Mercedes-Benz South Africa has updated its all-important local SUV offering with 6 new derivatives, including the all-new GLA and GLS. Cars.co.za contributor Ian McLaren may have uncovered the pick of the lot, however.
The significance of an extensive SUV range within a modern automotive manufacturer’s portfolio has never been more prevalent. Here's an example to illustrate my point: raised ride-height models make up about 30% of Mercedes-Benz's vast annual global sales aggregate. That figure increases to around 35% within the South African context – the popular (C-Class-based) GLC leads the way in terms of domestic Benz sales.
With 6.5 million sales recorded since the introduction of the ML-Class in 1997, the Stuttgart-based manufacturer now offers no fewer than 8 SUV-shaped body styles, including fashionable coupé variants of its GLC and GLE models. And then, of course, there exists what Mercedes-Benz likes to the refer to as the "S-Class of SUVs" – the GLS, as well as the modern-day incarnation of the Geländewagen, badged as the G-Class.
A newcomer to the line-up, the GLB, looks to embody the rugged character of the G-Class, but in an altogether more accessible package.
The GLB sort of resembles a baby G-Class, but it's underpinned by a stretched A-Class chassis.
Benz produced a GLK (Geländewagen Luxus Kompaktklasse) from 2008 to 2015, but not in RHD guise. This plucky compact SUV found favour for its relative versatility, upright stance and squared-off look. Compared with its contemporaries, it was unapologetically boxy... and better for it.
A spiritual successor to the GLK, the GLB shares its MFA2 platform with the A- and B-Class models, as well as the 2nd-generation GLA. It is, however, both longer and (47 mm) taller than its GLA sibling and, compared with the B-Class, the newcomer's wheelbase is stretched by 10 mm, which endows it with a welcome level of interior space, including the option of a 3rd row of seats. A further advantage in terms of the GLB’s upright profile is an abundance of headroom, notably for occupants of the first 2 rows.
Relatively low-slung in its stance (more about that later), both entry to, and egress from, the cabin (via flat door sills) is effortless. The same convenience is afforded to access to the 570 litres of luggage space; this capacity can be enlarged by sliding the 2nd-row bench in a 60:40-split (the backrest of which splits in 40:20:40 configuration). When specced, the pair of 3rd-row seats fold neatly in a 50:50 split into the load bay floor.
A major plus is that the GLB can be had with 7 seats.
A selection of 18- to 20-inch alloy wheels is available via three optional design packages: Progressive, Style and AMG Line.
Mercedes-Benz SA offers this new model with a choice of either a 2.0-litre turbopetrol (GLB 250) or 2.0-litre turbodiesel (GLB 220d 4Matic) motor, both mated with an 8-speed automatic transmission. As in the A-Class, the former offers 165 kW with 350 Nm of torque from 1 800 to 4 000 rpm.
At launch, the 140 kW/400 Nm 220d 4Matic is fitted as standard with the brand’s all-wheel-drive system (with dynamic torque vectoring), which favours, in this application, the front wheels. Average fuel consumption on this heavier of the two derivatives is listed as 5.4 L/100 km.
What’s it like do drive?
It looks more rugged than it actually is, but is still capable of tacking a dirt road thanks to 200 mm of ground clearance.
Seeing as the GLB was among 6 derivatives that Mercedes-Benz South Africa revealed on the day, the time we spent behind the wheel of the newcomer was limited, but the test drive was nevertheless insightful. Standing proud among the other notably sleeker SUVs in Benz's armoury, I was immediately drawn to the GLB’s feisty-looks and distinct character; it seemed to glance across the lot for approval from its G-wagon brother.
The caveat to the 220d 4Motion’s standard Off-Road Engineering Package (including a reconfigured ABS braking system and hill descent control) is the GLB’s relatively conservative 200 mm worth of ground clearance. That said, off-the-beaten-track excursions will likely be limited to brief excursions on gravel roads with the odd shallow rock crossing. Despite its low-profile rubber and large wheels, the 220d 4Matic made the most of its healthy helping of torque – available from just 1 600 rpm – to make steady progress over our launch route’s mildly challenging off-road course.
Despite the GLB's brawny looks, it’s more likely to perform the bulk of its duties on-road. Here, those same low-profile tyres add a level of poise and precision to the driving experience, while a well-weighted steering system and assured suspension setup makes the newcomer easy to manoeuvre around town. Bear in mind, though, that as with other non-AMG-tuned compact Benzes, the ride quality deteriorates notably as wheel sizes go up.
Rugged outside, spotless inside
A familiar interior if you've seen any of the recent models that the GLB shares its platform with but still modern and techy.
Seated tall within the cabin of the new GLB, there’s a welcome, brand-familiar level of interior sophistication that belies the car’s adventure-seeking exterior. Largely carried over from the A-Class, the newest “B” features Mercedes-Benz’s latest MBUX infotainment technologies, incorporating voice activation and touchscreen technologies. Instrumentation is crisp and easily legible, while a considered use of materials and finishes throughout is at least of par with what the competition is currently offering. Stowage options are abundant throughout the otherwise airy cabin.
One bugbear is that the Off-Road driving mode is finicky to activate. You have to access a separate display-screen menu (below the Eco, Comfort and Sport settings), which means it isn’t easily (or logically) accessible once the going gets rough. Maybe it will be rectified with a firmware update.
If considered as an alternative to the GLC, the GLB seems to suit those looking for something a little different.
More than its impressive off-road adventure pedigree, the popularity of the modern G-Wagon stems largely from its unapologetically brash stance and sheer road presence. Never sold in South Africa, the similarly resolute lines of the GLK came closest within the broader Mercedes-Benz family to mimicking the attributes of the Geländewagen. Perhaps for its bold styling, which is distinctive in a segment awash with cookie-cutter designs, or its instantly likeable plucky character, the GLB has all the attributes to blaze a trail (although not necessarily an off-road one) of sales success.
While pricing for the pair of GLB derivatives might be viewed as bold, another advantage the newcomer should enjoy is that it should be viewed – in terms of size, practicality and equipment – as an alternative to the popular GLC, rather than an oversized member of the A-Class family.
Mercedes-Benz GLB Price in South Africa (November 2020)
All Mercedes-Benz derivatives are is sold with a 2-year/unlimited km warranty and a 5-year/100 000 km maintenance plan.
|Mercedes-Benz GLB 250||R831 000|
|Mercedes-Benz GLB 220d 4Matic||R841 000|