Mercedes-Benz India has the widest range of vehicles on offer across segments in the luxury passenger car market. The carpet-bombing style line-up of models for a market which is still a fledgling in comparison to the likes of China is worthy of praise. The more choice for the buyer, the merrier, even though, occasionally, a new model does come along and raise doubts about its market viability.
The Merc GLB was launched for the 2020 model year and was officially unveiled in Utah, US, during the global media drive of the GLS in June 2019. And I remember sitting in the cabin of this 3-row sports utility and wondering if it be a fit for a market like India. Barely three years on, Merc India has decided it is, and is launching it later this week. Does it represent a sort of maturing or democratising of the luxury passenger car market? Are younger buyers also looking for versatility and space? Is it perfect for the uniquely Indian concept of a 6-member urban nuclear family? I travelled to Kodaikanal last week seeking answers to those questions.
The GLB’s design is often referred to as being inspired by Merc’s flagship SUV - the GLS. The front bonnet grille and the tail-lamp configuration at the rear that looks like it is a miniaturised version of the GLS are just some of the features that lead to that connect between the two. But in my view, while the EQB’s squatter design and some of the rounded features makes it closer, the GLB’s more rectangular elements and taller profile design is more like a mix between the GLS and the erstwhile GLK.
The GLB is offered in three variants and two powertrain options. The petrol powertrain is offered only in one Progressive Line trim, the diesel powertrain is offered in both the Progressive Line and the AMG Line (4WD) trims. What I was offered for the test drive was the GLB 220d 4MATIC AMG Line. The grille on my test mule was a little different, with a single central character bar with the 3-pointed star logo over the radiating pins. The other powertrain version the GLB 200 Progressive Line gets a dual louvres that matches, in design, with the GLS.
Another reference is the bonnet slab with its power dome, that gives the GLB an upright and strong front profile. The rectangular headlamps give the GLB its differentiated fascia compared to the EQB. The GLB’s side profile is a bit of a tease, one can see that it is longer than the average 2-row SUV, but it is not by much. Of course, it is difficult to attribute that bit of extra length and the bigger quarter glass to anything but a third row of seats.
The rear design of the GLB is very baby GLS-like, with the split tail-lamps and the integrated diffuser on the fender, with its twin tailpipes giving it those flagship clone vibes. The AMG Line trim test mule that I was driving sported special 19-inch AMG 5-spoke light alloy rims, but the other variants get 18-inch rims. Chrome-plated waistline and window lines, and an aluminium roof rail adds that touch of premium ruggedness to all three variants.
The Merc GLB’s cabin is very recognisably a Mercedes, with its borrowed signature elements like the wind turbine style aircon vents. The dashboard layout is upright with a strong centre focus keeping it a typically SUV design.
The first impression about the GLB’s cabin is, of course, the amount of space that is available for the occupants of the first and second row of seats. The second row bench seat features a 40:20:40 split and can be moved forward and aft for a comfortable position. The back-rest can also be inclined by up to 25 degrees.
The third row features two seats that would be best used for transporting pre-teens or kids. The third row’s legroom would be relatively less for adults. The second row seats also tilt and slide forward, but don’t tumble; so access to the third row is not the most ideal.
With the second and third folded, the luggage room is a huge 1,680 litres, but with all three rows in use, the boot volume is just about 150blitres. The driver and front passenger should be able to find a comfortable seating position.
The 220d 4MATIC I was driving had electrical adjustments for both front seats. Overall, I was told that all three variants get a fair amount of kit for the cabin, unlike the low trim variants that are offered by Merc in other markets.
The cabin reflects Mercedes-Benz’s transformation and going digital across all model hierarchies. A compact version of the twin screens that have the instrument cluster and the infotainment interface crowns the GLB’s dashboard too. The aluminium-framed unit and its twin 10.25-inch screens deliver all key vehicle information and connectivity needs.
The aircon controls sit right below the three vents on the centre stack and still feature analog controls. The touchpad MMI, and the controls for the dynamic select and volume are the other features located on the centre console. There is no dearth of premium finishes and materials around the cabin of the GLB 220d 4MATIC that I was driving.
The cabin gets tubular elements in brushed aluminium, a flat-bottomed, multi-function sports steering wheel in stitched nappa leather, roller shutter style lid for the centre console and a choice of open pore walnut wood or carbon-fibre finish for the contrast dash and door panels. Three different choices of upholstery are offered for the seats depending on the variant. My test mule sported sports seats, the other two are offered with comfort seats. There are is seat massage function or ventilation, but seat kinetics is offered. There is also ambient lighting, including 64 different LED light colours to choose from.
The test mule Merc GLB that I was driving was the 220d 4MATIC AMG Line. With some minor model and gearbox specific changes, this variant features the same OM654q Diesel engine that the GLC is also offered with. In the GLB, the power output at 190hp is just a bit lower, but this 1,950cc, 4-cylinder diesel engine generates the same 400Nm of peak torque, which is available from a low 1,600rpm. The GLB 220d gets the 8-DCT (dual-clutch) gearbox instead of the 9G-TRONIC in the GLC. This power unit comes across as the same refined, yet versatile mill that we have experienced in the past. The low-end torque character and the unruffled, quick spurts of acceleration that is possible with a good diesel engine are addictive.
With a well-insulated cabin, the GLB 220d also feels comfortable to be in while driving with a heavy foot. The only distraction at high speeds was the bit of wind and tyre noise that seeped through. The top speed of the GLB 220d is 217kmph, and it is restricted to 110kmph, while being driven in off-road mode (available only with 4MATIC). The other three driving modes available as part of Dynamic Select are Sport, Comfort and Eco.
The petrol engine option offered in the GLB 200 is a 1.4-litre, 4-cylinder unit that delivers 163hp of peak power and 250Nm of torque. The 1,332cc engine also features cylinder-deactivation tech, which enables the shutting-off of two cylinders during partial engine load (during cruising and low throttle). The 4-cylinder mode comes back on when the demand on the engine increases. This engine is paired with the 7G-DCT (dual-clutch gearbox) and the top speed is 207kmph.
The GLB’s ride is characteristic of Merc’s SUVs, with a tall seating position and ride height it is easy to take on broken roads and tall speed breakers. Suspension tuning is a tad firm, but that comes through only while riding over badly broken tarmac. But handling and steering are good for a SUV that is over 4.6 metres long. Holding the lines and taking corners at speed through some of the winding sections of the route was no problem at all.
A bunch of safety features are offered with the GLB, including active brake assist, parktronic with camera view, seven airbags, including a knee airbag, and car-2-x communication. The GLB is a NCAP 5-star rated vehicle too.
Overall, the GLB is pretty well-equipped in terms of the tech and features it gets. It is practical and versatile, especially for buyers that need the flexibility of seating more than 4-5 passengers. It can serve as a good alternative for first-time luxury car buyers and those looking to upgrade from the entry luxury category, and who want the space and versatility of a 3-row SUV. Expect prices to range from Rs 60 lakh to Rs 70 lakh.