The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 Is One Quick Little Crossover
Loads of kit from AMG and more cabin space make for one good cute-sized ute.
As much as I prefer a hot hatch to the plethora of crossovers that are clogging up our roads, the trend isn't going away. Quick, small crossovers are now all the rage, and Mercedes-AMG isn't missing out on the action. With its introduction of the 35 designation, AMG adds a mild performance upgrade to existing Mercedes models.
Not as full-fat AMG as the bigger SUVs and sedans in the lineup, these models offer a good balance of fun in a practical compact package. Having tested the smaller GLA 35 recently, I also had a chance to see how the tweaks served the more appropriately sized GLB when the good people at Mercedes sent one to me for a week.
Some Key Numbers
The Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 is powered by the ever popular 2.0-liter turbocharged four that pumps out 302 horsepower from 5,800 - 6,100 RPM and 295 lb-ft (400 Nm) of torque from 3,000 - 4,000 RPM. Through an 8-speed DCT and AMG's 4MATIC variable all-wheel-drive system, the GLB 35 scoots from 0-60 MPH in 5.1 seconds and has an electronically-limited top speed of 155 MPH.
Slightly bigger than its GLA sibling, the GLB's overall length is 183 inches (up 8 over the GLA), 65 inches tall, 80 wide, and sports a 63-inch track front and rear, with a 111-inch wheelbase (4 inches longer than the GLA). Bigger dimensions make the GLB 200 pounds heavier than the GLA 35, hitting a curb weight of 3,869 pounds (1,755 kilos). Exterior styling gets the AMG look of a meaner fascia with sporty radiator openings and that signature bigger grille, and the lower ride height is just right.
The GLB is nearly the same size as the Audi Q5 and BMW X3, but doesn't offer as much power as those competitors' performance models, since they use six-cylinder engines. The GLB is a bit more cost-effective than its German rivals, if you don't mind a little less punch under the hood. At a base price of $49,500, the GLB 35 is about $2,000 more than the GLA, and after ticking a handful of options boxes, my Galaxy Blue Metallic tester racked up a total MSRP of $57,010.
A Good City Crossover
As a practical-sized crossover, the Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 is great for a small family in the city. The roofline is much higher than the GLA, and because of the longer overall length and wheelbase, you can fit adults in the back seat more comfortably. Cargo space in the rear hatch is significantly larger too. As a trade off, the GLB's boxier styling versus the more hatchback-like looks of the GLA take some getting used to.
AMG's 2.0-liter turbo is a good engine for a daily driver, with just enough power to have a little fun on city drives, and quick response that can get addictive. Especially with a throaty exhaust note that is surprisingly raw for a little turbocharged four-banger. Take it easy on the go pedal, and you'll have better luck with the EPA fuel estimates of 21/26/23 (city/highway/combined) than I did.
Where I felt the GLA 35's steering felt a bit over-boosted, the GLB is more composed. Yes, there's still an electric assist, you still have a positive feel in any of AMG's drive select modes. While they look cool on this boxier crossover package, the optional 21-inch multi-spoke wheels and 35 series Continental tires make for harsh response if your city doesn't have the smoothest streets. Potholes will make you think your chassis is about to snap, so I suggest opting for a smaller wheel package with some thicker sidewalls.
Interior styling and tech is loaded up with the latest bits from Mercedes, including the MBUX infotainment system. The new center touchscreen is 10 inches wide, matching the instrument cluster's display, which has a bunch of options for customizing your gauges. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are installed, but Mercedes still doesn't have a wireless connectivity option for those, like some of its competition. Fortunately there's a good spot to stash your phone ahead of the cupholders while it's plugged in.
A bit too disco for some, I love the ambient cabin lighting setup inside Mercedes cabins, and the strips of light along the panels and in the footwells are cool. If you wear dark stained jeans, I suggest opting for dark leather, as the white centers of the GLB's seats got a bit of my denim wash donated to them.
Is That AMG Badge Legit?
Mercedes is slapping AMG badging on several of its smaller models--sedans and crossovers alike--in an effort to please drivers who want a hint more performance. On the GLB 35, it's fitting, as the upgrades make for a crossover that goes a bit more like a hot hatch. Sporty appointments are mildly spicier than your usual GLB 250. With the over-boosted 2-liter under the hood paired with AMG's ride control suspension and 4MATIC all-wheel-drive, the GLB 35 is suprisingly fun.
Opt for the AMG drive unit, and you'll be able to tweak all sorts of settings and drive modes on the steering wheel, much like bigger AMG models. Toggle the drive mode to sport or sport+, and you're treated to a stiffer chassis with rapid engine response. Comfort mode allows more body roll than I prefer, and the sportiest suspension setting isn't rough at all. Give the GLB 35 a flick on a twisty back road, and you'll be shocked how confident it handles, thanks to the AWD and adaptive suspension. Prented you're behind the wheel of a proper sports car, and you'll experience a bit of understeer, but for most drivers the "AMG-lite" GLB will get the job done.
Wrapped around the optional 21-inch wheels is a set of Continental SportContact 6 tires that are often found on supercars, and while I didn't love them for city driving--due to tiny sidewalls--they were super grippy in the twisty bits. I had a mixed bag of weather during my week-long test in the Mercedes-AMG GLB 35, and on a snow day I slowly snuck out of my building to snap some shots, but didn't risk playing on the frosty stuff. AMG added a set of cross-drilled and ventilated brake discs with big monoblock calipers that do a fine job of scrubbing speed when you're tossing the GLB 35 around.
A Good Performance Crossover Comes At A Price
At $50,000 and climbing with options, the Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 isn't cheap. With hot hatches sneaking into the $40,000 range, spending more money gets you extra space in every usable way inside this AMG crossover. At a jump of just $2,000 over its GLA 35 sibling, the GLB is the way to go to get significantly more cabin and storage space. If you want more power from a small German crossover, you're going to spend way more money to get the racier Audi SQ5 or BMW X3 M options.
Drivers that have to step up to a crossover should be pleased to have loads of fun options. Mercedes-AMG is smart to provide a sportier solution versus the flood of beige crossovers I wouldn't want in my driveway. I'd rather have a fun compact sedan, but for people who need a crossover, the GLB 35 provides a nice balance of fun and practicality blended into a stylish package inside and out.
Good little winter beater.