Some luxury brands are highly coveted for their cachet, like a Hermes Birkin bag. Others have lost their prestige. Let’s face it, when you can find designer names like Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Coach, Perry Ellis, and Michael Kors piled up like cordwood at T.J.Maxx or Macy’s, or hawking their own wares at an outlet mall, their days as influential high-end brands are over.
The same tragic down-market slide happens to automakers, and one has to wonder, is it happening to Mercedes-Benz? The brand first sold automobiles at their creation, and has been a favorite of the wealthy and powerful nearly as long.
So they would never ruin that, right?
Given the company is expanding its portfolio of lower-priced front-wheel-drive vehicles, including the GLA-, CLA-, A-Class, and the new for 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB 250 4Matic, one has to wonder. After all, the lord of the manor can’t be seen driving the same brand of car as the hired help.
Looking like a shrunken version of its larger siblings, the GLB 250 fills the niche between the smaller GLA-Class and the larger rear-wheel-drive GLC-Class. It’s sizable for a compact, offering an unexpectedly spacious cabin with two rows or three. And it seems somewhat affordable given that the front-wheel-drive GLB 250 starts at $36,600, with 4Matic all-wheel drive costing an extra $2,000, along with a $995 destination charge.
But then there’s the option list, where $17,880 worth of luxury goodies lurked on my test vehicle. Bottom line: $57,495, which answers any second thoughts I had about Mercedes-Benz. It is still very much a luxury automaker, and a test drive of the GLB 250 proves this little trucklet to be a laudable addition.
The GLB 250 makes the most of its 221-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine thanks to a newly developed eight-speed dual clutch transmission that always seems to be in the proper gear. For those who always need to be in control, paddle shifters on the steering wheel are there if required. The GLB 250 is fairly quiet, remaining poised when tackling corners or traversing bumps. Its overall demeanor is more like a car or a foul-weather friend than a true off-road boulder basher, but it remains a wonderfully solid German touring machine.
And despite a starting price lower than most of its siblings, the GLB is no penalty box. Its instrument panel boasts the same long twin screen display found in tonier siblings that visually unites the instrument cluster and infotainment screens. It’s like an enormous flat screen TV for your car. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, and Mercedes-Benz’s revised onscreen software is more intuitive than previous versions, with impressive high definition. A litany of shortcut buttons eases its use.
The seats are comfortable in the first two rows, with more than enough head and legroom, but opting for the third row seems like a waste of money given it diminishes cargo space and lacks usable legroom.
Nevertheless, one drive and you’ll understand this is no poser. If you go with the easy options, you’ll find the GLB 250 to truly be an affordable Mercedes-Benz luxury SUV.
And it’s sure better than wearing some has-been designer’s duds.
2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB250 4Matic
Base price: $39,595
Engine: 2.0-liter -turbocharged four-cylinder
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 23/20 mpg
Wheelbase/Length/Width: 111.4/182.4/79.5 inches
Ground clearance: 7.9 inches
Cargo capacity: 24-62 cubic feet
Curb weight: 3,891 pounds