I clicked the “Dynamic” toggle up one time to engage Sport mode. The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB250 stiffened its shock absorbers, firmed up the electronic power steering, and told the throttle to open more with the same inputs while allowing the dual-clutch transmission to hold gears longer before upshifting. I signaled, checked for traffic, and from a 10 miles-per-hour roll, pinned the throttle wide-open down the on-ramp. The DCT dropped to first gear and clicked off a few upshifts, the little turbocharged four boosting its heart out, finally achieving highway speed as I was ready to merge. The GLB250 wasn’t fast per se, but it was hustling, dramatically, as hard as it could, and my next thought was “damn, I want to rallycross this.”
Granted, I was coming off of a weekend of hustling cheap old cars around dirt courses as quickly as possible. Most rallycross cars are old and ride lower, a sea of sedans and coupes as you’d expect. But one enterprising gentleman brought a Jeep Renegade with three pedals on the floor and knobby tires. My friend Coleman and I took turns flinging his Volvo XC90 through the course. As I spent time with the GLB250, it felt increasingly like a puppy from an expensive breeder, well-groomed but ready to jump and play around in the dirt.
What Is It?
This is a 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB250. The GLB250 uses the same platform as the W177-based Mercedes-Benz A220 I reviewed earlier this year. Though Mercedes-Benz considers the GLB a “compact” SUV and the next-level-up GLC a “midsize,” overall length of the two vehicles are within an inch of each other, and the GLB has an extra inch of wheelbase. That longer wheelbase allows Mercedes to offer a third-row seating option on the GLB250, which is an objectively hilarious decision given the vehicle itself is rather petite and a third row would be reserved for very, very small children who you’re not mad at but very disappointed in.
All 2020 GLB250s are powered by the Mercedes-Benz “M264” turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinder engine. Though a variant of the M264 powers the platform-mate A220 sedan, it makes more power and torque here in the GLB250 at 221 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Every GLB250 sends power through an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and optional 4MATIC all-wheel drive (front-wheel drive is standard).
My GLB250 was modestly equipped, with notable options including adaptive suspension, ambient cabin lighting, parking assist, MBUX navigation with augmented reality, and dual 10.25″ dashboard displays. MSRP of my loaner came to $51,875.
Driving the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB250
My impressions of the GLB250 were similar to those of the A220 sedan I drove earlier this year. Fantastic seats, though leather-wrapped this time, paired to an otherwise comfortable and inviting cabin that felt very premium at first glance. The dual 10.25″ displays and ambient lighting really sell the GLB as a premium offering.
The turbocharged four cylinder makes a pleasant enough noise from idle all the way to redline, which it’s happy to achieve if you set the drive mode to Sport and drop your right foot. The power and torque figures here, much like in the A220, feel appropriate for the vehicle’s size and weight – about 3,700 pounds. Yes, you have to work for the power a bit, but that’s not a bad thing. Mercedes’ 8-speed DCT was a more pleasant partner than the 7-speed DCT of the A220. That could be due to programming or physical differences in the transmission, it’s hard to say for certain. While Mercedes includes paddle shifters, the transmission doesn’t listen to them very well and often preferred to do its own thing.
Another A220 frustration, the adaptive suspension, was improved in the GLB250. Though not perfect, ride quality in Comfort mode was generally good. Shocks did firm up in Sport mode and add confidence on curvy roads. This is a crossover that’s willing to take a corner with some semblance of capability. Even on a very rainy Saturday, the GLB250 felt confident being (lightly) tossed around some back roads, as 4MATIC distributed power appropriately and let me focus on looking ahead. That 4MATIC is paired to 7.9 inches of ground clearance – plenty for most drivers and scenarios. This would be, as mentioned above, a pretty good setup for SCCA RallyCross.
Mercedes’ MBUX infotainment continued to be relatively impressive, though it cannot understand “pair my phone,” instead directing the driver to the nearest nail salon. Repeatedly. I also experienced yet another instance of MBUX declaring I’d reached my destination while I was in fact not there yet, still in the middle of a busy road a few turns away from where I needed to be. MBUX relies on Here.com for addresses and may not be using the most reliable data.
The ‘Mercedes-ness’ of the 2020 GLB250
I used the phrase “Mercedes-ness” when reviewing the A220 and feel it’s appropriate here as well. There are many elements of the GLB250 that make it feel special. The interior makes a great first impression and on paper, the GLB250 is pretty appealing. It looks fantastic, too. The drivetrain is a willing partner if you put your foot down and hammer on it a bit.
The issue, though, is that most GLB250 buyers likely won’t be rallycrossing their little Mercedes-Benz nearly as often as they’ll use it for commuting and errands and road trips and perhaps anything BUT rallycross. And when used simply as An Car, the GLB250 falls a little flat as a Mercedes-Benz. The engine is okay but the dual-clutch transmission a bit unrefined around town. There’s road and tire noise aplenty at highway speed. Running your hand over the bottom steering wheel spoke or your knee over the door panel produces little creaks and squeaks. And this comes wrapped up in a package that, as equipped, costs within one bad rallycross apex of a GLC300.
I last drove a 2018 GLC300 and came away very impressed with the whole package. The GLB, by comparison, impresses in small doses but feels less “Mercedes-y” overall. $51,000 or so is a significant sticker price, and I’d expect a tighter interior with no squeaks and far less road noise for that sort of money.
Yes, the GLB250 is based on the A220 and yes, I ultimately liked the A220 enough. But the tested A220 carried a sticker price that was about ten grand less than this GLB250, and the somewhat-gruff drivetrain suits the slightly-sportier character of the A220 sedan far more than it does this GLB crossover.
One can build a GLB250 with 4MATIC for less than $51,000, of course, but adding some key options to the GLB quickly raises the sticker from the base $36,600 to the mid-$40,000 range, which is where the GLC300 starts. And that GLC300, based on my impressions from a few years ago, will feel a little more Mercedesish. Technical term, I know.
In the meantime, for aspiring rallycrossers who want some honest luxury while playing racecar driver and find an old 190E too cramped or an old S-Class and its power rear-view mirror too unwieldy, the GLB250 strikes me as a great “do it all” daily driver and weekend toy.
Get the Bahla Brown leather seats, and all that rallycross dust will blend right in!