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By Charl Bosch

Motoring Journalist

Revised Mercedes-Benz GLB out to prove its worth once and for all

Realigned range now spans a total of four variants, exclusively diesel powered and with all-wheel-drive and either with five or optional seven-seats.

The Mercedes-Benz GLB, in the bluntest possible way, has not had the easiest time of it in South Africa since its global debut almost five years ago.

If at first you don’t succeed….

Delayed due to the pandemic before being launched in the latter stage of 2020, only to be relaunched less than two years later, the tiny GLB has battled to find a stable footprint, in complete opposite to its lower rung stablemate the GLA.

In the latest development, Mercedes-Benz South Africa has again revised the GLB, but this time as part of the model’s mid-life facelift introduced on the Old Continent last year.

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Besides the roll-out of external and interior changes, the revision goes further as Benz has opted to streamline the GLB range by removing the petrol engine GLB 250 and AMG GLB 35 while leaving the option of the standard five or optional seven-seats.

As such, the range now consists solely of the 4Matic all-wheel-drive equipped GLB 220d powered by the 2.0-litre OM654g turbodiesel engine, albeit without the 48-volt mild-hybrid EQ Boost system offered in Europe that adds 10 kW for short bursts.

Plan to be taken seriously

Given its checkered market presence and inconsistent “is it coming or going” status, the latest refresh came with a sense of uncertainty as to whether Mercedes-Benz had finally managed to crack the GLB enigma.

Similar to the facelift GLA, Mercedes-Benz has been discreet by affording the GLB with a new front bumper and a restyled grille now with one slate as opposed to two.

Driving the facelift Mercedes-Benz GLB
Standard alloy wheels are 18-inches, though the media unit rode on the optional AMG 19-inch wheels.

Along with restyled headlight clusters complete with LEDs as standard, the side graphics have been changed, the taillight cluster changed, also with standard LEDs, and the colour palette reworked to include a new hue called Spectral Blue Metallic.

Unlike in Europe, the entry-level 17-inch alloy wheels are not offered as the bigger 18-inch are standard. Up to 20-inches are, however, available.

While minor on paper, the GLB’s interior refresh takes matters up a notch where apart from the 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster being included from the start, the centre console has been reworked to house a new storage tray in place of the touchpad that served as interface for the MBUX infotainment system.

Mercedes-Benz GLB 220d launch drive South Africa
New inside the standard fitting of the 10.25-inch instrument cluster, plus a redesigned centre console.

The latter itself once again comes in two sizes; the standard seven-inch or the optional 10.25-inch, both touchscreen exclusive with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for the first time, in addition to the Hey Mercedes voice prompt.

The option of leather or Artico leather seat upholstery and an extended array of colour options for the ambient lighting package rounds the interior off, together with a new steering wheel and type-C USB port in place of the old type-As.

Virtues of a box

Its placing between the GLA and GLC logical, but also contrived given the small price gaps, the love-it or hate-it styling remains a point of content that crept up on numerous occasions during the GLB’s unusual launch stay that lasted five days.

Mercedes-Benz GLB 220d launch drive South Africa
Key draw card of the GLB is the claimed 570-litre boot.

While mounted on the mid-range 19-inch alloy wheels, the slab-sided design with its rather awkward proportions hides a spacious and roomy interior even die-hard detractors are likely to praise.

Besides those seated at the front, space in the rear came as a shock as the GLB’s size lends to a supposedly cramped rear not helped by the optional dual-pane panoramic sunroof.

While likely to apply to the seven-seater, space in the tested five-seater never came in for criticism from both a leg and headroom perspective.

Mercedes-Benz GLB 220d launch drive South Africa
Space in the rear is another GLB standout with not only impressive legroom but also headroom even with the optional dual-pane panoramic sunroof.

Adding further icing to the cake is the boot space that ranges from 570-litres to 1 805-litres with the 40/20/40 rear seat folded forward. Worth noting is the lack of a spare wheel beneath the boot board replaced by a puncture repair kit.

Diesel delight

An environment easy to get accustomed to despite the touch-sensitive buttons on the steering wheel, extensive use of piano-key black detailing and somewhat cheap feeling silver inlays on the dashboard threatening to do the opposite, the main highlight of the GLB is its powertrain.

Driving the facelift Mercedes-Benz GLB
GLB’s standout is the punchy and responsive 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine that now comes standard across all derivatives.

While raucous on start-up, the OM654g oil-burner shrugs off its initial hint of turbo-lag to deliver a low-down pull stronger and more responsive than its 140kW/400Nm suggests.

Adding to this, the eight-speed dual-clutch transmission makes the most of the engine’s talents as apart from being slick, it shifts with composure instead of immediately heading to top gear or shifting down abruptly with the usual low-speed dual-clutch drag.

Hint of AMG better than full

Relatively quiet at the national limit, the lack of the AMG suspension and 20-inch wheels plays massively in the GLB’s favour.

Besides being comfortable and adept at ironing-out bumps with ease, the setup also proved more than adequate on gravel traversed during the attendance of a wedding that occurred during its five-stay day.

While fitted with an Offroad mode – the rest of the Dynamic Select system comprising Eco, Comfort, Sport and Individual settings – the claimed ground clearance of 135 mm is nothing to write home about, though will be sufficient for the odd off-tar jaunt.

Mercedes-Benz GLB 220d launch drive South Africa
Leather trimmed seats provide ample support and are specified with a heating function.

Unsurprisingly, the GLB’s steering isn’t set up for spirited driving despite becoming heavier and with a bit more feedback in Sport mode. In Comfort mode, it is more than agreeable and matched well with the overall dynamics.

In the same way as its power delivery, the engine’s other major plus is fuel consumption, which after more than 500 km, still indicated half-a-tank and over 400 km of range left.

While the eventual fuel consumption readout displayed 6.6 L/100 km, a best of six-litres per 100 km flashed-up when taking on the open road.


The logic behind the GLB is an easy one to explain in the context of Mercedes-Benz’s SUVs between the GLA and GLC as mentioned earlier.

This, together with the powertrain, interior and option of seven seats is, however, unlikely to solve its predicament as being somewhat a forgotten model between its nimbler and bigger, more powerful siblings.

Faced with the same dilemma as its namesake, the B-Class, often found itself in, the GLB is, arguably, set to remain an oddity in Benz’s range despite it being well accomplished in a number of areas.

A R165 586 premium over the GLA 200d Progressive at R1 122 648 before options, while being R142 971 dearer than the entry-level GLC 220d Avantgarde, the GLB 220d Progressive 4Matic finds itself in a difficult position and at risk of continuing to be overlooked.

However, for those averse to the “too small” GLA and “too big” GLC, a box full of surprises awaits.

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