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[Behind the Wheel] Mercedes-Benz keeps up game in rising compact SUV market

Mercedes-Benz GLB, GLA offer versatile driving and ample space

Mercedes-Benz GLB and the new Mercedes-Benz GLA (Mercedes-Benz Korea)
Mercedes-Benz GLB and the new Mercedes-Benz GLA (Mercedes-Benz Korea)

Maintaining its position as a favorite foreign car brand in South Korea, Mercedes-Benz has geared up for the competition of sports utility vehicles, presenting a lineup of entry-level, compact SUV models last month.

The automaker has been leading the imported vehicle market here with its premium family sedan E-Class selling best for a couple of years. In the first half of this year, Mercedes-Benz kept its place by selling 47,613 units, shaking off the runner up, BMW, standing at 36,498 units, according to statistics from the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association.

In order to keep up the game, the Germany-based automaker rolled out three new SUV models: Mercedes-Benz GLB, the new Mercedes-Benz GLA and the new Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe.

The Korea Herald had the chance to test drive two of the models, the GLB, which is a compact SUV introduced for the first time here, and the revamped GLA, a sportier option.

The test drive, which took place on Sept. 23, was a round trip of about 150 kilometers from Seoul Square next to Seoul Station to a cafe in Gapyeong, Gyeonggi Province. 


Driving through the congested city out to the narrow roads in the rural area, GLB proved its utility and performance as a family SUV, not too big and not too small.

The automaker presents the GLB as a compact SUV, smaller than its other SUV models such as the new GLS.

But with the full length at 4,650 millimeters, width at 1,835 mm and a maximum height of 1,690 mm, the spacious interior and affluent head and leg room rivals those of other compact SUVs. The GLA is slightly smaller, but a big difference cannot be felt in the appearance.

The difference between GLB and GLA comes largely from the exterior design, with the GLA having the windows draw a coupe-like line.

The SUV market has become an important one for automakers here. Demand in the segment has surged in the past couple of years, and what has been added in the times of COVID-19 pandemic is the great popularity for car camping, among other outdoor activities.

According to KAIDA, 128,236 imported cars were sold and registered in the first half of this year, and 37.2 percent of them were SUVs. Back in 2012, SUVs’ share of the market was 21 percent.

Both GLB and GLA did pretty well to block out outside noise, and the handling and the acceleration came as smooth.

Out on the expressway, the throttle response came slightly short of expectations for a Mercedes-Benz though, albeit an entry-level car, as the GLB gradually picked up the power to match the desired speed.

The driving experience did not differ much between GLB and GLA, as the two models share the same powertrain: a new four-cylinder 2.0-liter gasoline turbo-charged M260 engine.

The powertrain facilitates up to 224 horsepower and a maximum torque of 35.7 kilogram-meters.

What grabbed the attention was the up-to-date digital widescreen cockpit, connected with a 10.25-inch touchscreen display, equipped in both models. The touch worked pretty well,

Along with the fast-responding infotainment system, the cars also have driving assistance programs as standard, such as the active distance assist DISTRONIC that maintains a preset distance away from other vehicles, active brake assist and active lane keeping assistance.

The interior of the two vehicles show clear of its identity as a Mercedes-Benz, with the bold-looking silver frame air vents installed in the center of the dashboard.

In the second row seat, however, there is no air vent, which is a surprising inconvenience for a car priced over 50 million won. It is offered as an optional extra for 1.05 million won.

The price for the new GLB 220 is 54.2 million won ($45,700), the new GLB 250 4MATIC is 61.1 million won. The new GLA 250 4MATIC is priced at 59.1 million won.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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