The trend continues. More SUVs are entering the market because American consumers can’t get enough of them. Small ones? Bring them on! Hulking behemoths? Get those in here, too. America’s insatiable appetite for vehicles with raised ride heights has led to automakers filling every SUV niche possible, from sporty to rugged to all-electric. Mercedes-Benz is at the forefront of the SUV offensive in the U.S., and we just rode in the model that has the potential to become its next best-seller: the 2020 GLB-Class.

Mass Appeal Meets Compact Dimensions and Luxury

On the press drive in Colorado, I rode shotgun in the only U.S.-spec 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB-Class in the United States. Behind the wheel was Jochen Eck, Mercedes’ senior manager for vehicle testing for compact cars, and he explained the differences between the GLB and its sedan siblings. A longer wheelbase and extra width mean the GLB rides on the largest iteration Mercedes’ new MFA2 architecture, first used in the 2019 A-Class sedan. Asked if this platform could underpin larger vehicles, Eck immediately said no before adding that the GLB will be the biggest model on it. “You’d end up with compromised vehicles,” he said. “You would need to recalibrate too many things for it to conform to safety regulations and get it driving properly.”

The route followed twisty roads into Colorado’s front range. As a passenger, I noticed the firm suspension; you feel the road, but it’s not harsh. Eck’s team has created a nicely balanced standard setup that’s firm enough but doesn’t don’t toss you around over uneven roads. Learnings from previous models have been applied to the new generation of Mercedes-Benz compact cars. As a result, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB-Class’ ride and handling have a level of sophistication absent from its predecessors. The available adaptive dampers were intentionally given only two modes. “There needs to be a clear distinction between them without sacrificing drivability,” Eck said. Compared to the base suspension, putting the adaptive dampers in Comfort mode makes it more compliant, and Sport mode is still stiffer for better handling.

Most of the testing done at altitude involves powertrain evaluations, and it’s clear Mercedes-Benz did its homework for the 2020 GLB-Class. Even at 8,000 feet with four passengers, the new 2.0-liter turbo-four chugs along like it’s at sea level. From the front passenger’s seat, turbo lag seemed minimal, and there was generous low- to midrange torque. The eight-speed transmission only reveals that it’s a dual-clutch unit when you stop on a hill, where it rolls backward slightly as you switch from the brake pedal to the accelerator.

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB-Class is similarly sized to the rear-drive-based GLC-Class and Volkswagen Tiguan, the latter of which was used as part of the GLB’s benchmarking and development. Once you sit inside, you clearly see the benefits of its boxy exterior. It has an abundant head- and legroom and offers excellent outward visibility. As a passenger, I appreciated the GLB’s cushy seats and roomy cabin, but I couldn’t help but think that the seating position is barely higher than your average sedan or hatchback. It seems obvious that Mercedes positioned this closer to a car despite its GLS-esque appearance. Pricing starts from $37,595 for a front-drive GLB 250; adding all-wheel drive bumps the sticker by $2,000.

Although the 2020 GLB-Class was developed with a third row in mind from the start, Eck admitted that packaging the interior was a challenge. “We had to rethink the area behind the second row to accommodate the third row while minimizing the impact on cargo capacity,” Eck said. When folded and out of the way, the third row doesn’t cut into cargo capacity much because the underfloor storage takes most of the hit. A sliding second-row bench adds more versatility to the 2020 GLB-Class’ cabin.

A Compact Luxury SUV with Potential

Mercedes-Benz representatives tell us that the 2020 GLB 250 prototype we rode in was among the first to come out of its plant in Aguascalientes, Mexico, which also produces the A-Class. Despite its pre-production status, the interior’s ambience befits a luxury car. Many of the surfaces you touch use high-quality materials, and harder bits have been placed away from areas you interact with. Buttons and knobs have a satisfying tactility and reassuring clicks.

Our first impressions of the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB-Class were promising. Its quality and road manners appear to be an improvement over the outgoing CLA-Class and the soon-to-be-replaced GLA-Class. Additionally, the GLB gives buyers a family-friendly option that’s right-sized for life in urban areas. We look forward to getting behind the wheel of the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB-Class and experiencing it and its more potent iterations thoroughly in the very near future.

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