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Funny things happen on the way to testing 2021 Mercedes GLB

The 2021 Mercedes GLB250 packs a lot into a small package — speed, performance, luxury, and even an optional (very cramped) third row.

The exterior of the 2021 Mercedes GLB250 is as handsome as any from the carmaker.
The exterior of the 2021 Mercedes GLB250 is as handsome as any from the carmaker.Read moreMercedes Benz

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLB250 4Matic: Small wonder?

Price: $54,035 as tested. Options include panoramic sunroof, $1,500; 19-inch wheels, $700; red paint, $720; more mentioned throughout.

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes its “compelling base price, cool infotainment setup, roomy for first and second-row passengers,” but not that It offers “not much in the way of standard equipment, sluggish throttle response, tight passenger space in optional third row.”

Marketer’s pitch: “Solid. Spacious. Sporty. It’s the total package.”

Reality: A quirky, fun little ride that may or may not be able to shoehorn seven people inside.

What’s new: Those of you who knew what a GLB250 was before I mention it’s a compact SUV with up to three rows of seating win the Driver’s Seat bonus round and move on to the semifinals.

It was introduced in 2020, but Mercedes has so many models using so much of the alphanumeric possibilities that I give up. But I christened it “Great Little Box,” and that helped.

Up to speed: Whee! I do like Mercedes vehicles’ performance, though. If you want a family hauler — for a very close-knit family, mind you — with some gumption, here’s your ride.

The 2.0-liter turbo four creates a sufficient 220 horses and gets the vehicle to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds, according to Mercedes.

The little SUV offers many different mode adjustments, and in an unusual step, even eco is nice for driving. Sport is a whole lot of fun, while individual allows for specific adjustments to acceleration and suspension. (Adjustable suspension with damping, $990.)

Shifty: Still on the steering column and still resembles a wiper stalk. (Yes, I put the GLB in Neutral during a passing shower. Again.) But the eight-speed transmission works well and shifts via steering wheel paddles.

On the road: After a week, I kept coming back to … the Subaru Forester. The four-cylinder engine, the driving position, the handling all reminded me of the beloved all-wheel-drive wagon.

» READ MORE: Even loyal Forester huggers will squint to spot changes in the 2019

I had the opportunity to drive my old commute to Center City and found the highway manners superb and country road handling just this side of fun.

One caveat — the lane-keeping system. At one point on a skinny country road, I noticed an oncoming truck veering my way, so I inched to the very edge of the pavement. The Mercedes decided to slam on the brakes and pull the vehicle centerward. Fortunately, I’m alert for these tricks; I hope all buyers are. (This was all part of the many-splendored $1,700 Driver Assistance Package.)

Driver’s Seat: The black leather seats ($1,450, heated for another $500) are comfortable, with the right amount of support and plush feel. The black-and-silver dashboard with black linden wood trim ($325) is beautiful and classy, with lots of adjustable colored lights ($310) to enjoy, as well.

Seat adjustments are on the doors, which lags behind controls on the seat itself. (To further confuse things, the lumbar control is on the side of the seat.) Something about the movement or shape of the buttons doesn’t allow for the kind of subtle motions that it does on the side.

Friends and stuff: A three-row SUV? You wouldn’t know by looking at it. Heck, I didn’t know until I needed to store something in the back.

The space in the way, way back of the GLB is minimal, at best. Legroom, headroom and foot room are pitiful. In fact, even with the middle row pushed up, I could hardly get my size 11 shoes into the row, period. And today’s entry and exit are tomorrow’s physical therapy and lawsuit — tight doors make this a challenging move. The discomfort comes at the bargain price of $850.

Play some tunes: I’m used to being behind on technology, but Mercedes really drives the point home, with its cute newfangled small USB port and nothing else. (The Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat was happy, though.)

Then come the stereo adjustments. A volume roller helps a little, but the touch pad coupled with the options for changing stations or sources make for a frustrating time. I tried to do it while stuck in traffic on the ride home from Philadelphia, but it was virtually impossible. Screaming may have ensued.

Sound from the system is pretty good, about an A-.

Keeping warm and cool: The five circular vents on the dashboard provide an attractive and airy way to maintain the perfect temperature. Buttons control all functions.

Fuel economy: In further evidence of the Mercediosyncrasies, I was unable to find a long-term mpg computer. It gets a 26 combined mpg EPA rating, and Car and Driver noted 32 mpg on its 75-mile fuel economy test route.

Where it’s built: Aguascalientes, Mexico

How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts the GLB’s reliability to be a 2 out of 5.

In the end: The GLB is a nice SUV, if you can live with the stereo controls and the reliability.