In order to concurrently keep up with and set themselves apart from competitors, Mercedes-Benz employs a somewhat shotgun approach, with lots of cars starting in the mid-to-high $30K range. Their newest being the seven-passenger GLB SUV, built on the same platform as the brand’s CLA—which first debuted in 2013.
The brand is going after younger buyers with the $38,600 250 4Matic GLB, an ideal car for people with kids and those in need of an “emergency” third row. This is a five-passenger crossover with extraordinary headroom and excellent second-row leg space on par with mid-to-full-size sedans. Despite being an SUV, its car-like ride height is easier to pile a family into.
That optional third row is cramped for adults, but fine for kids. But in context, flop those seats down and you have 26 cubic feet of cargo room, which matches or bests most full-sized wagons. If the alternative is the comparably priced Volvo V60 Cross Country ($45,100), the maximum 62 cubic feet of cargo volume in the Benz is superior, and there’s no optional third-row seat from Volvo.
Underneath its boxy exterior, the GLB is simply a wagon—in a good way. This occurs to us as we flog the car up a mountain pass, laying hard into the throttle and downshifting the paddles of the excellent, eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Even when coaxing 258-pound-feet of torque from its turbocharged, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, the steering is superb, light, but tactile.
The GLB slips luxuriously and silently through the air, even in heavy crosscurrents. While there are plenty of options you can order the GLB’s bones are already excellent.
Mercedes fits this new family car, and the newly revised CLA sedan (as well as the AMG version: the AMG CLA 35 Coupe) with the brand’s new MBUX touchpad screen system, which also allows voice input. Communication with this is best kept simple (when we express more complex requests like navigating to our hotel or finding the nearest café it often failed). With both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay onboard nearly all drivers’ tech needs are easily met.
What we adore in both the GLB and the CLAs are new seamless flat panels that stretch nearly the width of the dash. While many other carmakers have been showing oversized screens glued to their concepts’ dashboards at auto shows recently, this Mercedes-Benz iteration is understated and well-integrated into the cabin.
If you’re wondering how the aforementioned AMG CLA 35 compares to the the stock 4Matic CLA, you’ll notice minimal differences in horsepower and pick-up. It’s reasonable to assume that the 302hp versus 221hp is worth the upgrade, but unless you’re seeking even better performance (or status), we suggest skipping the AMG upgrade. While the AMG-sized CLA can get to 60mph in 4.6 seconds, the milder CLA is nearly as quick.
That would be more reasonable if the AMG CLA 35 was really mind-blowing regarding its adjustable suspension, but it’s not. In AMG-only Sport+ mode (which ratchets down the suspension and quickens shifts), the AMG 35 grows stiff rather than poised. Plus, the seven-speed DCT gearbox can’t switch gears (especially downshifts) as fast as a true manual, or several other rival dual-clutch systems. That said, it’s quick and it looks super-sharp.
The GLB will surely be a huge success for Mercedes, and the brand will no doubt appeal to racer types who want an AMG version of the CLA. (We imagine an AMG version of the GLB is on its way, too.) Perhaps just as obvious, these AMGs may still be a reach for many buyers, but they will be tempting for those ready to window shop before settling on the lesser, but still superb editions of both cars.