New Car Previews

Preview: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB 250

On this evening in the mountains above Wanship, Utah, Mercedes-Benz designer Achim Badstuebner, and Chief Engineer for Compact Cars Axel Heix provided a peek at the iconic German auto manufacturer’s soon-to-be-released GLB-Class, a luxury compact SUV.

They’ve designed this one to “do it all.”

Anyone surprised by the introduction of another compact luxury SUV probably hasn’t been paying attention lately. Every manufacturer is racing for the market. (Mercedes-Benz is the first to admit that over half the vehicles they sell in Canada these days are SUVs.) And like the others, they’ve designed this one to “do it all.”

But the GLB is staying truer to this category’s off-roading roots than many daintier new urban competitors. Note the sexy off-roader’s tires, roof rails, protective claddings, and those truncated overhangs at the snout and posterior. “We’re modelling with light and shadow … sensual purity,” says Badstuebner of its aesthetics. Inside, note the jeep-y, aircraft-inspired cylindrical air vents.

However, this is still Mercedes-Benz, where passenger comfort and luxury rank just as highly as off-roading capability. Look no further than the comfort suspension which, according to the press release, “has an acoustically and vibrationally decoupled multi-link axle with compression springs” at the rear. The Mercedes-Benz user experience, aka MBUX, is a wide and utterly thorough interface that includes voice commands, hand signals, and touch-sensitive button selection.

But let’s talk about the sheer roominess of this alleged compact.

The GLB’s wheelbase is nearly three metres, meaning plenty of legroom, especially if you’re seating a total of five. There’s a cargo capacity of 560 to 1,755 litres.

To invent space, this compact’s designers built upwards: the GLB is 411 mm taller than the GLA, which is nearly 16 inches. Sometimes numbers sound meaningless without context. Picture the distance of two octaves and a major third on a standard piano or just under the width a United Airlines economy seat – or a football stacked on top of a basketball.

Its decent ground clearance of 143 mm suggests the GLB’s built for exploring the local mountainous surroundings. It could probably also take on some of the nastier potholes you’ll find on Canadian roads.

If you have popular kids, you’re in luck.

Despite being compact, the GLB offers optional third-row seating, unlike its sister GLA and GLC models (and it’s the first compact Mercedes-Benz to do so). Moreover, you can fit up to four child seats in the back two rows. Plus, those third-row passengers can be as tall as 1.68 metres, which is about 5'6". Cup holders, storage bins, and USB ports flank each of their seats, so your kids will be well watered and tech-powered. Even with that third row, you can configure cargo space to up to 179 litres.

We can’t report what it’s like to drive the GLB because this intro was just a peek at the 2020 production model. Americans can start putting orders in as early as July this year, but it’s going to be a while before we can do so in Canada.

Speaking of Canada, yes, this sturdy bridge between the GLA and GLC comes standard with all-wheel drive (4Matic in Mercedes-Benz jargon) and which features “fully-variable torque distribution.” So popular is all-wheel drive in Canada that during the GLB’s first year here, only the 250 4Matic will be available. Other markets around the world will have the option of diesel-powered GLBs and a front-wheel-drive model with a smaller engine.

What’s beneath the hood? Promises of good times in the mountains.

Powering your GLB 250 is an efficient four-cylinder engine that achieves 221 hp at 5,800 rpm and torque of 258 lb-ft between 1,800 and 4,000 rpm, arriving at 100 km/h from zero in a breathtaking 6.9 seconds. It’s continually surprising how, between the proliferation of light high-strength steel and clever design of technologies like Mercedes’ tapered cylinders, engines no longer have to be big to be big.

The GLB derives its driving assistance tech from the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. And you needn’t worry about any off-roading you do at night. The bevy of lighting is likely to warn off any wildlife in your path. For example, take the standard front fog lights: they light wider and lower than the main headlights, which also makes them safer for oncoming traffic.

Pricing has yet to be announced. And speaking of announcements, the EQB, an electric SUV based on the GLB platform, will be launched in 2021.