► Seven-seat GLB 35 AMG driven
► 302bhp, all-wheel drive
► Starting from £34,200 - too pricey?
In a world of SUV-coupes and all-electric Tesla pick-up trucks that hit 62mph in less than three seconds, a seven-seat Mercedes-Benz A-Class doesn’t actually seem that unreasonable. Clearly, someone at Merc had the same idea, as what you’re looking at is the new 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB – a car that’s based on the same platform as the A-Class and B-Class, yet looks more like a mini-SUV and has space for mum, dad and five kids.
Understandably, rivals are thin on the ground. There’s the BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer (even then its MPV body style differs from the GLB) and any number of five-seat SUVs that don’t offer the same level of flexibility as the GLB, plus some larger (and cheaper) true seven-seaters, such as the Skoda Kodiaq and Kia Sorento. None of which, however, offer an AMG performance version…
So this is a seven-seat AMG?
You betcha. Granted, it’s not the first time this has happened (see GLS 63 and GLE 53), but the GLB 35 – while still very pricey – might actually be a bit more attainable than the megabucks large SUVs. Unsurprisingly, it uses the same 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine as the A35 hot hatch, and while it’s not quite as quick to 62mph (the GLB taking 5.2 seconds), you’ve still got 302bhp on tap – more than enough to have some serious fun.
You need to temper your expectations somewhat, though. Weighing nearly 1.7 tonnes and not exactly aerodynamically optimised, the GLB 35 can feel a tad lethargic and the engine strained when you’re really going for it. Madcap AMG it is not, more a point-to-point weapon with which you can carry serious speed – and many people – across unfamiliar roads.
Don’t expect much in the way of tail-out AMG antics under power, though, as the GLB 35’s torque split ranges from purely front-wheel drive to a maximum 50% of the power sent to the rear wheels. The brakes are strong, and traction out of corners immense thanks to the 4Matic all-wheel drive system. It even makes a decent sound – obviously piped in artificially when the drive mode selector is in Sport or Sport+, yet enjoyably whooshy like a 90s rally car when not.
Once the snap-crackle-and-pop antics are over, the suspension can be flicked into Comfort, the steering lightened up and throttle response dulled. It’s not cossetting or pillowy (the ride is still firm on those 20-inch alloys), yet it does enough to not drive you mad when you’re in sensible family man/woman mode.
What about the regular Mercedes GLB versions?
Available in Sport, AMG Line, AMG Line Premium and AMG Line Premium Plus trim levels, only the final two get fancy 10.25-inch interior displays as standard, the others making do with the humble - and less impressive - seven-inch versions. Whichever spec you opt for, the GLB boasts a neat, stylish cabin with added ruggedness over the A-Class (see grab handles and a taller, more upright feel), yet the larger touchscreen displays really do add to the sense of occasion.
Running Merc’s MBUX software, the functionality on offer is vast and graphics crisp as anything, yet both the infotainment system and digital cockpit display aren’t quite as intuitive as offerings from Audi. The feeling of quality is on a par with rivals, as long as you disregard the quite hideous indicator and gear selection stalks that feel as though they’ll snap every time you use them.
Standard equipment is generous on even the base model (admittedly, it does cost £34,000) and includes a reversing camera, dual-zone climate control, heated part leather front seats, cruise control, sat-nav, Hey Mercedes voice activation and a suite of safety aids such as Active Brake Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist and Keyless-Go locking and unlocking.
Out on the road there’s a choice of one petrol (GLB 200 – 161bhp 1.3-litre four-cylinder) and two diesel engines (GLB 200 d – 148hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder, GLB 220 d – 187bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder). We can only pass comment on the latter thus far, it being a pleasingly responsive and punchy unit (0-62mph in 7.6 seconds) that’s only available with the 4Matic all-wheel drive system. Being critical, it’s nosier than equivalent diesels from other German rivals and the 200 d will likely provide 95% of what most drivers need but if money is no object it would probably be our preferred choice, AMG version aside.
One thing we really do need to bring up is ride quality. On the international launch in Spain, the adaptive suspension on every GLB we drove did a decent job of isolating the cabin from the excesses of anything up to 20-inch wheels (21-inch available on AMG versions), yet – for some reason – said suspension won’t be available in the UK. It’s passive springs only for all but the AMG model. Not wishing to jump to conclusions, we’ll reserve judgement on the GLB’s actual ride quality until it hits UK roads with the correct setup.
Being an SUV, the GLB also has a reasonable amount of capability off-road. Should you plan to take it off-piste, the Off-Road Engineering Package is advisable and adds an additional drive mode, off-road info displays on the main screen, hill descent control and an ‘off-road light’ (in conjunction with the Multibeam LED headlights) that stays on below 30mph and helps highlights obstacles in the road.
How usable are those third row seats?
If you opt for a seven-seat GLB (a five-seat version is available), you might be pleasantly surprised with how much room there is, not just in the third row, but all-round. With a wheelbase 10cm longer than the B-Class, those in the middle row enjoy oodles of leg and headroom, plus seats that can slide forwards and back and recline independently of one another.
In order to get actual people in the third row, you will need to slide the seats in front forward a little (reducing their legroom), but the payoff is seven usable seats. Ideally, you’d keep the rearmost seats reserved for young children (there are two Isofix points back there), but an average height male/female can sit in the back for a short journey given the amount of space. It’s not as spacious as a Skoda Kodiaq or Kia Sorento, but still usable nonetheless. Bootspace, meanwhile is predictably huge (up to 1,680 litres), although note that with all seven seats in place it’s a fairly paltry 150 litres.
On paper, the GLB sounds like it will make little sense. Why bother with what is essentially a seven-seat SUV version of a hatchback when there’s plenty of cheaper alternative family buses around? In reality, however, it’s a likeable alternative to larger seven-seaters if you only plan to use the rearmost seats on rare occasions and a more flexible rival to premium five-seat SUVs. We’ll reserve final judgement until we’ve tried one in the UK on passive springs, but first impressions are promising.