If you haven’t noticed, SUVs are hot right now. It seems like every vehicle on the road is an SUV. Automakers have noticed as well and keep coming up with new models to fit every niche out there, plus some new ones. Mercedes has been at the forefront of the craze, offering the G-Wagen since the ’70s and introducing some of the first crossovers that combine the size and utility of an SUV with the running architecture of a car. This provides a smooth on-road ride, which is preferred by most buyers over the off-road prowess that previous truck-based SUVs provided.
Though it seemed Mercedes had all the SUV size categories covered, it came up with a new one between their GLA and GLC: the GLB. It eschews the curves and sloped lines of many modern SUVs in favor of a vertical C pillar and old school upright appearance that looks tough and maximizes interior room. Generous cargo space is available, and tall objects can fit under the electrically operated rear hatch. In fact, though it only stretches 182 inches bumper to bumper, it has an available third-row seat.
Being a Mercedes, the GLB has the fit, finish and quality feel of a premium German vehicle. The interior feels luxurious, with brushed aluminum accents, a configurable digital dash display, keyless entry, manual tilt/telescoping steering column, leather-wrapped steering wheel, moderately bolstered power-adjusted leather front seats, and a large panorama sunroof that extends over the rear seat. The center console displays system settings and controls for navigation and audio, including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Bluetooth. The radio lacks volume and tuning knobs, but those functions can be controlled from the steering wheel. Voice command also is an option, but having seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, I prefer to control my machines manually. It also has such luxury amenities as a power liftgate, dual zone automatic climate control, rain-sensing windshield wipers and available ventilated front seats. A few hard plastics remind you that this is not Mercedes’ top-of-the-line vehicle, but everything you touch is leather or metal, and it’s priced much lower than the brand’s top tier.
The second row seats three, though two would be more comfortable. It offers an amazing amount of legroom for a relatively small SUV, aided by a sliding 40/20/40 fold down rear seat that can be scooted fore and aft to adjust between legroom and cargo capacity or third-row legroom. Rear air vents and adjustable seatbacks add to rear seat comfort.
Powered by a modern four-cylinder turbo engine, the GLB offers pretty good pickup but takes a second for the turbo to spool up at highway speeds. Auto engine shut-off when the vehicle is stopped improves gas mileage but can be a bit jarring when restarting. Good brakes and competent handling make the GLB a pleasure to drive. The highway ride is pretty smooth for a relatively short wheelbase SUV, and around town comfort is fairly close to that of a car. Interestingly, dash gauges display the vehicle’s degree of angle front to back and side to side for monitoring stability while off-roading, which Mercedes must be suggesting is a possibility for this tough little four-wheel-drive hauler.
Mercedes includes a number of important safety features on the GLB, including active brake assist, blind spot warning, rearview camera and a crosswind assist system that keeps the GLB on course during gusty crosswinds, a nice feature considering the vehicle’s relatively flat, upright sides. With a base model starting in the mid to high $30,000s, the GLB is an economical way to get into a Mercedes-quality SUV that’s big enough to haul the family and all its stuff but small enough to be maneuverable around town and park easily.
Joe Wolk, general manager of Mercedes-Benz of Chesterfield, says, “I’m impressed by the upright design, which is downright sporty, and the level of technology is just right.”
» Base: $39,600, including delivery
» As driven with options: $44,800
» 23 city, 31 highway on premium
» Front engine; 4-matic all-wheel drive
» 2.0 liter inline 4-cylinder turbo engine
» 221 horsepower
» 8-speed automatic transmission
Robert Paster (robertpaster.com) is also an attorney in private practice, concentrating in estate planning and probate.