A medium-sized, performance-oriented, seven-seat SUV is a niche carved with a toothpick. However, meet the sugar cube – my endearing term for the sweet and boxy 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLB35.
Even with all those traits, I can't imagine punters flocking to stores adorned with the three-pointed star for one. However, I do imagine many walk out having bought one – after being walked up from a GLA or sideward from a GLC.
The sales figures attest to the latter point. Already, the newly introduced nameplate has tallied up an 11.8 per cent market share, which sees it already outperforming both established Lexus NX and Range Rover Evoque badges. A solid consumption rate understanding the Merc's GLB moniker is less than 12 months old in our market.
Today, we're driving the Mercedes-AMG 35 model. Usually, a 45 or 45 S model sits above with smaller Mercedes-AMG products. However, there's no official word on such a hi-po version – despite drawings being filed with the US patent office.
That makes our AMG 35 model the current pinnacle of a three-tier GLB range. It starts from $88,535 before on-roads and options. Our test car was blessed with a handful of extras: Mountain Grey metallic paint ($1490), 20-inch AMG five-spoke wheels ($790), Vision package ($1190), and Driving Assistance package ($1990).
|2021 Mercedes-AMG GLB35|
|Engine||2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder|
|Power and torque||225kW at 5800rpm/400Nm at 3000–4000rpm|
|Transmission||Eight-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||8.3L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||10.0L/100km|
|Boot volume (seven-seat/five-seat/two-seat)||140/560L/1755L|
|Warranty||Five years/unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Tiguan Allspace, Peugeot 5008|
Its total price before on-roads? $93,995. Seems expensive, but you get a lot of everything.
We'll start with styling. It's divided the Sydney CarAdvice office, with some finding it hard on the eye. Personally, being a dork myself, I feel attracted to how it wears its ergonomics on its sleeve. A tall glasshouse and lower-than-usual door line strewn over a long, 2.82m wheelbase creates wagon-y proportions.
With the AMG version, you get the usual extras: Panamericana front grille, beefy bumper apertures, and deluxe rear diffuser filled with two fat pipes. At this trim level, it looks even more rude and absurd – which is half the charm.
How do you feel about its looks? Let us know in the comments below.
What can be said objectively is that the styling efforts are not a front. Powering the Mercedes-AMG GLB35 is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder with 225kW and 400Nm offered in full between 3000–4000rpm. Drive is manipulated by an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, and then distributed by the brand's 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. Torque split varies from 100:0 front/rear to 50:50 equal depending on the conditions. Zero to 100km/h takes 5.2 seconds.
The engine is a spicy one. Acceleration from beneath the peak torque figure feels rapid, and continues to bubble with ferocity till redline. While the powerband is short, it still feels okay to punch through the closely aligned gear ratios earlier than prescribed without feeling short-changed.
Tight gearing does help, but regardless there appears to be no lag. Something signalling those thoughts other than seat-of-the-pants feel is the turbocharger's high-pitched spooling efforts – heard instantly as soon as you graze the throttle.
The special sauce those Affalterbach engineers are applying likely consists of a perfectly sized turbocharger, a brilliant boost-control strategy, and short induction paths. Whatever the formula, it's good, and superior to what other European boosted fours are using.
Fuel consumption over the week-long loan initially sat at 9.4L/100km, and later rose to 10.0L/100km square after some enjoyable sessions on good roads. The official combined claim is 8.3L/100km.
Ride quality is managed by a set of adaptive dampers with three settings. This is an AMG product, so the more supple mode is naturally firm-feeling on our mediocre road surfaces. There's some initial compliance and softness, but harder and more severe moments of suspension travel do find themselves bumping heads with harshness.
Given those severe moments were felt every now and again, the remaining balance sees ride quality land on the side of tolerable. Stepping up the dampers in any situation other than the most dynamic is pointless, as the regular mode offers excellent handling and control.
If you're on fast-paced, usually rural roads, dialling up the wick could be advantageous to what you wish to achieve. Here, despite being a 1800kg+, top-heavy SUV, the GLB35 exhibited everything but imbalance. With some confidence built and the AMG dynamics system suitably adjusted, you have everything required for mischief.
It's worth mentioning that our car was equipped with the standard-sized 20-inch wheel option. While I can't speak for cars equipped with 21-inch optional items, previous testing has always shown that more wheel diameter – and thus a lower profile tyre – has always resulted in poorer ride quality. Approach the option of 21s with caution.
Steering calibration feels honest enough, and never came across cumbersome or out of tune with the rest of the vehicle's set-up. It's surprisingly light, too, regardless of the mode selected. I take that as an honest and appropriate decision made, as it's more family car than ball-tearer, despite featuring an AMG badge.
In terms of active driver-assist systems, you'll find some of the usual: autonomous emergency braking, active lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning, traffic sign recognition and self-parking tech. Disappointingly, however, items like adaptive cruise control and active blind-spot monitoring (with steering assist) form part of a $1990 package. Such technology should be standard at this price.
Inside, the Mercedes-AMG GLB35 has stacks of showroom appeal. Dominating the dashboard is Mercedes-Benz's MBUX display panel with twin 10.25-inch displays: one acting as an instrument cluster, the other for infotainment. The clarity of either screen is class-leading, and the instrument cluster offers heaps of customisation. On top of different visual themes, you can also adjust each dial and section independently. Data geeks and tech types will love it.
The more basic sections of the cabin are good too. The driver's seat is comfortable, and features lumbar support with height adjustment, and an in-built extendable thigh cushion. A slim pair of frontal A-pillars and overall tall glasshouse create good lines of sight in all directions.
With storage, bottle holders feature in the front doors, which are big enough for a one-litre item. The lower centre console has a lidded cubby complete with wireless charging pad and USB-C port for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, plus a pair of cupholders. Behind this lies a decent-sized armrest storage area with two more USB-C ports.
In the second row, guests are treated with two air vents, two more USB-C ports, and cupholders in a fold-down armrest. Given there's a third row, the seats in the middle are on sliders. When adjusted fully backward, I found knee room behind my own 183cm driving position to be around 4cm, with foot room being excellent and head room equally so.
However, with the extra seating in play, space shrinks considerably. Allowing room for those behind saw knees in the second row begin to brush against the first-row seat backs.
Two ISOFIX points can be found on either outboard seat. Both a large capsule or convertible child seat that supports from birth to toddler age will fit with ease. Another good point about the tall glasshouse and relatively low door line is that kids from a young age can see outside. With modern cars, their design treatments often see window lines compressed in the name of style, which can create a dark, disconcerting environment for little ones.
Entering the third row is conducted via sliding the heavy second row, which young teenagers may find difficult. Once fully forward, the opening left to climb through is quite small. Adults may find it tricky, but those with bendy joints will be fine.
Out in the back, there's a relatively tall window letting light in, some storage either side, and another pair of USB-C ports. Mercedes-Benz definitely listened during the focus groups, as parents always love charging ports. More the merrier, I hear.
A nice touch is another pair of ISOFIX points in the third row. This creates a whole new world of versatility. For example, ferrying yourself and your partner, plus two young kids and an oldie or two, can be conducted without subjecting the frail to third-row-ingress shenanigans.
Seats six and seven are best suited to children and young teenagers. I did spend some time back there, but found foot room to be tight for my size-11 shoes, and knees to be banging up against the seat back. It's doable for short trips, or to instead laugh at your mates as they clumsily try to exit.
Boot space is 560L, which is satisfactory for family duties. With the second row folded, its cargo cavity grows out to 1755L, which is in line with those from the segment above.
Given its boxy nature, there's plenty of height to utilise in seven-seat mode. You could artfully stack a week's worth of groceries with all seats up if you try hard enough. It's also wide enough for a compact stroller to fit, with a small day bag on top. There's no space-saving spare wheel sadly.
Plenty of space, versatility, and clever touches all packed into a smallish footprint demonstrate that you get a lot for your money. It's understandable why the GLB's market share is growing, as it's a clever product that offers the solution to many of the modern family's conundrums.
The AMG-manipulated 35 model is a laugh, too, as you get solid levels of performance to bookend the decision.