Mercedes-Benz has had the GLB in its international lineup for quite sometime now. But for some reason, it had held back on launching it in India till now. The all-electric EQB, on the other hand, is brand spanking new. Both are, of course, seven-seat compact luxury SUVs. That bit is important to note here, as it dictates how these two SUVs are positioned in Mercedes-Benz’ Indian SUV lineup (the largest of any manufacturer in India by the way). We got to sample both the EQB as well as the GLB in the hills of Kodaikanal and here’s what we think.
Let us start with the GLB first, as the EQB is, in turn, based on the seven-seat architecture of the GLB. Despite being bult on the same platform as the GLA, the GLB doesn’t appear small by any standards and has quite the road presence, albeit a bit narrower than the GLC. It is almost as long as the GLC and the tall, upright stance is something that makes it appear larger than it is, at least from a distance. The general shape and bodywork don’t really stand out as much, but Mercedes-Benz have put in some effort in to the details and it shows, especially on the AMG-line trim that we were driving. There is the AMG-line grille, the 19-inch alloys, the square headlamps and the squared-off wheel arches with straight lines all around. Put together, it gives the SUV an imposing stance. In fact, Mercedes-Benz would like you to believe that this is a baby GLS with the similarly designed rear and the overall proportions.
There is a kink around the shoulder line that does flare as you go towards the rear which is unlike the GLS. Overall, while it may not be very distinctive visually like some other Mercedes-Benz cars, it does look pretty good especially when you consider the packaging requirements Mercedes-Benz would have had to deal with for the GLB. Talking of the packaging, the GLB gets a front wheel drive, transverse engine layout unlike the longitudinal one on the GLC. This means that Mercedes-Benz were able to free-up a lot of room on the inside. The GLB, in fact, has a wheelbase that’s longer than SUVs from a segment above.
The EQB is Mercedes-Benz’ third electric car in the country (fourth, if you count the EQS 53) and it is miles apart from the other two. Here, the focus is on compact dimensions and practicality while still being just as luxurious. If you just look at the silhouette, it will be hard to differentiate the EQB from the GLB, but in the flesh, they look very different indeed. And Mercedes-Benz has to be commended for that. With the same proportions, same upright stance and just about the same dimensions, the EQB does stand out from the GLB, if mostly on the outside. The key visual differentiators are the large faux grille, connected light bars at both the front and the rear, different headlamps and taillamps and, to a lesser degree, the different exterior paint options (you can have your EQB in an unusual but no less special rose gold colour).
On the inside, while Mercedes has added a few elements to set the EQB apart, it is mostly identical to the GLB. That isn’t exactly a bad thing though. The twin-screen dash layout with the circular vents is familiar and is also something you see in the GLA, as are the central tunnel and the touchpad. The steering wheel isn’t the ‘current-gen’ one seen on the C-Class, but it is something that I personally prefer over the newer one in certain regards. It is certainly well made with high quality leather and brushed metal coming together with the tactile buttons.
Plastics in some parts of the cabin, especially lower down and on the door pads, aren’t exactly the most premium though. There’s two-zone climate control, a 10-speaker audio system and wireless charging but you have to use a cable for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The twin 10.25-inch screens are just as good and MBUX works like a charm as well. It isn’t the newest MBUX setup that Mercedes-Benz has, but I don’t see many complaining. On the EQB, there’s a rose gold finish on the vents, the seats and even on the key fob. That aside, on the passenger side of the dash, there are a number of LED lights in a pattern that light up with the ambient lighting. That is pretty much it when it comes to visual differences in the EQB interior.
The second row of seats comes with a good amount of head, knee and shoulder room with a pretty good view of the road ahead and the seats themselves are very comfortable, just like the ones in the front. The third row is a different story altogether. The second-row seats do slide and fold down but they do not tumble. This makes access to the third extremely hard for anyone who’s not a kid. Thankfully, unlike a number of other manufacturers, Mercedes-Benz accepts it. There’s even a sticker on the door sill that tells you that the third row is only for people shorter than five and a half feet. Space too is at a premium in the third row. The third is best reserved for pets and young kids (Mercedes-Benx admits it is for pre-teens). With the third row up, there is only enough space in the back for a couple of small bags. Regardless of the lack of space in the third row, it does add a bit of practicality.
In India, the GLB is available with two engine options, a GLB 200 powered by a 1.3-litre petrol motor producing 165PS and 250Nm and the GLB 220d, which gets a 2.0-litre diesel unit with 192PS of power and more importantly, 400Nm of torque. The GLB 220d can be had with all-wheel drive and that was the version we drove as well. The 2.0-litre diesel motor does duty in other cars from the brand and as expected, it is fairly responsive in the GLB as well.
For most of the rev range, there is a surge of torque that makes it effortless to drive. A quick overtake on the narrow, twisty roads around Kodaikanal was only a flex of the right foot away. It is quick for an SUV this size as well, with a 0-100kmph time of 7.6 seconds. But more than that, it is how you can stick to a decent pace without much effort, that stands out about this engine. Refinement levels are good but it does get louder when you start pushing the GLB. The 8-speed dual clutch transmission that it is paired with does a good job of staying in the right gear at all times and doesn’t complain when you demand a quick down shift from it either.
The EQB is available with the sole drivetrain option that includes two motors, one driving each axle. Combined, they produce 232PS and 390Nm. The EQB has a 66.5kWh battery with a WLTP range of 423km. Driving downhill from Kodaikanal, we barely lost any range and even while going quickly on the highway to Madurai, we were on course to get well over 300km of range on a full charge.
0-100kmph is four-tenths slower than the GLB, but the EQB with its electric motor was actually a lot nicer to drive in the hills of Kodaikanal. The availability of torque from a standstill meant that it was easy to overtake slow-moving traffic without worrying about being in the right gear. There is no sudden spike when you step on the accelerator and progress is very linear which makes it enjoyable to drive and more in line with the character of the SUV. The brakes too have some amount of feedback and the transition from regen to mechanical braking is smooth which makes driving the EQB a much more relaxed affair unlike some other luxury EVs. Once you hit triple-digit speeds, performance does start to taper off a bit as the EQB makes its way to its top-speed of 160kmph.
The ride and handling characteristics of the EQB too was something that I preferred over the GLB. Ride quality is plush and the EQB glided over some of the rough sections that we drove over. Even the harsher bumps didn’t filter through to the cabin as much. Body control is very well judged as well and that helps with ride comfort especially in the back while ensuring that you can drive a lot more enthusiastically. The steering makes it easy to place the EQB accurately on the road and the SUV remains planted and fairly flat as you go through the corners.
The GLB however, has a much firmer suspension setup and you do feel the bumps on the road. The larger bumps and potholes do toss the passengers around. The engineers at Mercedes-Benz did say that this is a result of the lower weight in the GLB and that the ride would improve with more people seated in the back. But still, objectively the ride isn’t as good as on the EQB. The stiffer suspension does mean that the GLB feels a lot more composed at higher speeds though (it also gets to those higher speeds far more effortlessly). It is also a lot more fun to drive around the corners with a well-judged steering and body that rolls progressively.
Both the GLB and the EQB are very accomplished SUVs. They drive, ride and handle well, are very well equipped and do offer some practicality. But we have to look at them from the lens of the market they find themselves in. As or fight now, the current-gen GLC is sold out with the new one still a good six months away. That leaves a gap in Mercedes-Benz’ SUV portfolio. Add to that, they don’t really have any competition right now.
That said, these two are full imports and won’t be as accessible as they are in some other markets. While the EQB is priced at Rs 74.50 lakh, the GLB starts at Rs 63.80 lakh (both prices ex-showroom). Even though that makes them expensive for what they offer, GLC buyers might just gravitate towards them and people looking for an SUV that can seat seven occasionally will be tempted to seriously consider it.