Every now and then, writes Iain Robertson, a new model arrives (or will do, this December) that makes you step back in amazement but demands a closer look, because it bucks trends in several key areas and may even alter your opinion.
There was a time, several decades ago, when a new car launch from Mercedes-Benz was something worth heralding. For a start, it was always a moderately high-priced gamechanger. After all, Merc had a reputation to live up to, based on the fact that it is always recognised as (although it is not strictly true) the first production car manufacturer.
Fortunately, Merc has become recognised for other attributes, among which is a never-ending pursuit of high-end quality, with an equally intense involvement, through its pioneering developments, in road safety and occupant security. Yet, for all its staunchness, it is unique in the motor industry for being the one brand that all others feel is above and beyond reproach, which means that Merc vans and trucks will deliver whole vehicles and their parts belonging to some equally strong rivals. You only have to watch the news on television to spot potentates, royalty and world leaders arriving at venues in their chauffeur driven Mercs that are almost as widespread as Toyota pickups in global trouble spots. It is one hell of a reputation.
However, the company has endured more than a few problems in recent times, not least during the 1990s, when it went into partnership with the highly troubled Chrysler Corporation. To say that the Stuttgart giant got dented is an understatement! Needless to say, its ‘quality issues’ are now resolved and Chrysler finds itself creating trouble with Fiat instead.
Although I admit to being ‘lost’, when attempting to unravel Merc’s model-naming policy, the latest GLB is one-up (I think) from GLA but offers practical seven-seat accommodation, in a square-rigged but handsome vehicle that is only marginally larger than a VW Tiguan but carries a similar but good value price premium. In fact, that is not a bad summary at all.
Interestingly, it is available with either front-wheel, or all-wheel drive and the GLB is powered by a choice of 163bhp turbo-petrol, or 150/190bhp turbo-diesel engines. They can accelerate the car from 0-60mph between 7.3 and 9.0s, with top speeds ranging from 120 to 135mph, while delivering between 47.1 to 56.5mpg, with CO2 emissions running from 133 to 146g/km, to keep road tax within affordable bounds. They all drive through an 8-speed, twin-clutch, automated-manual gearbox.
Long renowned for creating first-class chassis dynamics, the GLB is very sure on its ‘feet’. While it may have the descriptive ‘SUV’ somewhere in its marketing envelope, the truth is, it is more of a crossover class of car. Yet, firm but comfortable suspension damping ensures that occupants are not jostled about unnecessarily, whether just driver and front passenger, with oodles of boot space, are in charge, or the offspring and their chums are headed for a weekend 5-a-side football match and all seats are occupied.
The entry-level Sport version is equipped as standard with 18.0-inch diameter, five-spoke alloy wheels, Dynamic Select, which provides a choice of four driving modes, comfort suspension, LED headlights and tail lights, and a 180° reversing camera. Aluminium roof rails add a splash of exterior detail, while dual-zone Thermotronic climate control, heated front seats, a ‘Light and Sight’ customisable interior illumination package and ‘Artico’ man-made leather upholstery (no cows died for this Merc) create a welcoming interior.
Fitted as standard with a DAB tuner, allied to a six-speaker/100-watts sound system, a seven-inch digital cockpit display and seven-inch touchscreen media display (the MBUX multimedia system). It includes ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice activation, plus Mercedes me connect (which includes emergency call system, also known as eCall, accident recovery and both breakdown and maintenance management programs). It is a most comprehensive package.
Standard safety and driver assistance programmes include Active Brake Assist, Active bonnet (which pops-up to absorb energy in a crash), Active Lane Keeping Assist, Attention Assist, Speed Limit Assist and Keyless-Go locking and unlocking. Should you upgrade to AMG Line models, they add 19.0-inch diameter, five-twin-spoke alloy wheels, AMG body-styling, privacy glass, as well as combined ‘Artico’ and ‘Dinamica’ microfibre upholstery, for additional cockpit style.
Premium trim models come as standard with 64-colour ambient interior lighting, a mirror package that includes automatic folding exterior mirrors and auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors, a parking package that includes reversing camera and parking sensors, pre-installation for trailer coupling, Augmented Reality Navigation, a 10.25-inch infotainment display and another 10.25-inch digital cockpit display, allied to a Mercedes-Benz 10-speaker/225-watt sound system, with smartphone integration and wireless charging. Merc has gone a long way towards standardising the use of thin-screen technology in its dashboards and it not only looks impressive but proves to be easy to use and become familiar with.
Finally, the range topping GLB AMG Line Premium Plus model, which is the only one available with just five seats and a huge boot space, incorporates Multibeam LED headlamps, with Adaptive High-beam Assist Plus, a panoramic sunroof, Driving Assistance pack and Traffic Sign Assist.
List pricing starts at a modest £34,200 for the GLB200 Sport, while the top-of-the-shop 5-seater commands a price tag of £45,950. I am sure that I am not alone in perceiving the GLB as the best value model in the extensive ‘Three-Pointed-Star’ line-up. However, just in case Merc has made a mistake, I would advise placing orders early, before the company changes its mind!
Typical of Merc, the GLB handles well and offers plenty of space for the modern business leader; I believe genuinely that it represents one of the best new cars the firm has launched in ages and, if its current progress is rated as ‘back on track’, it will be durable enough to stand the test of time. There. That made you look!