Compact comfort and style
THE GOOD
  • Peppy engine
  • Comfortable interior
  • Fuel economy
THE BAD
  • Extra-charge safety items
  • Pricey option packages
  • Don’t bother with third row

Mercedes-Benz thinks there’s something big in going small, and it’s been steadily adding compacts to its mix.

After launching the hatchback-like GLA-Class, the boxier 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLB-Class builds on the same mechanicals but adds some seriously practical space to the mix. Now in its second year on the market, my tester was the GLB 250. It’s the entry level of the two available GLB-Class models, with a more-powerful AMG version adding a punch of performance. Mine started at $46,500, but was buffed up with several option packages to $55,150 before freight and taxes.

Styling: 9/10

The GLB-Class is a nicely styled little thing that wears its proportions very well – although you have to spend a fair bit if you want yours to look as my tester does. That’s thanks to a $2,200 Night package, which pops on its 19-inch AMG wheels and gloss black accents; and a Technology package that adds multibeam LED headlights and automatic high-beams, along with adaptive cruise control, for $1,600.

The Night package continues inside, where it adds sport seats, brushed stainless steering wheel paddle shifters, and more. The cabin is also a handsome design, with round vents that are easy to grab and direct, and high-quality materials. I had several optional extras, including a pair of 10.25-inch screens for infotainment and instrument cluster – although my passenger thought the flat, brightly coloured digital gauges resembled a paper dash decal from a child’s ride-on toy car.

Safety: 8/10

The GLB-Class hasn’t yet been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but has earned the top five-star overall rating from the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Compared to so many automakers that are adding at least a few high-tech safety assist features as standard equipment, the list here is sparse. To get such features as blind-spot monitoring, stop-and-go adaptive cruise control, emergency front braking, or lane-keep assist you have to add them as extra-charge items.

Features: 8/10

The GLB 250 comes with a fairly long list of standard features, including a panoramic sunroof, heated memory-set seats clad in faux leather upholstery, auto-dimming exterior and interior mirrors, mobile app connectivity, and more.

But to get it feeling more like a ’Benz, you will need to add on some extra-charge items. My Night pack added the sport seats and sport steering wheel, but it was an extra $250 for the wheel to heat up. A $3,600 Premium pack added such features as the larger display screens, hands-free tailgate, wireless charger, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay (which I’d have expected to be standard), plus gorgeous interior multi-colour-selectable lighting, which put thin LED accents on the doors, dash, and centre console.

User Friendliness: 8/10

At first glance, the controls can seem a little intimidating, but I was surprised at how quickly I worked my way through them and got comfortable. The infotainment screen is touch-activated, but you can also use a touchpad on the console, or through voice control by saying, “Hey, Mercedes.” There are also two little pads on the steering wheel that operate the displays when you swipe or tap them.

The climate functions are buttons, but while it’s easy to reach down and find the temperature toggles, the row between them is a series of identical switches, and you have to look away from the road to be sure you’re hitting the right one. What is neat, though, is the optional augmented reality navigation. When you’re following a route and coming to a turn, the screen displays a forward video overlaid with turn arrows and the street name. It’s handy in dense cities where streets might come up quickly and signs can be hard to spot.

Practicality: 8/10

Compact sport-utes are naturally restricted by their size, but the GLB-Class makes good use of its space. Compared to the next-step-up Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class, it has slightly less front and rear legroom, but more cargo capacity. It’s a relatively short lift over the bumper to load your groceries, and there’s some hidden storage space under the cargo floor. The rear 40/20/40-split seat folds flat as well.

For an extra $1,300 you can get the company to stuff in a third row of seats. I’ve not experienced a GLB-Class with them, but AutoTrader.ca Road Test Editor Dan Ilika was able to fold his 6-foot-3 frame into them last year. Even so, it’s best to think of this as comfortable for four people, doable for five, and fine for seven bodies in a pinch – though if you need that much seating with any frequency you’re better off with something bigger.

Comfort: 9/10

German automakers tend to make seats that may feel too firm at first. Instead, they’re supportive, working with your spine to keep you comfortable. Then my seats went a step beyond with a so-called “kinetic” setting. When activated, they move ever so slightly; not a massage, but just enough to keep me refreshed during long trips.

I had a couple of cool mornings with the GLB-Class, and the heated seats and steering wheel were welcome additions. I’m one of the few people who doesn’t like ventilated seats, but if you happen to like cool air blowing up your butt, it’s an extra $1,200 to get heated and cooled chairs.

Power: 8/10

The GLB 250 carries a turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder engine, making 221 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. It’s mated to an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, and power goes to all four wheels.

The little engine is peppy, and the GLB-Class feels quick; it’s a very good fit to this compact. I had no issues with steep hills or passing power on the highway, and acceleration is lovely and linear. The transmission shifts smoothly, and can be sequentially shifted with steering wheel paddles if you want to have some fun.

Driving Feel: 9/10

The GLB is a fun little driver. It feels substantial but not heavy, and the steering is well-weighted and very responsive. The turning circle is tight, it maintains its composure in curves, and the brakes do a great job of bringing it quickly and confidently to a stop.

The all-wheel drive system sends torque to the rear as needed for extra traction. In most driving modes, and in regular driving conditions, 80 per cent goes to the front and 20 to the rear, but if you select the sport mode it gives a little more to the back wheels with a 70/30 split.

Fuel Economy: 8/10

The GLB 250 is officially rated by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) at 10.3 L/100 km in the city; 7.8 on the highway; and 9.2 in combined driving. I did a lot of highway driving, but even so, I was surprised to come in below the official combined figure, racking up 8.5 L/100 km, though it was offset by the price of the required 91-octane fuel.

The fuel numbers are good, but pretty much in range with the competition. The BMW X1 and X2, Audi Q3 and Q5, and Lexus NX all have official combined ratings between 8.8 and 9.7 L/100 km.

Value: 7/10

While sales volumes play a role in how vehicles are outfitted, it still seems a little odd to see extra-charge items on premium vehicles that are standard on mainstream ones – especially some of the safety items, which might be left off the all-in list an enthusiast vehicle like the Mercedes-AMG GT but shouldn’t be with a family-friendly model like the GLB-Class.

With a starting price of $46,500, the GLB 250 seems a bit on the high side, especially since competitors like the BMW X1 and X2, Lexus NX, and smaller Audi Q3 start lower, and the larger Q5 at just $50 more. And just like all of those entries, all-wheel drive is standard. Within the Mercedes-Benz lineup, the smaller GLA-Class begins at $42,400, while the larger GLC-Class starts at $49,900. My tester was topped up to $55,150, but I could load up an NX with pretty much everything here plus a few more items, pay $54,200, and get a longer powertrain warranty included.

The Verdict

The GLB 250 may get pricey, but it’s also a lovely little compact runabout. It’s nicely sized, great to drive, comfortable and practical, and a good-looking vehicle as well. If pint-sized premium is your choice, give this one a try.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.0L   Model Tested 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLB 250 4Matic
Engine Cylinders I4   Base Price $46,500
Peak Horsepower 221 hp @ 5,500 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 258 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm   Destination Fee $2,495 (approximate)
Fuel Economy 10.3 / 7.8 / 9.2 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $57,745
Cargo Space 560 / 1,755 L seats down  
Optional Equipment
$8,650 – Premium Package (10.25-inch display screen, “Hey Mercedes” voice activation, off-road package, hill descent control, blind spot monitoring, safe exit warning, proximity key, hands-free tailgate, LED interior lighting, wireless charging, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), $3,600; Technology Package (multibeam LED headlights, adaptive high-beam assist, and Distronic cruise control), $1,600; Navigation Package (navigation with Live Service and MBUX augmented video), $1,000; Night Package (19-inch AMG wheels, AMG styling cues, black roof rails, aluminum paddle shifters, AMG floor mats, brushed stainless steel pedals, sport steering wheel, diamond chrome grille, sport seats, and enhanced engine sound), $2,200; Heated Nappa leather steering wheel, $250