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Mercedes expands small crossover lineup with GLB

Mercedes-Benz's first seven-seater compact crossover will arrive at U.S. dealerships in late 2019.

The automaker on Monday introduced the new GLB in Salt Lake City, carving out yet another niche in the burgeoning crossover market.

"The GLB is a new family member of our compact platform," Daimler CEO Ola Källenius, told Automotive News at the Shanghai auto show in April, where Mercedes showed a near-production concept of the baby crossover.

"It feels like a younger brother of a mix of the GLS and the G," Källenius said. "It has a little ruggedness of the G, it has some of the elegance of the GLS."

The GLB is expected to arrive at stores by Christmas, U.S. dealers were told last month. In the U.S., the GLB will compete with the BMW X1, Range Rover Discovery Sport and Volkswagen Tiguan. It will slot between the GLA and the GLC in the Mercedes crossover/SUV lineup.

So far this year, U.S. sales of compact premium crossovers have climbed 9.4 percent, making it one of the fastest-growing light-truck segments.

Referred to as the Baby G-Wagen, the GLB underscores the fragmentation of the premium crossover market, as luxury brands pursue new entries on the affordability scale.

"As SUVs now outsell passenger cars in the U.S., there is opportunity for more variety and incremental models that address specific target buyers," said Ed Kim, an analyst with AutoPacific.

The GLB is powered by an updated, more powerful 2-liter, 4-cylinder M 260 engine that delivers 221 hp.

The engine's cylinder bore is widened at the lower end of the cylinder liners to minimize friction, lowering fuel consumption. The pistons feature cooling ducts for more efficient combustion. The aluminum, four-valve cylinder head features a variable-valve timing system that can increase fuel efficiency or boost engine performance.

The GLB will be offered in an all-wheel-drive variant that will include an off-road package.

For the first time in a Mercedes, the GLB offers an optional third row with two additional seats that can be folded for extra cargo capacity. The third-row seats fit two medium-sized occupants, Mercedes said.

The GLB is "the combination of our SUV genes... [with the] clear lines of our compact vehicles," said Mathias Geisen, a product manager for Mercedes.

That will make the GLB especially attractive to U.S. buyers, Geisen predicted. "The capability of handling seven people in a compact footprint in larger cities will be highly appreciated," he said.

The instrument panel in the GLB consists of a single piece, which has optical cutouts in the driver and front passenger area. A widescreen cockpit faces the driver, while the functions and displays are controlled via Mercedes' AI-powered multimedia system, MBUX, or Mercedes-Benz User Experience.

The GLB shares components with the next-generation GLA but offers a more functional and spacious package suitable for families, Kim said. At 111.4 inches, the GLB's wheelbase is 5.1 inches longer than the GLA.

"The GLB class demonstrates that there is now more than one type of entry luxury SUV customer, and Mercedes-Benz now has two different models that can cast a much wider net," Kim said.

But with its optional three-row seating, the GLB risks cannibalizing demand for the slightly larger GLC.

Mercedes "will have to carefully position the GLB class to minimize negative impact on GLC-class sales," Kim said.

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