From a performance standpoint it goes like stink, but falls short in refinement.
It seems that the different sizes of crossover available today outnumbers the size catalogue at the local Holt Renfrew. From subcompact to full-size, unibody and body-on-frame, there’s a crossover or sport-utility for every kind of buyer. Mercedes-Benz is fully playing into this trend, and that brings us to this AMG version of their latest subcompact crossover. The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 4MATIC takes the pint-sized GLB crossover and gives it an infusion of power and supposed engagement. We jumped behind the wheel to see what it has to offer.
While I generally have very little interest in subcompact premium crossovers, the idea of the GLB actually does pique my interest. It offers traditional boxy styling that I adore, and more practicality than the GLA with which it shares a platform. Plus, it’s the only thing in its class that offers three rows of seating, making it an excellent choice as a dad-mobile for growing families. The design is contemporary and more likely to age well than either the GLA or the larger GLC. I can say with some confidence that there won’t be a rounded-off coupé version of the GLB.
Both engines currently offered on the GLB have 2.0-liters of displacement. This AMG version outputs 302 horsepower and 295 lb-ft. of torque, and boasts a 0-100 km/h sprint time of 5.2 seconds. It’s also direct injected and hooked up to an eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox. The powertrain is definitely punchy, and more spirited to drive than the GLB 250 that most will buy, but it’s only excellent when being pushed. Leave it in “Comfort” and drive it normally, and the transmission gets confused, and shifts can be jerky.
There’s also more turbocharger lag than expected, and the GLB 35 isn’t quite as polished in its operation. Somehow, the A 35 hatchback that shares the platform and powertrain seems more enthusiastic and smoother in operation. The adaptive dampers are also on the firmer side, and while the suspension is just fine in its standard setting, firm it up and it becomes downright uncomfortable. One nice touch is that the turbo-four does sound pretty good with the AMG performance exhaust equipped here.
A dedicated steering and suspension configuration on the AMG model means the GLB 35 actually does handle quite well for a small yet tall crossover. Steering response is sharp and turn-in is fairly quick. A 12.5-meter turning circle is more than reasonable, though the GLB has a tendency to crab-walk on the factory low-profile 20-inch tires. This won’t be a vehicle you see at the track, but it’s definitely an engaging little beast and more entertaining than its rivals.
One of the areas in which all versions of the GLB excel is interior packaging and layout. The large windows and tall, boxy shape make for excellent visibility all around. Even in this two-row model, there is plenty of space for all passengers thanks to adjustable rear seats. 1,680-liters of cargo will fit in the back with the rear seats folded down, or 700-liters with all seats in place. If you do opt for the three-row variant, the rearmost seats can easily accommodate children or smaller adults when asked to.
Technology and infotainment is courtesy of Mercedes-Benz’s MBUX system. It can be controlled using a touchpad, voice commands, or the touchscreen. It’s worth noting that if the cable for a smartphone or charger grazes the touchpad, it may execute commands without the driver’s permission. The challenge with MBUX remains that despite a comprehensive amount of features, simple functions like skipping tracks are made complicated. As always, the interior is designed wonderfully with the configurable ambient lighting making for an excellent ambience at night.
The GLB 35 starts at $57,500, a premium of $11,000 over the GLB 250. Our test vehicle was fully jammed including a Technology Package, AMG Night Package, and more. The Premium Package at $3,900 adds a power tailgate, Burmester audio with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, blind spot warning, park assist, and wireless charging – we can’t see any vehicles without this package being stocked at dealers. Despite the $70,000 price tag, the $1,300 box for the third row seats was not checked off on our GLB.
While official fuel economy numbers have not yet been released, we averaged 9.8L/100km in combined driving, with plenty of spirited acceleration and a heavy city mix over the course of our test. As it relates to competition, the AMG version of the GLB doesn’t have very much. The BMW X2 M35i is the closest, and compromises both practicality, style and refinement. The GLB is much better in every regard. Audi doesn’t offer a performance version of the Q3 in this market, and the GLB does do the space management thing very well.
The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 4MATIC is an interesting mishmash of personalities. On one hand, from a performance standpoint it goes like stink, but falls short in refinement. It’s still a total winner in terms of packaging and practicality, and no matter how you look at it, the GLB is a solid step up from the BMW X2. The styling makes it a winner, and the availability of a third row is a segment exclusive that many are bound to appreciate.