2021 Mercedes-AMG GLB35 First Test Review: Peerless Platypus?

True tweeners and “green-space” vehicles are few and far between in an automotive landscape that seems to subdivide further every day, but this 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLB35 4Matic qualifies more than most.

There’s no direct competitor in this size class that offers three-row (5+2-passenger) seating, luxury branding, and sports car performance and handling at this price point. The 2.0-liter turbo Land Rover Discovery Sport also offers a third row for use in a literal and figurative pinch, but even in its top SE R-Dynamic 4WD form, its price and performance fall well below this GLB35’s. Then there’s the slightly larger Tesla Model Y, which also offers a smallish third row in Long Range form, but the price and performance of the Tesla both outpace our GLB35 4Matic. So is this baby-shoe blocky SUV a platypus? A loner? The de facto best entry in a class of one?

Comparing the GLB35 AMG’s Acceleration Performance

Engage Sport+ and AMG Advance modes, and the engine revs momentarily bounce at 3,500 rpm before dropping the clutch for an aggressive minimal-wheelspin getaway that whisks the little box to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds and on through the quarter in 13.8 seconds at 99.9 mph. Not bad for 302 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. Shifts are very firm in this mode, “so harsh that I could feel the chassis unsettle a little,” tester Erick Ayapana said.

Rover’s Disco Sport trails the GLB35 by about two seconds, and the even harder-launching electric Model Y quickly opens a lead of a second or more. This performance puts the little 2.0-liter turbo AMG in good company, with numbers almost identical to those of larger six-cylinder SUVs, including the BMW X5 xDrive40i, the entry Porsche Cayenne, and the Volvo XC60 Polestar hybrid—all of which cost thousands more, with only the BMW able to legally transport six little leaguers. Oh, and to find out how this engine might cope with that carload of kiddos, we hauled 1,100 pounds of ready-mix concrete in back, and this lusty four-pot absolutely shrugged off the load.

What About Ride and Handling?

AMG vehicles are all about having it your way. There are myriad adjustments to the suspension, steering, powertrain programming, and stability control that can be fine-tuned via an optional pair of steering wheel switches ($400), a console mode switch, or the touchscreen. It verges on too much adjustability, and for our Michigan drive experience, we often employed the Individual drive mode, set for full-tilt sporty on every category but damping, which we adjusted for max comfort. This comes close to aligning with our ethos for sporty-vehicle suspension tuning: Make it ride as comfortably as possible when traveling in a straight line, and only firm things up as much as necessary when needed to execute the driver’s turning, braking, or acceleration requests. Sport+ suspension feels like filling the shocks with freshly mixed mortar.

Our test team in California dialed everything to Sport+ with stability control off and found that on cold 21-inch tires, the car nearly spun on the first figure-eight corner, which was followed by a strange limp mode. After a full restart, tester Chris Walton reported handling that was “rather flat and neutral, but I had to saw at the wheel to maintain a steady arc,” which he attributed to a hyperactive 4Matic AWD system. The numbers were strong, however: max lateral grip of 0.95 g and a figure-eight time of 25.2 seconds at 0.73 average g. Once again, that’s nearly identical to the 2019 Porsche Cayenne we tested.

Successive stops from 60 mph were strong and consistent, measuring 107, 111, 107, and 108 feet. That’s Lambo Urus and Porsche Cayenne Turbo S territory. Better still, our test team reported predictable travel.

Does the AMG GLB35 Feel Special?

Our test vehicle rang the register at $57,010. That’s mighty long green for a vehicle with compact economy car roots, and there are subtle reminders of the GLB’s humble origins, such as sun visors that neither slide nor provide extenders to cover the side windows. Then there’s Mercedes’ cheeky way of charging extra for features that come standard on a top-spec Honda CR-V, such as heated front seats ($500), keyless entry and starting ($800), navigation ($1,295), leather upholstery ($1,450), and adaptive cruise control with lane centering ($1,700). The $57K tag of our test vehicle didn’t include those last two, either. Then again, the all-digital dash offers loads of customization, and the AMG performance screens can display lateral acceleration g circles, instantaneous power and torque, fuel economy histograms, etc. And don’t overlook the ambient lighting, which can put on multicolor animated light shows that even illuminate the round turbine-inlet air vents. A gimmick, sure, but it contributes to the upscale equation.

Is the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLB35 4Matic Worth Buying?

This little oddball delivers fun dynamics and a reasonable amount of panache for the base price. Maybe your household needs both a Honda CR-V, for adaptive cruising and lane keeping on long trips, and a base GLB35 for canyon carving and little league runs.

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