2020 MERCEDES-BENZ GLB250
In football parlance, flooding the zone occurs when the quarterback directs his pass receivers downfield to confuse and outnumber the opposing defense. In automotive terms, it seems that Mercedes-Benz is flooding a different zone: The upscale compact utility vehicle market.
The new GLB250, which will launch by the end of the year, is one of six such utilities to wear the three-pointed star. It's about 5 inches longer than the GLA (the smallest in the M-B-range), and less than 2 inches shorter than the next-largest GLC (which cannot be ordered with a third row). The GLE-, GLS- and G-class utility vehicles round out the grouping.
The GLB's stout appearance belies the fact that it's built off the Mercedes-Benz A-class front-wheel-drive car platform. The blunt-edge front end and the tall, squared-off roofline gives it an off-road-capable appearance; however, following a G class over craggy and deeply rutted terrain is likely not a great idea.
Surprisingly, despite its compact dimensions, the GLB can be ordered with a third-row seat, complete with two cupholders plus a couple of outboard storage compartments and one USB port.
To make sufficient space for two more passengers in a third row, the second-row bench slides up to 6 inches (it also adjusts in the two-row GLBs) and the seatback can be angled in a more upright position. Note that placing anyone larger than junior-size in the back will be a tight squeeze, and the cargo zone behind is ex-pectedly small.
For moving larger items, the split-folding 40:20:40 second row and 60:40 third row can each be partially or completely folded flat.
The GLB's front-seat passengers have a full view of an instrument panel that's nearly identical to that found in the A-class cars. It comes with two adjoining 7-inch or optional 10.3-inch configurable touch screens with the latest Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) voice-activated system. By speaking "Hey Mercedes" aloud, a disembodied voice acts on your requests to — among others — change radio channels, connect with your phone's contacts, or search for the nearest gas stations or restaurants.
The only available pow-ertrain announced so far is a turbo charged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that puts out 221 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It's connected to an eight-speed automated manual transmission with paddle shifters. Later in the model year, you can expect more powerful AMG models.
Official fuel-economy stats haven't been determined, but based on the turbo 2,0 used in the GLA, you can expect about 24 mpg in the city, 33 on the highway and 27 combined city/highway.
According to Mercedes-Benz, the 2.0 will propel the GLB to 60 mph from rest in 6.9 seconds.
Front-wheel drive is standard, with 4Matic all-wheel drive optional. The system varies the front-to-rear torque split depending on the mode selected. In Eco and Comfort, the front-to-rear split is 80:20. It's 70:30 in Sport and 50:50 in Off-Road.
Pricing for the base front-wheel-drive, five-passenger GLB is expected to split the difference between the GLA and GLC, which is about $38,000 including destination fees. That will get you a reasonable amount of gear, but buyers opting for AWD and the third row can expect to pay more than $40,000, They'll also pay more for options such as a panoramic glass roof, adaptive suspension and an AMG styling kit with a unique grille, bumpers and wheels. A full range of active and semi-autonomous driving technologies is extra.
All football-flooding references aside, in terms of design, content and price, there appears to be enough differentiation — although it might be hard to believe — between the GLB and its immediate larger and smaller utility siblings. It might also be hard to believe that a third-row seat can fit into what will be the second-smallest such vehicle in the range.