This is Mercedes-Benz’s next Singaporean hit: A less-expensive SUV with a decent drive, boxy-cool styling, near true seven seat capability, and a whole lot of room
Photos: Mercedes-Benz, Derryn Wong
The Mercedes-Benz GLB is a small, seven-seat SUV.
That sentence almost self-explains why we think there’s very little to stop it from being a huge hit in Singapore in 2020 because: 1. SUV’s are still very popular and a significantly expanding segment. 2. Mercedes-Benz is still the strongest luxury brand of them all.
3. For one-car-does-it-all-Singapore, the appeal of a seven-seater is undeniable.
Before reading the rest of this review you might want to check out our news story first, which covers the variants on sale in Singapore, when it’ll come to us, and how much it might cost.
We admit to having some concerns about the GLB before the drive. Small Mercedes-Benzes are selling like hotcakes (they now account for a quarter of its global sales) and while they look nice inside and out, they often lack the ‘Big Mercedes’ sparkle and refinement, and feel like mainstream European cars in a premium skin (which is essentially what they are but that’s another story altogether).
WATCH MORE: Here’s our video review of the GLB 200 and the AMG GLB 35. We explain what the differences are between the two cars, a tour of the interior of the GLB 200 and its seven seats, then bring them both out on the road.
Take the MFA platform, stretch the hell out of it, slap on boxy styling and add weight – honestly that sounds like a recipe for something that drives worse than a humble multi-purpose vehicle (MPV).
But on the road in Malaga, the GLB has managed to assuage most of the concerns we had. So if you’re sold on the concept of the GLB, it’s safe to say this might be a dream come true for some Singaporean buyers looking to switch away from a dowdy MPV and get in with the cool crossover crowd.
In person, the GLB has a strong presence that’s unique too. It’s unabashedly boxy – exterior designer Mark Fetherston describes it as a combination of the GLS (the biggest Mercedes SUV, also a seven seater) and the off-road icon, the G-Wagen.
As mentioned in our launch news story, the GLB is the biggest of the small Mercedes family, with the wheelbase stretched to 2.83-metres, and despite the ‘small’ tag, it’s actually as big as a GLC.
The upright, boxy shape with small overhangs increases interior space and gives a sense of utility, he says, and he even goes as far as describing it as ‘unabashedly Tonka Toy-esque in its design’.
That would be bad if Mercedes didn’t hold up the quality side of things, but it has. So refreshingly the GLB doesn’t have any of the ‘trying to be a coupe’ nonsense going on, which is something buyers who like their cars to make a strong, clear statement will appreciate. We’ve said it before : A car that tries to do too much simultaneously often ends up face-planting rather than name-taking.
The GLB we drove will be close to the Progressive model that’s likely to be offered in Singapore – the AMG Line adds the usual bodykit/wheels/interior touches (again, see our news rundown for more info on the key differences).
These cars have done well on European test drives where the road surfaces are typically well kept, but have fared less well in Singapore where the entire island seems to have become a torture test for car suspension.
With that in mind while driving Spain’s lovely roads, we guided the GLB 200 towards potholes, ruts and bad roads wherever we could see them, and the result surprised us: Even on 19-inch wheels, the car shrugged off most of the bad stuff, and there were no cabin-resounding thumps or crashes, even with the adaptive suspension in sport mode. That will likely translate to decent comfort back in Singapore.
The big windows and tall stance spelt for noticeable wind and tyre noise, but it’s worth mentioning that – refined CLA four-door coupe aside – it’s on par with the rest of the Mercedes small car lineup in refinement terms. And mentioning the rest of the family, the 1.33-litre turbocharged engine isn’t outstanding, and still sounds very appliance-like under the GLB’s bonnet as it does everywhere else.
As the biggest of the little Mercs and the same size as a GLC, so the the engine’s 163hp with a relatively small 250Nm of torque means progress isn’t particularly rapid and you need to pile on the revs to get a move on.
All-wheel drive (AWD) would have helped for sure, and we even found the GLB 220d with 4Matic AWD to be rather impressive on a short off-road course Mercedes planned, but Singapore’s only all-wheel drive model will be the AMG 35 variant, there are no plans to bring in the GLB 250 4Matic.
But it’s not like you’ll buy this car to pillage B-roads with, obviously (see our following review of the Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 for that sort of thing) but that’s not to say the GLB is unpleasant to drive.
A high seating position delivers excellent forward and rearward visibility, although the thick A-pillars hinder side vision a little.
Sure, it’s heavy (1.8-tonnes, approximately) and tall, and certainly feels it with moments of understeer and plenty of body roll, but that’s the worst of it. It’s the natural feeling for a large, languid SUV and we can heartily accept it rather than a coupe-SUV’s bastardisation of a drive experience that’s neither comfortable nor sporty.
Keep its nature in mind and drive accordingly, and the GLB is the sort of car you grow to enjoy driving, as it doesn’t surprise nor throw up anything unexpected or unpleasant – and it doesn’t lurch wildly into sharp corners too.
The interior is very much similar to its small car brethren – the slick 10.25-inch dual screens span almost the entire cabin, while the air-con vents with their ambient lighting are a lovely touch.
The same MBUX infotainment interface reigns here, with the voice control being actually useful, the touchpad a little fiddly, the touchscreen intuitive but also distracting to use while moving.
Like the its brothers, with the GLB, Mercedes has managed to elevate the interior ambience, technology, and quality so much that you won’t feel like you miss out on much compared to its bigger models.
The GLB should also deliver plenty of practicality too with its ability to seat seven proper adults and an adjustable second row with 40/20/40 split-folding.
|Third Row Ain’t Death Row : Taking a closer look at the interior room of the GLB and its ability to seat seven people
The third-row of a seven-seat car is often best reserved for people you don’t like, but the GLB’s spaciousness means you can only do that if they’re built like basketball players – we’re glad to report you can actually fit seven regular-sized adults onboard.
The second row of seats (above) have a large amount of adjustability – you can move them forward by up to 90mm and rearward by 50mm.
Entering the third row is tricky, even with the comfort-access feature where the second row slides forward, but it’s not much different from small MPVs in this respect.
Mercedes says people of up to 1.68-metres can fit in the third row, but we (1.73-metres) could with our usual slouch, hair brushing the headliner.
The second row needs to shift forward a little to fit an adult, but it can be done with a little give-and-take. Just don’t expect to carry a seven-man basketball team – maybe a five-man squad with two normal-sized physiotherapists.
With all seats in play, you only have 150-litres of boot space, which is again the normal state of affairs for small seven-seaters.
With the third row folded down, you have a very decent 500-litres, and with all rear seats folded away it’s a huge 1,680-litres of space for objects of up to 2.66-metres long – plus the tonneau folds away under the parcel shelf.
We honestly expected there to be a lot more ‘buts’ about the cars MPV-rivalling seating capacity, and for it to handle/ ride much worse.
But the GLB has exceeded our expectations with its hip-to-be-square styling, its interior space and flexibility, a comfortable drive experience, and – like the rest of the new, small Mercedes fleet – plenty of interior tech and features.
Its engine still sounds like an appliance, it’s more pleasant than puissant, but on the whole the GLB is an impressive package. While a final drive of the Singapore-spec cars will be the true litmus test, it seems the GLB is indeed the real deal.
Few cars live up to their initial hype in the real world, and even fewer are SUVs, much less those that seat seven people. But the GLB, it seems, is one of them.
Mercedes-Benz GLB 200
|Engine||1,332cc, inline 4, turbocharged|
|Power||163hp at 5500rpm|
|Torque||250Nm at 1620-4000rpm|
|Top Speed||9.1 seconds|
|VES Band / CO2||TBA / 140g/km|
|Agent||Cycle & Carriage|