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In reality, the GLB, together with the latest GLE and GLS models, was already introduced locally in late 2020, but the Covid-19 pandemic led to a considerable stock shortage of the compact SUV, so Mercedes-Benz decided to expose it once again to the media. At the same time, they also announced the planned introduction of the powerful Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 4Matic, expected here later next year.

Fate loves irony, and here’s a perfect example. When I undertook a more than 2,000 km journey in a Mercedes-Benz GLB last year on some of the worst dirt roads imaginable in Namibia, I did not suffer a single puncture. Then last month, after a drive of less than 100 km on good tar roads in Gauteng in the same model, I was left standing next to a GLB with a flat tyre. Sometimes a wry smile is the best response to show appreciation for the irony of a situation.

Before my re-acquaintance with the GLB, I undertook an extended road trip with the “baby-G” (Mercedes-Benz’s own, quite exaggerated description of the smaller G-model, primarily due to its more angular design) following the tyre tracks of the so-called “Dernburg Wagen”. 

This huge vehicle, built in 1907, was the first four-wheel-driven multi-seat passenger car from Daimler, and our journey – while long and at times quite arduous – was uneventful, but my reunion with the compact sports utility (with seven seats available on request) was not so fabulous.

An adversely placed nail on the (mostly tarred) route through Gauteng slow-punctured the front left tyre – as quickly displayed by the standard tyre pressure monitor – and forced us to stop next to the road. Usually, this would not be a problem, but with non-run-flat tyres on the GLB and no spare tyre, our salvation depended on a jack with a small electric motor and some patch solution.

Ironic as it was, this situation made me realise how lucky we were not to find ourselves in the same situation in the desolate vastness of Namibia, as even at a crawl, the foam filler and patch solution would not have withstood the rigours of those rough roads.

But there’s much more to “Baby-G” than just me tempting fate and irony. 

Three Powertrains

With its distinctive AMG front grille and 2-litre four-cylinder petrol-turbo engine, mated to an AMG Speedshift 8G DCT and 4Matic all-wheel-drive system, the **über**-GLB looks formidable. The AMG-tuned engine delivers 225 kW and 400 Nm of torque, enabling it to sprint from 0-100 km/h in 5.3 seconds and reach a top speed of 265 km/h. Fuel consumption is stated as 7.5 l/100 km. 

Sure, the diesel-driven 220d 4Matic has permanent all-wheel-drive with variable torque distribution and an Off-Road Engineering Package with off-road camera animation, customised ABS and downhill assist, but with only 200 mm of ground clearance, 19” wheels with low-profile tyres (20” rubber is optionally available) and no air suspension (as it is based on the A Class platform), the GLB is no serious off-roader.

So, do not take the “Baby G” description too literally: It has more to do with the angular styling of the GLB (in comparison with the softer and more rounded lines of the GLA) and its well-equipped interior than its prowess in more testing off-road conditions.

The GLB’s 2-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel mill delivers 140 kW and a respectable 400 Nm of torque from 1,600 rpm. Coupled with an 8G-DCT (for a claimed 0-100 km/h time of 7.6 seconds, a top speed of 217 km/h and fuel consumption from 5.7 l/100 km) plus good ride and handling qualities on tar, the 220d 4Matic, in my view, is the model of choice.

Alternatively, the GLB 250 petrol model is available, equipped with a 2-litre turbo engine providing 165 kW and 350 Nm of torque. As in the diesel derivative, the smooth power unit is mated to an eight-speed transmission, but power is only distributed to the front wheels.

Seven-Seat Versatility

The GLB is more suitable as a people mover and suburbia pavement creeper for well-heeled families. With its long wheelbase (10 mm longer than the latest B-Class), seven easily adjustable seats (the ones at the rear are small, though), and spacious cabin (with up to 967 mm of legroom for the second-row passengers and up to 1,805 mm of luggage space) the GLB is a good alternative for the GLC.

Equipped standard with LED headlights, a widescreen instrument panel, an MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) infotainment system with high-resolution full-colour graphics, plus comfortable sports seats covered with artificial leather, the GLB is an attractive SUV proposition, but the omission of electric control for the front seats is a strange anomaly.

Last Word

Still, before acquiring one of these models, request a set of run-flat tyres (for R5,000 extra and associated harsher ride quality) or at least ask for a full-size spare tyre if you don’t want to be stranded on the roadside. Also, if you decide upon the 220d 4Matic, remember to carry a bottle of AdBlue additive in the vehicle before departing on a long journey. Believe me; it will save you a lot of despair. But that’s a story for another day.

Report by Ferdi de Vos | Images © Mercedes-Benz South Africa/Ryan Abbott

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