Mercedes GLB missing touch of magic

While the good outweighs the bad, the downsides are frustrating, says Declan Colley
Mercedes GLB missing touch of magic
Mercedes-Benz GLB. 

To say I was a little disappointed by the Mercedes GLB is a bit like saying that US medical guru Dr Anthony Fauci was just a tad miffed when the White House stopped listening to him.

Mercedes is normally a paragon of style and elegance and its products generally display a level of design elan that stand them out of the pack and provide the sort of cachet necessary to make people appreciate that they are spending their hard-earned on a premium product.

Mercedes-Benz GLB's interior.
Mercedes-Benz GLB's interior.

By exploring uncharted territory, it sometimes happens that car companies come up with an unearthed vein of gold and mine it successfully. Sometimes, however, they go digging for precious metals and come up rather short.

The GLB might just be a case in point. In their search for a truly practical family car, Mercedes has come up with a machine which is not only an SUV, but is also a genuine seven-seater. That puts together two of the most in-demand market segments and gives it the three-pointed star insignia to add further credibility. How bad can that be?

Nominally this means that the GLB is the SUV version of the B-Class in the same way the GLC is the SUV version of the C-Class. In this case, that translates into a car which utilises much of the real-world nature of the hatchback and adds a further dash of everyday usefulness to proceedings.

All this is good and without doubt the GLB will find many a willing buyer, attracted not only by the general expedience on offer here and the Mercedes badge; they will also find alluring the fact that no other premium competitor offers anything like it.

Handy and convenient as the GLB is, there are downsides though.

Firstly – to these eyes anyway – they appear to have handed the design brief to the truck department; secondly, as something which will primarily be sold in front wheel drive format, the car will not find much favour among those who like a little hot tamales in their motoring.

Although the GLB has decent enough cred as a family-friendly workaday mule and is lovely thing to be transported around in – especially given the quality of the interior décor – it does fall down on one or two fronts.

There is a five-seater available but to order one is to miss the point of the car completely. It was designed to be a seven-seater (hence the long wheelbase and stretched rear overhang) and the rear-most seats will actually fit an adult while also folding flat when the preference is for cargo space.

Mercedes-Benz GLB.
Mercedes-Benz GLB.

The tech levels are excellent and the MBUX connectivity system was an example of how to get it right and the 10” media display system was boosted by excellent graphics and a wonderful mix of immediate and necessary running information was informative without causing your brain to trip any fuses. Indeed, spec levels on the model we had were terribly impressive and there was little to balk at here.

Now, in most normal seven-seaters, the third row is virtually unusable unless you are under six or have no legs. In this case, however, the GLB’s middle road of seats slides back and forwards and split 60:40. They can also be reclined independently of one another.

The pay-off is seven usable seats, albeit with tightened legroom for those in the middle; on the other hand, when the seven seats are in use, there is pretty much zero luggage space, so potential owners will have to weigh these considerations up against each other. All good on the practical front then. But, the ‘buts’ kept entering my head.

In truth I wasn’t mad about some aspects of this car – and prime amongst these dislikes, was the exterior look. It was a decent, honest car, but it looked terrible. Well, the GLB looks like a Demio on steroids.

I wasn’t particularly taken by the handling and right from the get-go it was obvious this car was overburdened by the fact its front wheels are the driven ones. It has no vicious traits, but the understeer is a pain  and the torque steer engendered by even the mildest form of hard acceleration is not what you expect from a car of this status. I would suggest that the 4Matic 4x4 option is the way to go.

That said, the 1,950 cc turbodiesel engine and the eight-speed gearbox were excellent in every other regard. There is a decent enough 150 bhp on offer and the 0-100 kph time of nine seconds and the 204 kph top speed will keep most punters happy. So too the 5.7 l/100 km (49.1 mpg), which is quite creditable given the size of the thing.

Under undemanding driving circumstances, the GLB is quite a pleasing drive – all quiet smoothness and refinement. Get under its’ skin, though, and you get all that understeer and torque steer nonsense. No, this is definitely a family car and not something that appreciates rough handling.

You can certainly see where Mercedes is coming from with this car and I have no doubt it is something that will appeal to a lot of people. Those people will be unconcerned by the look of the car and more focussed on the pragmatism on offer and they will also like the fact the GLB does not like to be fussed.

People with also love the tech overload on offer here, such as the ‘hey Mercedes’ voice control, although it is best not to have a dose of the DTs when operating this as it can be a touch weird.

One final downside to the Irish specified car is that there is no spare wheel. If you live in a very rural part of Ireland you will know that a ‘real’ spare wheel is a vital necessity – firstly, because of the state of the roads and, secondly, because if you do get a puncture you are likely to be miles from help – I was yet again disappointed to find a Mercedes without one. Instead they provide their ‘TYREFIT’ repair kit, which is about as useful as a lighter with no flint.

For the most part, the good outweighs the bad here and this is a concept – SUV meets MPV – which will gain traction among other manufacturers.  When (not if) it does, Mercedes will clap themselves on the back and laud a job well done. That’s not quite the case.

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