You're looking at, possibly, one of the most cleverly conceived products to come from any car maker this year. This is the new Mercedes-Benz GLB, the latest in a long line of Mercedes SUVs. The name suggests it's based on the B-Class, and it shares much of that car's underpinnings, interior switchgear and engine line-up, but the GLB is much longer, which explains why it can be had with seven seats. And that's what makes it a clever introduction, as there are virtually no direct rivals to the GLB, certainly not from the prestige brands.
In the metal
Mercedes has nailed its SUV design language of late, and the GLB is no different. It's quite upright, giving it a vague resemblance to the G-Glass, which is no bad thing, and it oozes showroom appeal. It shares its styling with the also-new Mercedes GLA, but the GLB is taller, has a longer rear overhang and a much longer wheelbase. That explains how it can accommodate an extra row of seating.
And really, this car is all about those extra seats in the back. Sure, you could buy a GLB without them, resulting in an even larger boot and a Mercedes SUV that's nearly the same size, externally, as the GLC, yet more affordable. But it'll be easier to sell on later if it has the additional row of seats and, when not in use, they can be folded away flat into the floor. The middle row slides fore and aft so you can apportion legroom between the passengers as needs be, while the seatbacks of the middle row adjust for tilt, too, and they can be folded down completely flat as well.
For an average-sized adult, it takes a bit of effort to get into the rearmost row, due to the combination of a relatively high floor and the fact that the middle seats can only move out of the way so much. Still, once you're in there, the headroom isn't bad at all. The passengers in front may have to compromise on legroom to allow some space for feet and legs in the back, however. It's comparable to the likes of the Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace, Skoda Kodiaq and SEAT Tarraco.
Up front, the GLB feels like a particularly spacious member of the Mercedes compact car family, as it shares its dashboard and switchgear with the likes of the A-Class, B-Class and CLA. It all works well, though it's a shame that the MBUX digital dashboard comes with two smaller screens as standard; the larger, twin 10.25-inch system is far more impressive.
Thankfully, Mercedes gave the GLB quite a different feel on the road to the rest of the compact car range. Most of those sacrifice outright comfort for a feeling of agility and sportiness, but the GLB does the opposite. Its suspension is wonderfully sort and pliable, soaking up the worst that Irish roads have to offer. That does mean there's some body lean in the corners, and the steering isn't the most precise, but I suspect that the average GLB buyer won't notice or care. On the motorway, it feels planted and secure and wind noise is kept to a minimum, too.
At a cruise, the 2.0-litre diesel engine is relatively inaudible, as well, though it's not as quiet as we'd like when dealing with stop-start traffic, for example. Choose the petrol model or, better yet, wait for the expected plug-in hybrid variant, if most of your driving is in an urban environment. Otherwise, the diesel engine is frugal, returning about 6.4 litres/100km in our time with the car on a variety of roads. If you're going to be using the full capacity of the seven-seat GLB regularly, we'd advise you to think of the 200 d as the entry-level option, as its performance is best described as 'adequate'. The 180 d is likely to feel underpowered, while some will see the 220 d's extra go as worth the premium.
Given the dry weather during our test, we had no issue with traction, though our test car was front-wheel drive only. For year-round security, consider upgrading to 4Matic four-wheel drive. And though not perfect, we found the eight-speed automatic transmission generally a good fit for the engine.
In terms of visibility, the upright design and highly adjustable driver's seat make it easy to see out of the GLB in all directions. A standard reversing camera helps fill in the gaps when parking. The controls are light, too, easing the burden of long stints at the wheel.
What you get for your money
Prices for the new GLB start at €42,350, for the GLB 180 with an automatic gearbox (there are no manual options in the line-up). The other petrol options are the GLB 200 and GLB 250, while the Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 4Matic stands alone, using the same powertrain as the A 35 4Matic. Diesel options start with the GLB 180 d, at €43,190, rising to the GLB 200 d tested here and the GLB 220 d above that. Other than the AMG model, the GLB 250, 200 d and 220 d can be optionally had with 4Matic all-wheel drive.
In terms of trim levels, the Progressive specification is standard, including LED headlights, 18-inch alloys, the MBUX dashboard with two seven-inch screens, a leather multifunction steering wheel, keyless start, reversing camera, electrically operated tailgate and adjustable rear seats. The AMG Line gets 19-inch wheels and a sportier look inside and out, including sports seats and a different steering wheel.
The third row of seating is an €1,427 option.
We are expecting the Mercedes GLB to be a huge success. None of the other premium brands have a car to compete with it in terms of the visual and status appeal of the upright SUV design, mixed with the interior flexibility of an MPV. Sure, there are options from the mass-market marques that do the same job, for a little less money, but the allure of that Mercedes badge, and what it could mean to residual value, is likely to sway many toward their local Mercedes dealership. There, they'll discover a comfortable, refined and highly likable family car.