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2021 Mercedes-Benz GLB: a true premium compact crossover?

Mercedes-Benz GLB 250 4Matic

by Chuck Giametta

What changes make the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLB different?

Addition of the 302-horsepower Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 4Matic model keynotes the sophomore season for this crossover SUV, the first compact vehicle from Mercedes-Benz with seating for seven. Plug-in hybrid and all-electric versions are in the pipeline, too, although probably not before model-year 2022. The ’21 GLB 35 joins the unchanged 221-horsepower GLB 250.

The GLB launched for model-year 2020 into an expanding roster of Mercedes cars and crossovers unprecedented for their small size. It shares underskin engineering with the A-Class and CLA subcompact cars and the GLA subcompact crossover. It’s the longest and tallest of the quartet, and like its siblings – but unlike any other Mercedes vehicles – is based on a front-wheel-drive platform augmented by optional all-wheel drive (AWD).         

Pitched as an entry point for young families, the ’21 GLB slots into the German automaker’s crossover lineup between the sportier GLA and the slightly larger, costlier, more upscale GLC. The GLC is in fact America’s best-selling premium compact crossover and Mercedes’ top-selling U.S. vehicle. It’s the more appropriate foil for mainstay premium-compact crossovers such as the BMW X3, Audi Q5, and Cadillac XT5. The ’21 GLB, however, is the only premium compact crossover available with a third-row seat.  

Should I buy a 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLB or wait for the 2022?

Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 4MATIC

Hybrid fan? Wait for the plug-in GLB, due as a ’21 or a ’22 model, depending in part on how deeply release dates are disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The GLB plug-in will draw an initial charge from the grid, good for an estimated 20 miles or so, then run as a conventional gas-electric hybrid. Price and performance should split the difference between the GLB 250 and GLB 35.

Wait as well if you’re intrigued by a small, all-electric crossover from Mercedes’ nascent EQ family. The EQB version of the GLB could also debut for model-year ‘22. With an expected range of some 250 miles, it’ll compete with the likes of the Tesla Model Y and the BMW iX3.

Interested in a GLB 250 or GLB 35? Look for a 2021. Neither is apt to change dramatically for model-year 2022, although both will almost certainly cost more. And pandemic deals available on the ’21s might not be there once the ’22s roll out. The ’21 GLB 250 comes with a choice of front-drive or Mercedes’ 4Matic AWD. The GLB 35 is 4Matic only. Both have a turbocharged four-cylinder engine liked to an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. And both are available with the optional third-row seat.  

Is 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLB styling different?

GLB 250 4Matic

Mercedes maintains “powerful proportions” and upright lines denote the GLB’s “off-road genes.” With carlike ground clearance and an AWD system calibrated mostly to optimize grip on pavement or in snow, there’s little of the serious off-roader about it. Overall, the GLB looks like a scaled down version of the company’s GLE midsize or GLS full-size crossovers, but with a discordant kickup along the rear beltline.

The 2021 GLB 250 is visually unaltered from the ‘20, but the newly arrived Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 stands out for its unique AMG cues. They include a specific grille and front fascia, and round versus rectangular tailpipes. The optional AMG Night package trims body accents in gloss black and the tailpipes in black chrome.

Some of that visual flavor is available for the GLB 250 via the $2,600 AMG Line package, which includes a diamond-block grille, AMG-type aero trim, sports seats, and brushed stainless steel pedals with rubber studs. The GLB 250 also gets its own black-accented Night Package, priced at $400. 

GLB 35 4Matic

Full specifications for the ’21 GLB 35 were unavailable in time for this review, but Mercedes says it comes with 19-inch AMG alloy wheels, with 20s and 21s available. Its brake calipers are silver with black AMG lettering. GLB 250 wheels are 18-inch alloys standard, with 19s and 20s available in silver or black; the 20s come with summer tires. 

GLB 250 4Matic

Both GLBs boast a rather dramatic dashboard design shared with their platform mates. Artsy round air vents are signature elements, as is the 20.5-inch-wide flatscreen display for the digital instruments and the infotainment touchscreen. The flatscreen is standard on the GLB 35 and included in the GLB 250’s $1,700 Premium Package, which replaces more modest 7-inch digital displays. The GLB 35’s configurable instrumentation includes a Supersport mode that centralizes a tachometer. A head-up projection of key vehicle and navigation data is an $1,100 option.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. Imbedded navigation is optional for both GLBs as part of the $1,150 Multimedia Package. It features augmented reality, which projects onto the nav screen live video of the road ahead, overlayed with directions and other GPS data.

GLB touchpad interface

Your interface with either the standard or optional screen is through steering-wheel switches, a console touchpad/button/scroll cluster, or the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX). The sensitive touchpad is difficult to use while driving; it’s a poor substitute for a simpler push/twist knob. MBUX relies on voice commands and is keyword-activated by “Hey, Mercedes.” It’s responsive enough but can be triggered by simply including “Mercedes” in conversation.

GLB 250 4Matic

Cabin décor ranges from puckish to prosaic. Sixty-four-color LED ambient lighting that also individually illuminates those trippy vents is a $310 option, for example. But some parts and materials don’t quite meet “premium” standards. The silver-plastic tubular door pulls in our 5,700-mile GLB 250 test example showed numerous scratches. The slender plastic steering-wheel stalks do their job but come across as minimalist or unsubstantial, depending on your mindset.

Most surfaces you’ll touch regularly are nicely padded, though. Black Linden wood or brown Walnut accents are the genuine article, at $325. Doing a fine imitation of leather is Mercedes’ MB-Tex upholstery. It’s standard in black or beige on the GLB 250. Leather in black, brown, or a grey/black combo is a $1,450 option. The GLB 35 gets a flat-bottom steering wheel, red seatbelts, and extra-bolstered front seats upholstered in red-stitched black MB-Tex with microfiber inserts. Optional is two-tone leather and an AMG Performance steering wheel with buttons for quick control of certain dynamic functions.

GLB 250 4Matic second-row bench seat

This compact crossover’s squarish stance contributes to generous passenger room in the first two rows. The seats are sofa-high and supportive. The rear doors open nearly 90 degrees and the 40:60 split second row slides 6 inches to furnish stretch-out legroom or expanded luggage space. The 40:20:40 split rear seatbacks recline.

GLB with optional third-row seat

The cramped 50:50 split third row is a for-kids-only option at $850. Mercedes does furnish two cupholders and two USB-C ports. A row of grocery bags fit behind it. At 20 cubic feet behind the second row and 62 with it folded, cargo volume is among best in class. A power liftgate with hands-free operation is standard.

Any 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLB mechanical changes?

GLB 35 4Matic has an “AMG-enhanced” turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder

Only with introduction of the Mercedes-AMG GLB 35. It’s a rung shy of full AMG status, meaning mostly that its engine isn’t hand-assembled by a single craftsperson in Germany. Still, Mercedes describes its turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder as “AMG-enhanced.” It boasts an impressive 302 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. And the 35’s transmission, steering, brakes, suspension, and 4Matic system are all AMG-tuned to boost performance. There’s even a “Race Start” mode. Mercedes quotes 0-60 mph in a very respectable 5.1 seconds.

No GLB 35 was made available for testing in time for this review. But the GLB 250 makes a reasonable case as an entry-level premium compact crossover, even if it lacks the layers-deep refinement of a bona fide Mercedes.

At nearly 7 seconds 0-60 by the stopwatch, acceleration is back of the pack. In practice, the GLB 250’s turbo 2.0-liter four deploys its 221 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque to good effect. There’s plenty of thrust for lively response around town and fuss-free highway merging. Only when tasked with overtaking at high speed does it lack real authority. Relatively little turbo lag off the line or from low-speed coasting drains most of the drama from turning across oncoming traffic or pulling onto a busy thoroughfare. The dual-clutch automatic generally shifts smoothly but is occasionally indecisive when you apply the gas in low-demand cruising.

GLB 250 4Matic

We have not yet tested a front-drive GLB 250. The 4Matic model’s AWD system distributes power within modes the driver selects with a console toggle. Default mode is Eco/Comfort, with an 80:20 front/rear split, Sport splits is 70:30, off-road 50:50. The Off-Road Engineering Package standard with 4Matic brings an additional category that optimizes engine and braking and includes a downhill-speed governor. It also displays the GLB’s inclination angle and other off-road data on the touchscreen.

On road, the GLB 250 4Matic’s front-wheel-drive genes are evident with a subtle tug through the steering wheel in fast acceleration and a whiff of noseplow in fast, tight turns. But balance, grip, and steering weight are certainly good enough to make this crossover feel like an ally in any type of driving.

Optional across the board – and calibrated for each model’s character — is an adaptive damping suspension ($990 for the GLB 250; price for the 35 not released in time for this review). The driver can decide suspension firmness, and in our GLB 250 4Matic test, we found the sportiest setting provided the most composed body control without turning the ride too stiff.

Traditional rear-drive-based Mercedes vehicles maintain a polished smoothness between you and any mechanical or road unpleasantries (full-on AMG models, though, can feel brutish). The GLB belongs to a new order of small Mercedes that feel like lighter-weight designs with more mainstream dynamics. There’s also a susceptibility to pavement and powertrain tingles absent in other Mercedes – including the GLC and other premium compact crossovers such as the X3, Q5, Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Porsche Macan, and Volvo XC60.

Will 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLB fuel economy improve?

GLB 250 4Matic

Unlikely. EPA ratings for the 2021 GLB had not been released in time for this review, but GLB 250 ratings should repeat those of 2020. That would again place it among the most fuel-efficient premium compact crossovers unaided by electricity.

Look for the ’21 GLB 250 to rate 23/30/26 mpg city/highway/combined and for the GLB 250 4Matic to again rate 23/31/26 mpg. Expect the ’21 GLB 35 4Matic to rate around 20/28/23 mpg. All GLBs require premium-octane gas.

Does the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLB have new features?

GLB 250 4Matic with imbedded navigation

None for the GLB 250, but the ’21 GLB 35 introduces a host of AMG-specific hardware, software, and data displays, as described earlier. Mercedes had not released the 35’s full list of features in time for this review but expect most package content and pricing to mirror the GLB 250’s.

Most every comfort and convenience item expected in this class is standard or optional. Standard equipment includes power front seats with memory, LED headlamps, fog lights, and dual-zone automatic climate control. However, Mercedes charges extra for some basic safety features, which seems parsimonious for a premium-class product.

Every version of the GLB comes with autonomous emergency braking designed to mitigate a frontal collision with another vehicle, object, or pedestrian. Most other driver assists are optional, including many that are standard on a wealth of cars and crossovers costing thousands less.

GLB dual-panel moonroof

Foremost among these is blind-spot detection that alerts you to traffic in adjacent lanes; it’s a $550 stand-alone option and is included in the aforementioned Driver Assistance Package. At $1,700, the package isn’t overpriced for its content, but, again, many manufacturers include some of its features no extra cost. The package includes blind-spot detection with the added ability to warn of opening a side door when parked if traffic’s approaching from the rear. It also contains rear cross-traffic detection with automatic reverse braking.

Also part of the Driver Assistance Package: lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction and automatic braking to prevent you from turning unsafely across oncoming traffic. Included, too, is adaptive cruise control that maintains a set distance from traffic ahead and can adjust based on speed-limit signs and road curves. The package’s semi-autonomous lane-maintaining automatic steering allows the driver’s hands to be off the steering wheel for brief intervals. Without driver intervention, it can automatically slow and then stop the crossover.

Among other notable options, the $1,090 Parking Assistance Package includes surround-view video and semi-autonomous parking into perpendicular spaces and into and out of parallel spaces. The front seats can be heated for $580, heated and ventilated for $1,030. A heated steering wheel is $250, wireless charging $200, satellite radio $460, and a double moonroof with only semi-opaque power shades $1,500.

What are 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLB prices?

GLB 250 4Matic

Mercedes increased base prices $1,450 for 2021 to $39,045 for the GLB 250 and $41,045 for the GLB 250 4Matic. The manufacturer’s destination fee remained $995. Some option prices also rose.

These are indeed entry-level base prices in this class, although options inflate the bottom line alarmingly. Our 2020 GLB 250 4Matic test example had the Driver Assistance, Multimedia, and Premium packages, leather upholstery, Linden wood accents, 19-inch wheels, dual moonroofs, heated front seats and steering wheel, adjustable suspension, satellite radio, and ambient lighting. It stickered for $51,210, including destination. A comparable ’21 would be more expensive.  

Exercise restraint and a GLB gets you into a roomy Mercedes crossover for not much more than a loaded compact SUV from a non-premium brand. Equip one with lots of options, and its value proposition fades. 

When does the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLB come out?

The 21GLB 250 went on sale in spring 2020. Barring Covid-19-releated delays, expect a 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 release date in fall 2020.

Best 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLB competitors

Acura RDX, Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Audi Q5, BMW X3, Cadillac XT5, Jaguar F-Pace, Land Rover Discovery Sport, Lincoln Corsair, Range Rover Velar, Infiniti QX50, Porsche Macan, Volvo XC60

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]