Often, the tops of the trees in and around Kodaikanal in the Nilgiri hills get obscured by clouds or mist. And the view to the Kodaikanal Lake from a little way up may not be entirely clear even in mid-morning. But there is nothing obscure about what Mercedes Benz India, who invited us to this south Indian hill town last week to give us an experience of their latest SUVs — the hydrocarbon burning GLBs and its electric cousin EQB — has in its sights.
As is pretty evident, the carmaker is laying out the options for a swathe of luxury car buyers, both in the SUV space and the EV space. The EQB is the company’s third EV launched this year after the EQC and the EQS. As the supporting systems come up, Mercedes is ready to give buyers a realistic option for a hassle-free journey. In terms of the bigger segment of SUVs, it is covering the entire span of the luxury segment now with two comparatively smaller seven-seaters in petrol, diesel and electric versions, spanning the main fuel options.
We did not drive all the variants though. There was, of course, the EQB EV, and then there was the GLB in top spec and trim, the diesel 220D 4MATIC version. So we don’t know much about the petrol apart from what’s on paper. So here are the first impressions. (And notwithstanding the mist, we’ll try to be as clear as we possibly can.)
There are some fundamental similarities between the GLB and the EQB. Both are based on the same platform and use many common components. In a way, one can think of the two as electric and internal combustion engine versions of the same vehicle. Both are technically seven-seaters, although Mercedes-Benz says that the third row is primarily for children or smaller adults maybe. The average adult might find it fairly cramped and should best avoid it. In terms of size they are the same or thereabouts.
They are also about the same size as the GLC, which is a five-seater on a similar footprint. To cut the long story short, the two SUVs are very similar to each other apart from the powertrain and some of the modifications that have been necessitated by this difference. Plus, they move very differently, as two vehicles that are powered by electric and IC engine are wont to.
From the rear, the Mercedes-Benz GLB (right) and the EQB (far right) appear quite different. While the former has typical hydrocarbon highlights like prominent twin exhausts, the EQB sports a different hatch door and bumper
The EQB and the GLB are not small by any stretch of imagination. But they are not too big. On less than generous mountain roads one only sometimes needs to stop to let the cars coming up pass, but even that is more of a precautionary thing than a real need. Being seven seaters, the cars are kind of visually longish with a long side glass area supported by a substantial shoulder line. There is an overall clutter-free smoothness to the look with subtle hints at performance like the pair of bonnet understated bulges. And while the GLB has the conventional intake up front with the starry grille, the EQB’s is a polished black affair as much less of air cooling is needed for it. The overall look of the grille-headlamp clusters combine is significantly different since the EQB needs to be slipperier though the air to extend its driving range on one charge. And while both the GLB and the EQB ride on usual five-spoke alloys, there are options one can choose from. The GLB, since it is supposed to appeal to petrol and diesel heads, has highlighted twin exhaust tips that hint at performance. The hatch door of the two SUVs are different, with the EQB keeping it smooth and moving the registration plate into the bumper. Both are attractive.
How the beasts look from side
The interiors of both the GLB and the EQB are largely similar except for the trims. Our GLB had the DINAMICA Micro Fiber Black, while the EQB had the rose gold trim
The passenger compartment is quintessentially Mercedes-Benz. That entire thing in front of the driver and front passenger could not have come out of anything else. While the GLB we drove came with black interiors with red highlights, the EQB came with its unique Rose Gold interior trim that is meant for vehicles in this colour. That apart, the entire space feels quality from the way the door closes, to the feel of the switches (thankfully in this model not everything has been moved to touchscreens!), to the seats and everything one touches and sees. The EQB has an interesting multicoloured LED backlight in the dash while there is a carbon fibre-style finish in the GLB.
The backlit dash with changing coloured lights is unique to the EQB
The front ones are the best seats in the house with three rows up. The second row is good in the five seat configuration with sufficient space. In the seven-seat setup, however, it becomes a matter of where the second row is placed and how much space the third row needs since too much space to the last row will mean a bit of cramping in the middle one. That apart, the seats are spacious, comfortable and supportive.
Access to the third row, which is primarily for smaller persons or children, needs agility
There are lots of cubby holes and enough charging ports for all sorts of gadgets although the old-school USB has been replaced with USB-C connectors.
The central console sports a big touchscreen as well as touchpad controllers and wireless charger
The glass area is big all around and in tandem with the panoramic sunroof that both the versions we drove came with give a nice and airy feel in the cabin. The seating in the EQB is a little bit lower than in the GLB to accommodate the battery that goes under the floor.
Under the hood the two SUVs are as different as, well, diesel and electric
On the road
Call it my limitation if you will, I liked the size of these two SUVs. Typically, on hill roads, vehicles too big mean too much stopping or slowing down while it’s easier to zip in smaller vehicles. And this is where the GLB and EQB kind of a little unexpectedly put a satisfied smile on us. Both of them handle with so much poise that one tends to want to whip them around corners. With the paddle shifters in the GLB, it’s good fun to shift up and down the gears and sacrifice a bit of dinosaur juice to the gods of traction to have some harmless fun. And we did thankfully since the road wasn’t too crowded considering it was a weekend.
The EQB is a different kettle of fish altogether and calls for a totally different driving style that lets the car do more. While there is still enough driving left to do, the whole experience is so effortless that one really needs to look for things to do — like fiddling around with the music and the touchpad and so on. And if that gets boring one can just focus on the road and run rings round some of the other cars if one is in the mood. This thing has so much low-end torque that all that is needed is a little flexion of the right foot and one is through. The acceleration is addictive and one can keep enjoying it as sooner or later there will be traffic slowing the car down and one can zip again.
One thing that will be important to anyone is the ride and both these SUVs do a very good job of insulating passengers while allowing feedback to come to the driver through the steering wheel.
The GLB and EQB have similar underpinnings and that is evident when the SUVs are viewed in profile. Front on, however, the difference is clear with the EQB sporting the simple smoothness typical of electrics, while the GLB is sort of a bit more complicated.
As might have been evident by now, we felt that both the packages were good. With the prices coming in, they are looking even better now and while this might not exactly be cheap, it does look value for money.
Pictures: The author and Mercedes-Benz India
THE GLB IN NUMBERS
Form: Seven-seater SUV
LxB*xH (mm): 4,646 x 1,850 x 1,706
Wheelbase (mm): 2,829
Engines: 1332cc, 4-cyl petrol and 1950cc 4-cyl diesel
Peak power (hp): P:163, D:190
Peak torque (Nm): P:250, D:400
Transmission: P:7-speed; D:8-speed
Brakes: Discs all round
Price: GLB200 Rs 63.80 lakh; GLB220D Rs 66.80 lakh;
*GLB220D 4MATIC Rs 69.80 lakh (all at the showroom) *GLB 220D 4MATIC
THE EQB IN NUMBERS
Form: Seven-seater SUV
LxBxH (mm): 4,646 x 1,834 x 1,706
Wheelbase (mm): 2,829
Powertrain: Lithium-ion High power density, with asynchronous electric motor
Battery capacity (kWh): 66.5
Peak power (hp): 228
Peak torque (Nm): 390
Brakes: Discs all round
Range (WLTP): Up to 423km
Fast Charging: 32 min (100 kW DC) 10–80%
Price: Rs 74.50 lakh (at the showroom)