REVIEW | The new 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLB is one hip square
Once upon a time the multipurpose vehicle (MPV) was a popular body format. You might remember early pioneers from the new millennium like the Volkswagen Sharan, Renault Mégane Scenic, Opel Zafira and Citroën Xsara Picasso.
And since we are discussing nameplates that no longer exist on the market, do you recall contenders like the Mazda 5, Toyota Corolla Verso and Seat Altea? The tall and van-like template of the breed afforded generous headroom for occupants – and rear versatility for the various items a growing family inevitably needs to accommodate.
Even the premium German players jumped on the bandwagon. Mercedes-Benz launched the B-Class in 2006, a model now in its third generation. BMW introduced the 2-Series Active Tourer to SA in 2015, but its presence was short-lived.
Nowadays the realm of the MPV seems to be buzzing most in the more affordable end of the market. Think Suzuki Ertiga, Honda BR-V, Renault Triber and Toyota Avanza. But for shoppers in the upper-tier German sphere, Mercedes-Benz appears to have cast a new spin on the category altogether, with the new GLB-Class.
At its core, this is a spacious MPV, albeit with a sport-utility vehicle twist reminiscent of the larger vehicles to boast the GL-prefix. You would not be remiss likening it to a baby GLS-Class. Styling-wise, it apes its larger brethren quite convincingly.
It has a boxy profile, with a square-jawed face and a high roof. But the side window-line, with its upward kink after the C-pillar, looks a tad out of place.
The interior feels airy and spacious, greenhouse-like, since the GLB-Class has a large windscreen. The dashboard and layout is identical to that of the GLA-Class, with an assuring chunkiness to things, combined with dainty switchgear and slick visuals courtesy of the high-resolution screen taking centre stage. While you can have a fully-digital instrument cluster, our vehicle featured the traditional analogue gauges.
Motivation comes from one of two sources, both in-line four-cylinder units. In the GLB 220d 4MATIC, the 1,950cc turbocharged-diesel motor is good for 140kW and 400Nm. The front-wheel drive GLB 250 we tested packs a turbocharged-petrol engine which produces 165kW and 350Nm. Both derivatives employ an eight-speed automatic transmission.
On mashing the accelerator for the first time, you are likely to be taken aback by just how sprightly a performer it is. Makes a hearty sound too, uncharacteristic of a car designed as a humble hauler of families. Merging onto freeways, the GLB 250 certainly felt quicker than the quoted 7.1-second standstill to 100km/h sprint time. Our car returned in the region of 8l/100km after nearly a week of urban and highway commutes.
Even with 19-inch wheels as part of the optional (R52,100) AMG Line package, ride quality proved acceptable in most conditions, but the GLB seemed flummoxed by obstacles like Belgian paving speed bumps in mall parking lots. But as far as frustrating quirks go, the Active Lane Keeping Assist (part of a R13,800 Lane Tracing Package) definitely takes the cake.
When it detects the vehicle veering towards a solid line, it applies the brakes on the offending side. And it does so in an abrupt manner, in a way that jolts the ventricles of the driver. It also gets confused. On a section of the N1, for example, where a noticeable black line runs alongside the painted white lines, the system had been frequently triggered. An optional third row of seating for two additional passengers will cost R20,200 according to the price list. Naturally, these are best suited to shorter members of your clan.
Pricing starts at R831,000 for the GLB 250, while its diesel counterpart is exactly R10,000 more. Factor in the extra kit and you could easily be staring at near R1m for the little big Mercedes-Benz.
At that price, you might even want to consider a V-Class (from R1,045,117), if a people-mover with the three-pointed star emblem is on the agenda.
Otherwise, if you can live without the sport-utility vehicle pretence and do not need a third row of seats, then the B-Class would serve well as a family companion and for less outlay, as pricing starts at R612,000 for the B 200.