2021 Mercedes AMG GLB35 4MATIC Review

This hot-hatch of a crossover is just what the doctor ordered


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: An absolute hoot to drive, eager and able powertrain, excellent handling, looks more like a boxy hatch than a crossover, spacious enough for a small family, nicely sporty interior.
Negatives: Infotainment can be frustrating to use, firm ride might not please everyone, expensive when optioned out.
Bottom Line: Fun, spacious, and handsome, the GLB35 is a surprisingly great performance SUV that will provide driving thrills, a solid amount of space, and headturning looks in a great package. Sure, it's pricey, but what Mercedes isn't?
For those of you confused by Mercedes SUV model nomenclature, you're not alone. Changes from the Old M-Class and G-Class are now labyrinthine. Case in point, the old boxy GLK is gone and got replaced by the new GLB in 2019. The top form version is the AMG GLB35, and it's a surprise we never saw coming. Under the hood is a punchy 302-horsepower turbo four, and it's about as good as these kinds of engines get. Coupled with its low stance and sporty suspension, the GLB35 turns into more of a big hot hatch than a small crossover. We drove it for a week, and discovered that it might just be one of the best new vehicles to come along in some time. Read on for our full review.
 

Driving Experience

9

 

The turbo four is a blast, despite some mild turbo lag. Once you get above 4,000 rpm in Sport and Sport Plus modes, the car surges with excitement and a raucous sound from the pipes. That said, the GLB35 is still daily drivable and actually surprisingly good for a sporty SUV.

Ride Quality: The ride is firm but actually not overwhelming in Comfort mode. The shock absorption is very good. Once you dial it into Sport, it's noticeably firmer and a bit harsher at low speeds.

Acceleration: 0-60 comes in 5.1 seconds, which is very quick for a vehicle that weighs 3,869 pounds. The transmission does a good job with downshifting when needed but holds gears a bit long in Sport mode to maximize power. The paddle shifters work very well to help mitigate this.

Braking: The brakes are strong and progressive. Getting proper modulation was no problem, no matter how we were driving. There was no grabbiness or mushiness.

Steering: Steering is taut and has good effort. It's one of the aspects of the GLB35 that makes it so fun to drive. Feedback is actually pretty good.

Handling: The GLB35 exhibits some body roll, but the AMG Ride Control Sports Suspension that's standard on this model keeps it planted and stable in the turns. We really enjoyed tossing this thing.

Technology

8.8

 

Mercedes' in-car tech really does look incredible. The screens, the buttons, the layout... it's all very elegant. It's just too bad it's not easier to use. Controls could be much improved to favor function over form. Everyone who rides in your car will love looking at it, but they'll hate watching you try to use it.

Infotainment System: The huge twin 10.25" screens are glorious to behold. It's too bad the operation is less than excellent. The touchpad is finicky, and the swiping control needs work.

Controls: This is what undid the score below a 9. The gearshift on the steering column made us shift to neutral more than a couple of times when we mistook it for a wiper stalk. The haptic feedback steering wheel controls are hard to decipher and use. Merc needs to take a page from the Genesis playbook in this department.

Styling

9.2

 

The GLB35 is an attractive SUV that eschews some of the rounded bulbousness of so many other models, including its platform-sharing GLA sibling. The AMG treatment takes things up a notch, as does the blackness of the exterior and the two-tone red and black interior.

Front: The huge toothy grill emulates the AMG GTR performance car, and it looks great here. we love the fact that it's frameless, which simplifies the front end. The large headlights and big lower intakes also give it menace.

Rear: We love the large round tailpipes, as well as the distinct LED taillight signature. It's an attractive back end that stands out in a crowded segment.

Profile: The GLB35 is one of the better looking Merc SUVs from this angle. There's just enough styling to keep it distinct without going overboard. We like the uptick in the side window just before the C-pillar, as well as the black fender trim and dark AMG wheels.

Cabin: The black and red leather colorway looks truly sporty here, bolstered by the black and red carbon fiber trim on the dash. The addition of metal and rubber sport pedals and a flat-bottom steering wheel round out the sporty cabin.

Comfort

8.5

 

We drove our family of five on a medium-length road trip, and we were surprised to see how accommodating the GLB35 was. Not only is it roomy for something this size, it's also pretty practical.

Front Seats: The seats are well-bolstered and have the right amount of cushioning. We had no difficulty adjusting them to where we wanted them.

Rear Seats: 39.3 inches of headroom and 38.1 inches of legroom mean adults aren't suffering in back. Even the middle position is decent. Our tester did not have the optional third row, but we imagine that's pretty small and not suitable for adults.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): It can get a bit noisy due to wind at highway speeds, but otherwise the build quality is excellent. The BRAAAPP of the exhaust might bother some, but we really love it.

Visibility: Visibility is very good all around thanks to large windows and thin-ish pillars. The low hood also helps with negotiating tight spots.

Climate: The climate system and the large round vents work really well to provide good HVAC. The heated and ventilated seats respond quickly.

Safety

6.5

 

The GLB has yet to be crash tested by the IIHS and the NHTSA. The GLB35 has a small set of standard safety features, aside from the usual airbags, ABS, stability and traction control. It's optional set is pretty strong, thankfully. The Driver Assistance Package is $1,700, and frankly some of the stuff should be standard equipment on a vehicle of this price.

IIHS Rating: Not tested.

NHTSA Rating: Not tested.

Standard Tech: The GLB35 comes with Blind Spot Assist, Rearview Camera, an Advanced Air Bag Protection System, and Active Brake Assist.

Optional Tech: Our tester was outfitted with upgraded Active Brake Assist with Cross-Traffic Function, Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC, Active Steering Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Active Lane Change Assist, Active Speed Limit Assist, Active Emergency Stop Assist, Evasive Steering Assist, and PRE-SAFE PLUS.

Storage/Cargo

8.3

 

The cargo section of the GLB35 is surprisingly spacious, even more so than the bigger GLC SUV. The interior has some thoughtful spaces for small items storage, as well. It's no minivan, but the GLB35 is quite good when it comes to handling gear for a small family.

Storage Space: None of the interior cubbies are huge, but there are plenty of spaces to store small items including the front charging tray, split center armrest, center console cupholder, door pockets, and the small shelf in the dash.

Cargo Room: The GLB has 27 cubic feet of space behind row two, whereas the larger GLC has only 24.6. Total space with the seats folded flat is an impressive 62 cubic feet. That's only a little bit smaller than the much bigger Audi Q7.

Fuel Economy

6.4

 

The GLB35 isn't a fuel miser, and our final numbers proved the case to be true. Our highway road trip didn't net high numbers, but it was fully laden with kids and luggage. That said, 23 combined EPA for a small crossover SUV is not great.

Observed: 19.8 mpg.

Distance Driven: 578 miles.

Audio

9

 

The optional $850 Burmester sound system is an excellent one. Great bass and clarity filled the cabin, and we didn't notice any distortion even with the volume cranked up. We just wish the system was standard on the top-tier GLB.



Final Thoughts

We loved the GLB35 because it's the best of virtually all automotive worlds. It moves and handles like a hot hatch, holds plenty of people and gear in comfort, and it looks premium and sporty. We just don't love the gearshift stalk or the operation of the infotainment system. It is, however, one of the most practical and fun vehicles to come along in a while. The GLB35 is one of our favorite vehicles so far this year.
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