Two weeks behind the wheel of a 2023 Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 made me realize that so many carmakers totally miss the mark when promising sports car performance in their utility vehicles. Mercedes-AMG, on the other hand, proves once more that performance is its business and that it can turn anything into a capable sports machine. Simply said, the GLB 35 is absolutely brilliant.
Extended Hot Hatch
In AMG form, Mercedes’ subcompact crossover has more in common with a hot hatchback than an actual SUV. With a lowered ride height, beefier brakes, and a burbling exhaust note, this is the furthest away from a truck that a sport utility vehicle can get. The EPA doesn’t even qualify the AMG GLB 35 as an SUV, but rather as a mid-size station wagon.
And that’s precisely where its charm lies. This adorable breadbox feels right at home carving through winding backroads as its spunky turbocharged four-cylinder growls eagerly underneath its squared off hood. It’s cute, upright and properly cubic. If the Mercedes G Wagen was an emoji, it would probably look like a GLB.
Let me be clear though; the AMG GLB 35 isn’t a weekend track toy like, say, a Honda Civic Type R
. This is more of a go places quickly sort of car, a stretched Volkswagen Golf R, if you will. It’s a car that has enough room for you to carry around a pair of kids, some groceries and perhaps a dog. Except when it isn’t busy doing parent work, the GLB 35 is always willing to party, supplying excellent power delivery and more than decent braking and handling through the process.
To achieve such spunk, the savants over at AMG took a lukewarm GLB and began by completely overhauling its chassis. There are adaptive dampers now, that change their level of stiffness according to the car’s different drive modes. They can also be manually operated via the infotainment system or a via a button on the steering wheel.
Brakes are 13.8-inch vented and cross-drilled discs in the front, and 13-inch cross drilled sets at the rear. My tester’s optional 21-inch AMG multi-spoke matte black wheels, a $1,250 option, and the $890 Galaxy Blue paint job allowed the GLB 35 to stand out just a little more than what the distinctive Panamericana grille and sportier front bumper were meant to do.
Power comes courtesy of Mercedes-AMG’s now ubiquitous turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder. It’s mounted transversely inside the GLB’s engine bay, channeling power to all four wheels through a clutch-pack via an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Expect a 0-100 km/h time of about five seconds.
I was fortunate to live with the GLB 35 during the long Christmas and New Years holiday week. It was also quite fitting that the province of Quebec was being hit by a climate cocktail during that same time, a nice mix of freezing rain, snow, and heavy winds. I, along with my pregnant spouse, our dog and my brother, had to travel from the Eastern Townships region all the way to Sorel, followed by quick sprint into Montreal. At times, the roads were literally invisible due to crosswinds sending flurries of snow onto the tarmac. No, it wasn’t the safest time of the year to hit the road.
The GLB 35, however, proved to be one heck of a companion during these adventures. In Comfort mode, I never really noticed I was driving a performance machine. There’s a pleasant sure-footedness in the way this AMG drives, with the expected feeling of solidity from this nameplate. Meanwhile, Mercedes’ 4MATIC all-wheel drive system, while instantly recognizable as a front-bias setup, still allows for excellent grip on slippery surfaces.
Perhaps the GLB 35’s only real flaw during casual, family hauling duties, is the stiffness of its suspension. Although they can be manually adjusted, these performance dampers, along with low-profile tires, continuously kept beating up my passengers.
Always Down for Some Hooning
After completing my holiday road trips, I decided to spend some intimate time alone with the GLB 35. For starters, I made sure to sample its all-wheel drive system on an empty snow-covered stretch of road on land that’s owned by my father. Out there, I was truly able to play around with this little devil, revealing even more depth in its endearing character.
Yes, when pushing the GLB 35 hard on a slippery surface, it will default first to understeer. Pass the “front plow” threshold, however, and keep the foot on the throttle, and this thing will do magical things, suddenly sending most of its power to the rear wheels and allowing you to drift gracefully toward your desired location. It’s all so seamless and fun, yielding some good old fashion winter hooning.
Out on the road, Sport+ mode is where all the action happens as the GLB 35 becomes considerably stiffer and sharper, with a heavy steering wheel and the loudest possible exhaust note. Pushing that raucous four-cylinder to its redline never gets old, while the eight-speed transmission is always ready to hand you the ideal gear. This thing is a total hoot to drive!
But it’s far from perfect. My spouse and I both agreed that it would be an excellent vehicle to greet our child in until we saw the $70,990 sticker price of this example. It was also quite disappointing that it wasn’t equipped with a heated steering wheel, second-row heated seats, or a power tailgate. No wireless Android Auto either, a feature you can get in a $25,000 Kia Rio
The GLB in general also suffers from some annoying ergonomic problems, such as a finicky infotainment system and how it can make even simple things complicated. I’ll add that while the GLB 35’s interior always looks sharp, modern, and expensive, there are some cheap plastics and some odd creaks while driving that shouldn’t exist in a car of this price. And don’t get me started on the transmission’s lack of smoothness at low speeds.
At the end of the day though, what you’re paying for isn’t more luxury from Mercedes’ bargain basement crossover, but more performance from the result of great engineering. Indeed, there’s a price to pay for the coveted AMG badge. It’s fair to say then that the GLB 35 won’t fit all family budgets, but there’s no denying how charismatically fun the total package still is. If you can afford one, it’s definitely a keeper.
2023 Mercedes-AMG GLB 35
Five-door subcompact SUV
Front engine, all-wheel drive
Turbocharged 2.0L I4 (302 horsepower @ 6,100 rpm / 295 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm).
: 8-speed dual-clutch automatic
: 11.3 L/100 km (city) / 8.7 L/100 km (highway) / 10.2 L/100 km (combined).
OBSERVED FUEL CONSUMPTION
: 11.1 L/100 km
142 liters (1,756 liters total)
$70,990 (as tested)