Want the hustle of a hot hatch but the practicality of three rows of seating? Then look no further than the Mercedes-AMG GLB 35. After testing the waters for entry-level luxury in the United States with the CLA and GLA, Mercedes has now launched an onslaught of subcompact models to fill every niche. Based on the same front-wheel-drive platform used in the A-Class, CLA, and GLA, the GLB stands out as the largest of Mercedes' new subcompact offerings with a boxy shape that the company claims is reminiscent of the iconic G-Glass. Though the GLB seems like an unlikely candidate for a sporty variant, AMG's "make all things fast" approach to the Merc lineup meant that not even the boxy mini-SUV could escape unscathed.
Like the other "35" branded products, the GLB 35 is not a 'true' AMG model since it does not feature a hand-built engine. Instead, a 2.0-liter "AMG-enhanced" four-cylinder generates 302 horsepower, uses an eight-speed DCT, and channels power to all corners. It loosely competes with the BMW X2 M35i and its similarly-priced sibling, the GLA 35. But with its boxy shape, huge amount of storage space, and available third row, there's nothing quite like the GLB 35 on the market. After spending a week with the car, we couldn't help but be impressed by this baby AMG model.
The Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 is an all-new performance model for 2021 based on the standard Mercedes-Benz GLB. As such, everything is new for 2021 for this model. It gets upgraded brakes, a more powerful engine, features like launch control, and AMG-specific styling cues inside and out.
The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 starts with an MSRP of $49,500 before a destination & delivery charge of $1,050. Fully loaded, you can expect that base price to swell to a tick more than $70,000.
See trim levels and configurations:
|AMG GLB 35 4MATIC||
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
Hopping into the GLB 35, we expect it to drive like most souped up German luxury SUVs: quick and aggressive, but also numb and boring. Boy, were we wrong. AMG has somehow managed to bundle all the best attributes of a hot hatchback without compromising the practicality of an SUV. The GLB 35's steering, while not overwhelming on feedback, provides quick response to give drivers confidence through bends. The suspension feels typical-AMG firm, though that comes in handy when the GLB 35 sticks to the pavement at insane speeds, as you might expect from a hot hatch like a Volkswagen Golf R. Yes, this is still a relatively tall vehicle, but its lifted height adds to the hilarity of the experience rather than taking away from it. If ultimate track and backroad performance is a key selling point, AMG also offers this drivetrain in the CLA 35 and A35 sedans.
In its Sport and Sport+ modes, the GLB 35 feels rocket-quick for an SUV, and the snarly engine notes and crisp shifts from the DCT cement it as a hot hatch in a crossover's body. There's no sense of numbness here, as is evident in most performance SUVs. Even in its Comfort mode, the GLB 35 wakes up quickly like an eager puppy whose owner just came home from work. This excited nature can sometimes grow tiresome when the roads get rough and the suspension hops over it with the poise of a sports car, but Mercedes does offer a non-AMG model for drivers who like the GLB package without the racing pretense.
NHTSA safety ratings are not available at this time.
The Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 is a strange car that shouldn't work on paper. An attempt to recreate a GLS-Class on a budget should fall flat on its face, but we think the GLB 35 somehow works. It does so by offering a better, more premium experience than what's found in many subcompact entry-level luxury crossovers. The GLB 35 doesn't make its passengers feel cramped - like they should have spent their hard-earned dollars on a larger crossover from a mainstream brand - and with the available (albeit tiny) third-row, it also offers more practicality than any of its rivals.
No, the GLB 35 does not live up to the halo-image standard set by the G-Class and GLS-Class, but at its price point, it doesn't really need to. The GLB 35 delivers on the AMG experience by offering genuine hot hatch energy into a practical crossover without making it brutally uncomfortable. Sure, the ride is firm, but that seems like a fair trade off for a driving experience that delivers a much larger grin than its rival from Bavaria. If we were in the market for an entry-level luxury crossover with a sporty kick, the GLB 35 would be at the top of our list.
The GLB 35 only comes in a single trim level, so any price increases come from individual options and packages. It's easy to drive the GLB 35's price to eye-popping levels, but here's how we'd do it somewhat reasonably. Stick with the free 19-inch wheels to improve the ride comfort, or opt for the affordable 19-inch black 10-spoke wheels for $300 while adding an exciting color for $720. The panoramic roof is a nice option for $1,500, and we easily opt for genuine leather ($1,450) and heated/ventilated seats ($950). The AMG Performance steering wheel in Nappa leather is a great option for just $400 and the AMG Drive Unit is only $400 more. Most of the safety and multimedia packages seem worth the cost, so we'd opt for those along with the Burmester audio and wireless charging. As we mentioned, these options bring the GLB 35 from a reasonable $49,500 starting price up to nearly $63,000.
As we touched on earlier, there aren't any direct rivals to the GLB 35 at the moment. But if you don't need the option of seven seats, you could get behind the wheel of the BMW X2 M35i. Like the GLB 35, this crossover is an all-wheel-drive SUV with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder mated to an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The Bimmer's power output is similar to that of the Merc, with 301 hp, but the X2 is torquier, thanks to a figure of 331 lb-ft. This helps it sprint to 60 mph quicker - achieving the milestone takes 4.7 seconds to the AMG's 5.1. Despite this, the X2 is more economical by 3 mpg on the EPA's combined cycle. It also has a bigger gas tank and a base price that is more than $3,000 lower than that of the Merc. If you don't need the extra two seats, we recommend getting the Bimmer.
The Volkswagen Tiguan is expected to be released in an all-new variant for 2022. This more powerful Tiguan R would be a direct rival to the GLB 35, but with the model not yet confirmed for American sales, we have to make do with the current generation and its unsporty standard configuration. The Tiguan is also powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel-drive. As standard, this model is also a five-seater, with the option of a pair of extra seats in the third row. It's typically less luxurious than the Merc but is still worthy of consideration thanks to its 73.5-cubic foot cargo bay with all seats down and its similar economy figures. However, the top trim of the Tiguan currently only produces 184 hp and 221 lb-ft. Still, it's 10 grand cheaper and better-specced as standard. If all you need is practicality, get the VW, but if you want that luxury look and a sporty feel, the Merc owns the niche it just created.
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