standard power liftgate, auto-dimming and power-folding exterior mirrors, and a blind-spot monitor that complements the standard automatic front-braking system.
Another $1,150 nets an in-dash navigation system, which works with the optional adaptive cruise control (part of the $2,250 Driver Assistance package that also includes lane centering, lane-keep assist, and automatic lane-change functionality) to adjust the GLB’s speed in anticipation of GPS-mapped obstacles and turns. The feature works better in theory than in practice, and the GLB often shed far too much speed as it approached curves on the highway portions of our route.
Clearly, it’s quite simple to option a GLB 250 well past its $36,600 base price, and adding too much equipment to the model easily puts its value into question. Go light on extras, though, and the GLB 250 emerges as a comfortable and surprisingly spacious small crossover that offers the optional ability to ferry up to seven people in a pinch.