The boxy GLB borders on hot hatchback levels of fun.
Like it or not, the crossover invasion has taken over the market, suffocating sedan, coupe, and hatchback sales in the process. Mercedes-Benz has fully capitalized on the trend with eight SUV models in its lineup, including its unique coupe-SUV variants. The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 is one of the latest entrants as a faster version of the boxy GLB crossover. It rides on the same front-wheel-drive platform as the A-Class, CLA, and GLA and is the largest of the four sub-compact Mercedes models.
We expected to be mildly entertained by the baby AMG crossover, but the GLB 35 greatly exceeded our expectations. Where other hot crossovers tend to lack charisma compared to their sedan and hatch counterparts, the GLB 35 offers a thrilling ride. It may look like a crossover, but the GLB 35 is a hot hatchback in disguise. Here are seven reasons why we adore it.
Unlike its platform stablemate, the GLA, the GLB utilizes boxy proportions that mirror the flagship GLS and G-Class models. With its smaller stature, the GLB looks cutesy, but the AMG styling elements add some aggression. The standard Panamericana grille gives the GLB 35 a wide fascia and matches the AMG portfolio. 19-inch wheels are standard, but our test car rode on optional 21-inch wheels that provide a menacing stance. No other sub-compact luxury crossover has proportions like this, making the GLB a standout in its segment.
All AMG 35 models come powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. In the GLB 35, this peppy powertrain produces 302 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, enough to hit 60 mph in 5.1 seconds and go on to a 155-mph top speed. Buyers who trade out of a Ford Focus ST, Subaru WRX, or Volkswagen Golf GTI will be seriously impressed by this combination, particularly the engine's personality.
Mercedes hasn't toned down the powertrain because it's mounted in a practical crossover. It let the AMG division go mental with it. At full throttle, the turbocharged engine emits a delightful noise that's paired with simulated speaker sounds. It even pops and crackles on the overrun, giving the impression of a true hot hatch. Though it doesn't come with a manual transmission like hot hatches of old, the eight-speed DCT fires off rapid shifts and is more fun to drive in manual mode using the metal paddle shifters.
The GLB 35 benefits from the same impressive technology found higher up on the Mercedes food chain. It includes the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) infotainment system as standard, housed on two 10.25-inch displays. We love MBUX because it offers a variety of controls using a touchscreen, touchpad, steering wheel controls, or voice, meaning drivers can choose how they want to interact with it. The screens look high-tech and add to the premium feel of the cabin. That gauge cluster can also be endlessly configured, so drivers will always have important information available at a glance.
The GLB's boxy shape does more than look adorable; it adds practicality too. This car is massive compared to other sub-compact crossovers, offering 24 cubic feet of space behind the second row. After folding down the second row, it opens to 64 cubic feet. For reference, the coupe-like GLA only offers 15.4 and 50.5 cubic feet, respectively. The BMW X1 slightly outclasses the GLB with 27.1 cubic feet behind the second row but falls short of total cargo capacity with only 58.7 cubic feet total. Thanks to those boxy proportions, the GLB offers storage space on-par with a compact SUV.
Along with impressive dimensions for cargo, the GLB 35 excels as a people carrier. This is the only vehicle in its segment to offer an available third-row seat. Granted, that third row is pretty tiny, but it gives the GLB the ability to carry up to seven passengers. Even if you don't opt for the third row, the GLB offers plenty of space in the second row. The second-row seats slide and recline, which is another rarity in this segment. With 38.1 inches of second-row legroom, the GLB offers similar space as many larger crossovers in the compact class.
While the GLB 35 has the ability to put a grin on the driver's face, just like a hot hatch, it can also settle down and act civilized like a crossover. Drivers can choose from Comfort, Sport, Sport +, and Individual modes, which completely change the personality. Comfort mode feels docile, with plenty of turbo lag allowed. In this mode, the transmission shifts smoothly and nearly imperceptibly. Sport mode resolves a bit of the hesitation while Sport + tells the car to be on maximum attack, dialing the transmission up with rapid, more eager shifts.
Should drivers want the drivetrain in its liveliest setting but the suspension or transmission on Comfort mode, individual configuration is available to create a perfect profile catered to their desires.
While driving the GLB 35 with a grin stretching from ear to ear, we couldn't help but remember that this won't be the fastest GLB model available. Mercedes-AMG is rumored to be working on a GLB 45 model, which will likely borrow the more powerful M139 engine from the CLA 45 and GLA 45. This 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is similar to the M260 used in the 35 models, but it's rotated 180 degrees to provide better responsiveness. In the United States, this engine puts out 382 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque. There's also a glimmer of hope that AMG will give us the S tune, which boosts the output to 421 hp.