2021 Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 Review

  • Hot-hatch style driving dynamics
  • Practical cabin and cargo space
  • Turbo inline-4 engine is punchy
  • Optional third row is rare in the segment
  • Gets very expensive when you start adding options
  • Third row is scaled for children only
  • Firmer ride is the trade-off for sportier handling

I have never straddled a charging baby rhinoceros, but the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 is what I'd expect it to feel like. All snorting angst and playful gurgle: your own contribution to the soundtrack a barely-stifled giggle. The entryway to AMG's performance range is getting fairly crowded these days, but the GLB 250's sportier sibling manages to stand out all the same.

For $49,500 (plus $1,050 destination) you don't get one of AMG's hand-built engines. Instead it's an "AMG-Enhanced" version of Mercedes' 2.0-liter inline-4 turbo, here massaged for 302 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. 0-60 arrives in 5.1 seconds, and there's a swift-shifting 8-speed DCT gearbox and AMG Performance 4MATIC all-wheel drive.

It's a punchy, feisty thing. Firmer suspension than in the regular GLB curtails too much in the way of body roll, though can leave the ride jostling and even a tad squirmy if you push too urgently on potholed asphalt. Happily there's plenty of grip from the big rubber and the AWD, and some predictable understeer dialed in so that you're fully aware of when the limits might be coming into sight.

The four-cylinder engine may not be AMG's biggest, or its most powerful, but it's a smile-provoking thing. The snorting, blustering turbo boost contributes significantly to that; some of the engine noise is electronically added, but it doesn't sound quite so artificial as some other sports cars suffer. Whooshing around town, surging through gaps in traffic, leave the GLB 35 a hoot in urban settings, while Comfort mode tames things sufficiently that highway cruising isn't migraine-provoking. Just expect a little more wind noise from the chunky styling.

Mercedes quotes 21 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway, and 23 mpg combined. Not exactly great, but par for the course by segment standards.

Mercedes' cabin is a familiar thing at this point, the GLB sharing its dashboard with the A-Class, GLA, and others. The combination of silver and gloss black plastic, eyeball vents, and chromed toggles is cohesive enough, while the colored ambient lighting feels youthful. MBUX, on twin 10.25-inch displays behind a single pane of glass, is fast and responsive, and there's Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support, though your phone's UI is oddly small in the center display and squanders some of the available screen real-estate.

I'm always pleased to see AMG's previous-gen steering wheel, with its billet aluminum hubs and proper switches and buttons. The touch-sensitive controls on its twin-spoke replacement are a little too finicky for my tastes. In AMG form there are dual control pods – each with a tiny display – for drive mode and user-customizable shortcuts. It makes flicking between the relatively relaxed and pliant Comfort mode and the altogether more entertaining Sport+ quicker.

The GLB may be one of Mercedes' smallest SUVs, but it still manages to squeeze in three rows of seats. The first and second aren't short on space, but accommodations in the (optional) very back row are definitely on the tight side. Child-friendly, yes, but not much fun for adults.

With all the seats up, you're looking at just 5.1 cu-ft of cargo space to play with; best pack light. There's a healthier 24 cu-ft with the third row folded, and 56.7 cu-ft with the second row down too. Still, the 5-seat GLB configuration has more space for stuff: 27 cu-ft behind the second row and 62 cu-ft behind the first. Maybe save the $850 the rearmost row will cost you, and spend it on the equally priced – and far more rewarding – Burmester Surround Sound audio system.

As standard you get a power liftgate, auto wipers, blind spot warnings, ambient lighting, dual-zone climate control, and power front seats with memory. Then the options start to rack up. $400 for the AMG steering wheel, another $400 for the drive mode pod controls, and $300 for the distinctive 19-inch matte black alloys. $1,500 for the panoramic sunroof and $500 for the heated front seats; $200 for a wireless charging pad and $460 for SiriusXM. The $1,295 Multimedia Package adds navigation with augmented reality directions, and can be safely skipped; so too, frankly, can the $800 Premium Package with its keyless entry, and power-folding side mirrors.

$750 covers the AMG Night Package, with high-gloss black exterior trim like the exhaust surrounds, the front splitter, AMG side panel inserts, and other strips that help make the GLB 35 look so enthusiastic. By the time you add $720 for the Denim Blue Metallic paint, $1,450 for the leather, and $325 for the natural-grain wood trim, plus a few other niceties, you're looking at $61,485 all-in. That's more than a base-spec AMG GLC 43 will cost you, and that comes with another two cylinders under the hood and more space in the cabin.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 Verdict

Better, I'd say, to show as much restraint as you can get away with at your local Mercedes dealership. This squared-off SUV doesn't need to be maxed-out in order to put a grin on your face.

Indeed there is something about the GLB 35 AMG that falls just on the perfect side of silly. On paper, it shouldn't really make sense: a compact crossover, borrowing the chunky styling of its bigger and invariably more capable brethren, with an AMG tune-job and a body kit to match. Yet with its squirty whooshing soundtrack and perky acceleration it feels puppy-eager, and belies the staid and sensible reputation of the average crossover without sacrificing the practicality.