To get the most space out of the relatively small design, the GLB naturally has a squarer appearance. In particular, the rear hatch needs to be as vertical is possible for third-row passenger headroom and cargo space behind the seat. Photo: Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes is flooding the upscale-compact-utility-vehicle market

Another compact utility vehicle squeezes into an already-tight Mercedes formation

In football parlance, flooding the zone occurs when the quarterback directs his pass receivers downfield to confuse and outnumber the opposing defence. In automotive terms, it seems that Mercedes-Benz is flooding a different zone: The upscale-compact-utility-vehicle market.

The new GLB250 is one of six such utilities to wear the three-pointed star. It’s about 13 centimetres longer than the GLA (the smallest in the M-B-range), and about five centimetres shorter than the next-largest GLC. The GLE-, GLS- and G-class utility vehicles round out the group.

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 give it an off-road-capable appearance, however following a G class over craggy and deeply rutted terrain is probably 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 a USB port. Interestingly, the next-size-up GLC cannot be ordered with a third row.

To make sufficient space in the GLB, the second-row bench slides up to 15 centimetres (it also slides in the two-row GLB) 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 is expectedly small.

For moving larger items, the split-folding 40:20:40 second row and 60:40 third row can each be 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 seven-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 powertrain announced so far is a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder that puts out 221 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It’s connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Later in the model year, you can expect more powerful AMG models.

Official fuel-consumption stats haven’t been released, but based on the same engine used in the GLA, you can expect about 10.5 l/100 km in the city, 7.8 on the highway and 9.3 combined city/highway.

According to Mercedes-Benz, the 2.0 will propel the GLB to 60 mph (96 km/h) from rest in 6.9 seconds.

Mercedes-Benz’s 4Matic all-wheel-drive is standard. 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 five-passenger GLB is expected to split the difference between the GLA and GLC, or about $46,500, including destination fees. That will get you a reasonable amount of gear, but expect to pay close to $50,000 when adding the third-row seat. You’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.

What you should know: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB250

Type: All-wheel-drive compact-utility vehicle

Engine (h.p.): 2.0-litre DOHC I-4, turbocharged (221)

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Market position: The premium-compact-utility-vehicle segment is becoming increasingly popular (and competitive) as more buyers are indicating a preference for these models over similarly upscale sedans.

Points: Squared-off body provides at least the appearance of off-road ruggedness. • Modern dashboard and control panel adds to the premium-look interior. • Turbo four-cylinder engine has reasonable performance, but AMG versions will improve significantly on that. • Third-row-seating option is ideal for small children, but not so much for adults.

Active safety: Blind-spot warning with cross-traffic backup alert (opt.); active cruise control (std.); emergency braking (opt.); lane-departure warning (opt.)

L/100 km (city/hwy) 10.5/7.8 (est.); Base price (incl. destination) $46,500 (est.)

BY COMPARISON

Audi Q3 Quattro

Base price: $41,000

Redesigned 2019 model comes with a turbo 258-h.p. I-4 and standard AWD.

Cadillac XT4 AWD

Base price: $40,900

New compact utility model is reasonably priced and stylish. AWD is optional.

Lexus NX

Base price: $46,150

Well-equipped with most active-safety tech; hybrid model available.

If you’re interested in new or used vehicles, be sure to visit TodaysDrive.com to find your dream car today!

-written by Malcom Gunn, Managing Partner at Wheelbase Media

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The optional dash layout with larger screens uses the latest MBUX interface with voice-command tech. Just say “Hey Mercedes” to begin your instructions. Photo: Mercedes-Benz

The GLB is the second-smallest utility vehicle in the Mercedes utility lineup, next to the GLA, but the GLB offers a third-row seat. Notice how close the top of the seat is the closing edge of the hatch. Photo: Mercedes-Benz

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