The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB 250 is an interesting proposition on paper. Unlike a lot of Mercedes’ other SUVs, it has seating for seven, it takes styling cues from the king of the boxes (the G-Class), and has enough tech to make frustrate even the wokest of smartphone users. You don’t have to drive the thing to know that it’s a hit. It’s got all the important bases covered and then some.
Unsurprisingly, the GLB 250 is a fantastic machine, teetering oh so close to perfection. It’s like an in the park home run. All of the bases are covered, but there are a few hiccups along the way. It’s brilliant, but Mercedes made a few errors along the way.
Mercedes let us borrow a GLB 250 4Matic for a week that had a price tag of $51,875. That’s nearly a baseball field away from the SUV’s $38,600 starting price, but more on that later.
The GLB 250 is boxy, but it’s certainly not a baby G-Class. It’s its own thing, blending cues from multiple SUVs to control its own territory in Mercedes’ highly populated SUV lineup. Despite Mercedes over-selling the SUV a bit in the beginning and leading all of us to believe that it would be a downsized version of the iconic off-roader, the GLB 250 still looks like a handsome machine.
It’s blocky in the right places, has enough curved elements to help it not look like a milk carton, and represents the three-pointed star well. It draws all of the necessary Mercedes attention to itself, too, requiring you to rethink parking practices and driving into dodgy parts of town. And compared to the sweeping rooflines, odd headlight designs, and funky elements found on other SUVs, it’s a refreshing take on keeping things simple.
I think the world may have been hoping for something a lot more rugged, but the end result is great.
The strongest aspect of the GLB 250 is its interior. Thanks to the boxy design, there’s loads of space in the five-seat version of the SUV. We sat five full adults a few times to dot around town and go to a wedding engagement party (before the world went to hell) and no one complained. They may have been dazzled by the Mercedes badge and the pretty brown leather upholstery, because three adults in the back is a squeeze because of shoulder space.
Then, there’s the odd length of the rear seats, which are physically short in length for your legs. It’s a strange peculiarity, because it’s the first time I’ve ever noticed it in a car. I’m sized similarly to an average adult human male and the seats just seemed to be short in length for me to get comfortable. This isn’t the case in the front seats, but they have their own problem, as they weren’t wide enough for my frame. Yeah, life’s tough.
Despite the problems, I was still able to get comfy, but it wasn’t because of the design of the seats, but a nifty feature. There’s a setting in the infotainment system called Seat Kinetics. What the system does, is slightly and randomly, adjust your seat in odd places during a drive. At first, this is kind of alarming, because you think the SUV’s gone rogue. But what it’s actually doing, is adjusting random placements, like adding more lower lumbar support, lengthening the leg cushion, or taking away some bolstering, to keep your body moving on a long drive. They’re only slight movements, but boy do they really go a long way to keeping you comfy on drives. I continually kept the system on because it makes things so much more comfortable. No longer do you have to contort your body in odd ways to stop your rear end from going numb.
With a price tag that starts in the mid-$30k realm, there had to be a give and take somewhere, and it occurs with interior materials. While the majority of things feel good, some things just look and feel cheap. The vents are made out of plastic, the piano black trim pieces on certain parts of the center console aren’t the best, and some dials don’t have the same German-esque feel as Mercedes’ more expensive cars. It’s not awful and you really have to go hunting for them to find them, but they’re there.
That may make it sound like the GLB 250 isn’t a good Mercedes, but that’s far from the case. It certainly is on the inside. For instance, there’s felt lining the doors that create a serenely quiet cabin. The 64-color LED ambient lighting system, which is an extra $580, can turn the GLB 250 into a nightclub or a high-end spa depending on what kind of mood you’re in. It’s a gimmick, but a good one.
The GLB 250 comes with so much tech that it deserves its own section to cover. Every GLB 250 comes with a 7-inch digital instrument cluster and a 7-inch touchscreen. If you give Mercedes $1,650, you can upgrade to two 10.25-inch screens. An additional $1,150 gets you navigation, augmented reliability for navigation, and speed limit assist. Our tester came with both packages and I haven’t tested a GLB 250 with the standard setup. So, take that for what it’s worth.
The screens themselves are crisp, clear, and easy to read, but they physically look cheap. They’re not integrated into the dashboard in any way, but follow the trend of just being tacked on. It would’ve been a lot nicer if Mercedes modeled the dashboard around the screens, but that’s not the case.
With that out of the way, the amount of technology and adjustability that Mercedes offers is mind boggling. Everything from the colors of the display to what can be displayed is amazing. Want the whole instrument to be a massive nav system? You can do that. Want both screens to show you where you’re going? That’s fine. Want the left gauge to show you off-roading gradients while the right gauge displays fuel consumption in gallons per hour? Oh yeah, you can do that. That just the tip of the iceberg, because you can then change the physical gauges themselves. If you look at an iPhone and think, “how on Earth does that work?” the GLB 250 is not for you. And we haven’t even covered the touchscreen yet.
The touchscreen doesn’t have as much adjustability as the instrument cluster, but items are organized logically, though Mercedes gives you the option to control the touchscreen through a maddening touchpad that also has handwriting recognition. Using a laptop-like trackpad while driving down the road isn’t very natural, especially when there are so many things to go through.
Mercedes also has two small black pads on the steering wheel that allow you to scroll through the instrument cluster (left pad) and touchscreen (right pad). They’re easier to use than the touchpad, but they’re still tricky. If you want to prioritize some things before others or want a simpler layout, Mercedes offers different themes that prioritize different things, changing everything from the gauges, layout of the touchscreen, colors with the ambient lighting system, and powertrain. A custom mode is also available for consumers that know exactly what they want.
The screens are amazing, stupendous, down-right flattering. But all I could think about when using the system was how expensive it would be repair them if something were to go wrong. I also thought about consumers that had enough money to buy a GLB 250, like my dad. He’s been talking about buying a Mercedes for decades and here’s one that he could afford and would want to buy. The amount of impromptu IT service I would have to give him over the phone and the number of hours I would have to provide to walk him through all of the functions would be maddening. This car and system are clearly aimed at younger consumers that know that 5G isn’t a conspiracy theory and don’t need to watch a YouTube video before sending an emoji through a text.
To help owners use the infotainment system is Mercedes’ personal assistant that controls various things by saying “Mercedes” or “Hey Mercedes.” While flawed, this has to be the best personal assistant I have ever used in a car. It can turn on your seat heaters, program a destination, and tell you the weather, all without having you memorize odd dialogue sentences. It will also find restaurants in your area based on reviews and tell jokes, poor ones. The system does listen and engage at times you don’t want it to and can become confused when more than one person is speaking. Still, this is a major step up for personal car assistants.
The only disappointing aspect of the GLB 250’s list of technology is how little standard safety features are fitted to the car. Nearly everything that companies like Toyota, Hyundai, Nissan, and Honda offer as standard on a lot of vehicles is an optional extra here. Even our pricey tester didn’t have adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, or lane departure warning. It did come with an amazing surround-view camera system, but you’ll have to spend an extra $2,250 to get the latest safety features. On top of that, blind spot monitoring is an extra $550. I would’ve rather seen Mercedes add these features as standard and then charge consumers extra for the high-tech infotainment system and personal assistant.
This is the only area where the GLB 250 is just adequate. You’re getting a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 221 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It’s a fine engine with little turbo lag that helps get the SUV to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds. It’s not neck-breaking stuff, but it’s more than enough for daily use. The eight-speed automatic transmission is smooth and quick to deliver shifts. There is a manual mode, but leaving things in automatic reveals a smooth, comfortable SUV.
Our test vehicle came with an adaptive suspension system that cost $990, but it was hard to discern changes in ride quality with different modes. The system still provided for an incredibly comfortable ride with very little coming into the cabin, even on rough roads. Whether it’s in the city or on the highway, the GLB 250’s ride impresses.
The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB 250 is an excellent vehicle that firmly shows the German brand can make affordable vehicles for the everyday man. It’s not without its faults, but the little SUV feels like a proper Mercedes, just for those that want tech and luxury in a small package. Keep things as cheap as possible and think about what you can live without and not what you need, and you’ll find yourself in one of the best compact SUVs on the market.
I’m not sure how the GLB 250 will perform as a seven-passenger family vehicle, because Mercedes let us test a five-passenger SUV. But based on our time with the two-row SUV, the third row will probably be best suited for emergencies and tiny children – essentially putting the GLB 250 in line with other compact three-row options in that regard.
Gosh. It’s a couple of tiny things that stop the GLB 250 from being a truly wonderful machine for the masses. I get to drive a lot of cars, some good, some bad. But this Mercedes is the only one that received acclaim from every single person that interacted with it. Clearly, it’s a home run, just don’t go into it expecting a towering moonshot.