The three-pointed star: What does it mean to you? To many, Mercedes-Benz’s logo symbolizes luxury, and with that comes certain expectations. The brand leans on those as it courts new markets with segment-splitting vehicles offered at relatively approachable prices. The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB 250 is the latest example of that pursuit. Thing is, this little crossover isn’t quite as luxurious as that three-pointed star might imply.
That’s not to say Benz’s baby-GLE isn’t nice—it is. Its size, price, driving manners, and features make it appealing for active urbanites and small families. But the GLB, meant to slot between the GLA and GLC in the brand’s expansive SUV lineup, doesn’t always provide the Mercedes milieu you expect. A bit more polish would vault the GLB straight into the luxury league. Instead, it’s left as a contender among equally compelling premium SUVs.
The GLB 250 makes a good first impression. Walk up, pull a substantial-feeling door handle, and fall into a seat. Before swinging the door closed, notice how wide it opens; situating yourself or passengers in the first two rows is a cinch. Even the tallest occupants will find ample headroom and legroom in the first two rows. This tester didn’t have the optional third row, but we’ve previously found it to be minuscule; usable only by small kids. As the door shuts with a strong thunk, outside sounds instantly become muffled. It gives a sense of solidity and quietude that’s decidedly Mercedes.
But as you get a better feel for the cabin, that impression doesn’t last. Touchpoints like the steering wheel or armrests are nicely padded. The upper door panels and dashboard are soft-touch, too. But, like in the A-Class sedan, the amount of hard plastic doesn’t support a luxury claim. It’s questionable at the GLB 250’s $37,595 base price; on the well-optioned $49,050 version pictured here, it’s galling.
Indeed, the plastic feels substantial and has some nice texturing—but there’s an awful lot of it. From the gear selector and turn signal/wiper stalk, to most of the panels below the central air vents, it’s inescapable. Piano black trim breaks up the textured plastics around the center console and air vents, and although many buyers like piano black, we’ve seen this material get scratched up and dingy with use. Worse, in the GLB it can reflect sunlight straight into your eyes. Plain plastic window switches are fine in an economy car, but this is a Mercedes—a nearly $50,000 one, at that. On that topic, why must the windows open and close so slowly?
As a whole, the interior in the one-size-up (and past SUV of the Year) Mercedes-Benz GLC feels much more luxurious. Hard plastic surfaces are better hidden, and more elements seem designed rather than simply installed.
Around town, the GLB’s cabin is fairly serene, but interior noise seems disproportionate to speed. At highway rates, you have to raise your voice to be heard, and shouting just isn’t luxurious. Some of it is wind roar, but tire and suspension noises are more audible. The GLB’s boxy cabin seems to amplify resonances. Something occasionally rattled in our tester’s cargo area.
Unplug your ears—the GLB can make good sounds, too. Its standard audio system is clear and balanced. Even though you have to listen for it, the engine makes a nice noise, too: burly for an I-4, and some turbo whistle comes through the open windows. Don’t bother listening for crackles from AMG-Line models’ oval tailpipes, though, because they’re completely fake (fortunately, the GLB 35 remedies that).
Regardless, delivery of the 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4’s 221 hp and 258 lb-ft is smooth and linear; our FWD tester easily accelerated to highway speeds. That’s helped by the eight-speed dual-clutch auto, which shifts flawlessly and readily drops gears to pass. Still, like other dual-clutch transmissions, it can fumble at parking speeds as the clutches engage, or let the car roll as it switches between drive and reverse.
Suspension impacts are often heard more than felt. When equipped with the optional adjustable dampers, the GLB smooths out chatter and takes edges off potholes, even when rolling on 20-inch AMG wheels like our test car. Handling is more carlike than SUV-ish, but it’s still fairly dull. Even in AMG Line trim, the GLB’s steering is soft off-center; it’s more of a cruiser than a corner carver. The adjustable dampers have a hint of float, and differences in stiffness or roll between suspension settings were minimal. In any mode the GLB’s ride is pleasant, although it’s supple rather than downright plush.
Like high-end Benzes, the MBUX infotainment system is available in the GLB 250. Its dual 10.3-inch displays are bright and clear, and they provide a dizzying mix of information. The learning curve is steepened by numerous control options and multiple design themes. Apple and Mercedes apparently haven’t yet figured out how to get CarPlay to use all of the central widescreen display: like in other MBUX setups, it leaves inches of blank space on either side of the CarPlay readout. (Android Auto is standard, too, but this reviewer only has an iPhone.)
Noise, material, and tech nitpicks aside, the GLB 250 is a nice everyday crossover. Its chill demeanor and comfy ride makes it relaxing to drive, but it’s ready for action if asked to squeeze into a traffic gap or make a yellow light. Outside visibility is good thanks to its upright sides and large greenhouse. With its wheels pushed out to the corners and short overhangs, parking the GLB is easy. All the while there’s solid practicality inside its right-sized footprint that provides numerous holders for bottles or baubles and a generous cargo area that expands with a tug on a seat-fold strap.
Any first-time Mercedes buyer who signs for a GLB 250 will be thrilled. They’ll dig its comfort, peppy engine, and versatility. However, those aspects are by no means exclusive to the GLB, and in this segment the Lincoln Corsair has a quieter ride, the Volvo XC40 has better materials, and the Audi Q3 has a smarter infotainment system. That leaves the three-pointed star as the GLB 250’s most distinguishing feature—but the vehicle doesn’t quite earn it.
|2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB 250|
|LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD/AWD, 5 pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||2.0L/221-hp/258-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|TRANSMISSION||8-speed twin-clutch auto|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,650-3,900 lb (mfr)|
|L x W x H||182.4 x 79.5 x 65.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.9 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA FUEL ECON, CITY/HWY/COMB||23/30-31/26 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||147/109-112 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.75 lb/mile|
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