SUV Review: 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 4Matic
Upscale compact crossover has a legit hot hatch zip to it
Maybe it’s the aging process, but as I get older my appreciation for what I like to call “balanced” vehicles increases. I still enjoy power and performance, but less and less do I see the need for 600- or 700-horsepower street machines, especially in 5,000-pound or heavier sport-utes and crossovers. (However, I admit to backsliding on occasion.)
That is why vehicles labeled Mercedes-AMG are so appealing; they have significantly more zip and overt style for extroverted types than MB’s mainstream luxury products but are not as outlandishly fast and frenetic as the full-on AMG line of cars and crossovers. A Mercedes-AMG might not get the hand-built and signed engine of an AMG model or all the go-fast bits, but it does benefit from the performance division’s engineering expertise.
Which brings us to the new-for-2021 Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 4Matic, the more muscular version of MB’s compact crossover, the pedestrian GLB 250. GLBs use the same front front-wheel-drive platform as the A-Class, CLA, and GLA and is the largest of the four small Mercedes models. (Size-wise, the B is not that much smaller than the more popular GLC.) But while the GLB 250 is described by the company as a “versatile SUV with off-road-oriented design” — blandness and mainstream fairly dripping off the words — the 35 is expressed as a “highly attractive model for an active target demographic.”
And, yes, there is a street punk swagger to the GLB 35, the $65,900 (with options) tester swathed in Night Black Metallic paint and smartly blinged out with AMG accoutrement — air dam and diffusers, rims and that lovely Panamericana grille, a tribute to Mercedes’ W198 SL sports cars of the early 1950s. For a fairly squared-off, family-oriented vehicle — it is available as a five- or seven-seater — there is nothing meek or mild to the GLB in its AMG 35 guise.
A 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder resides under the hood of both GLB models; the key difference is output — the 250’s engine puts out a middling 221 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, the 35 a far more substantial 302 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. And, yes, select Sport+ mode, flick the paddle shifters and the AMG-enhanced 35 will eagerly launch its way to 100 kilometres an hour in 5.2 seconds — 1.7 seconds quicker than the 250 — making appropriate hot hatch-like sounds.
The engine is hooked up to an AMG SpeedShift eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, which knocks off smooth, quick upshifts when one gets on the throttle, whether left in Drive or self-shifting. When puttering about in traffic and left in Comfort mode, however, the transmission occasionally stutters, upshifting too early — which Mercedes has built onto the program to optimize fuel efficiency — and causing an uneven flow of forward motion.
But drivers have a broad choice of modes to choose from courtesy of the AMG Dynamic Select programs, which change the response of the engine and the timing of the transmission. In addition to the previously mentioned Comfort and Sport+ modes, there’s also Sport, Individual and Slippery. The last optimizes the GLB 35 for greasy road conditions, with reduced power, a flat torque curve, and earlier upshifts.
These drive modes are linked to the AMG Dynamics agility control, which matches handling characteristics more closely with different driving styles as well as road conditions. Torque distribution of the 4Matic all-wheel drive system, steering feel and the intervention thresholds of the electronic stability program are altered according to the drive program.