Mercedes-AMG are onto a good thing with the GLB 35: this is a relatively compact seven-seater SUV that blends impressive refinement with beautifully balanced dynamics. It’s much more fun than you’d expect.
When it was revealed last year, the Mercedes-Benz GLB-Class seemingly came out of nowhere. The Stuttgart brand with the pointed star had suddenly decided to build a small-ish seven-seat SUV that picked up design cues from the apartment block-sized GLS – but it quickly became clear that this was an intelligent recipe.
And while the two-litre turbo GLB 250 version of this compact family truckster is a good vehicle, it’s actually the Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 that we’d stretch to if you can.
While this AMG crossover isn’t a cheap vehicle, priced at $88,535 before on-road costs, the GLB 35 delivers such a crisp and well-balanced driving experience that we would closely consider it if you’re after family transport of this size and shape.
If the Skoda Kodiaq RS ($71,990 driveaway) isn’t quite posh enough, the AMG GLB 35 should be your next port of call. And if you’re expanding out of something like a Volkswagen Golf R wagon, then this AMG SUV will be up your alley.
The AMG GLB 35 drives very well.
It would be unfair to simplistically suggest that the GLB 35 is not a full-fat AMG, even though this is indeed an example of a ‘light AMG’ product that does not have a hand-built engine. Instead, like the A35 hot hatch with which the GLB shares its ‘MFA 2’ platform, this is basically an AMG-fettled ‘250’ series Mercedes-Benz.
That makes the GLB 35 more ‘warm’ than truly bonkers – but in a vehicle like this, warm is enough – and the balance that prioritises a great blend of suspension compliance with more than adequate body control really delivers on Australian country roads.
There is a palpable cohesiveness to the way the GLB 35 goes, steers, stops and rides along the way.
That starts with the ‘M260’ two-litre turbocharged petrol four-cylinder engine. It is the same basic engine as you get in the GLB 250, but a specific turbocharger and some extensive piping reorganisation sees outputs step up to 225kW of power and 400Nm of torque – increases of 60kW/50Nm respectively.
And the power is quite adequate. There’s a pleasant rasp to this engine as you rev it out, though there is a good amount of accessible torque at low revolutions that you don’t have to work the GLB 35 hard at all. We like the bassy note as the engine works, and the eight-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox is a slick-shifting unit, and intelligent – though the metal paddle shifters are a classy touch if you prefer to take control yourself.
While the GLB 35 is capable of accelerating from 0-100km/h in 5.2 seconds – pretty brisk – it’s the way this seven-seat SUV can maintain momentum while bowling down a country road that impresses the most. This is largely a product of an expert suspension tune that is compliant enough to soak up mid-corner bumps with aplomb while preventing the body from pitching about.
Body control is really rather good in the GLB 35, with just enough roll allowed to prevent push understeer when giving this crossover a punt. We found the adaptive dampers were best left in comfort mode, which felt perfectly suited to the pockmarked surfacing common to Gippsland’s country lanes.
The standard 20-inch five star-spoke wheels look great. We’d skip the optional 21-inch wheels that diminish the ride quality and cost $1,290 more.
The steering, too, is well-weighted. The rack has an AMG tune but it’s still relatively light and quick, as a Mercedes-Benz should be. You can see the corners of the squared-off bonnet from the driver’s seat as the nose dives towards apexes really well – better than you’d think. Part of that is down to the pricey Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber that is fitted from the factory.
There’s a bit of road noise on coarse chip, but refinement is generally impressive in the GLB 35. It’s safe, too: the lane keeping aid is quite intrusive, good for commuting – but it’s super-simple to switch off when you want to take full control. The adaptive cruise control is well calibrated, and the 360-degree camera makes parking simpler.
Extroverted interiors are inherently polarising – but most everybody we ask seems to love the direction Mercedes-Benz are taking their cabins in. Big, bright dual screens, no old-school instrument cowl, prominent ambient lighting and aviation-inspired vents mean the GLB is no shrinking violet inside.
We, subjectively, tend to prefer a more conservative interior that is a little less distracting – but we have to hand it to Mercedes: quality in here is very good, with a truly solid feeling that is hard to ignore. Hewn from granite is the feel. And there’s no doubt this is a lot more special than a Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace 162TSI R-Line.
That said, it isn’t perfect. For almost ninety grand before on-road costs, we weren’t pleased to find that the GLB 35 shares the $15,000-cheaper GLB 250’s flat front seats. We pined for more side support when exploiting this AMG’s excellent handling, for example. A proper sports bucket seat would make all the difference.
As would a splash of colour. Our tester was fitted with a dour black and grey colour scheme inside. Black and red two-tone is a no-cost option and we’d grab that, though a tan/black or beige/black would be more appropriate for this sort of car. At least we think so. Heating is standard for the front seats, and cooling costs $790 more. Carbon-structure interior trims are standard. Elegant, open pore black-ash wood is $590.
The layout of the interior is fairly straightforward and encompasses plenty of high technology. Twin screens sit ahead of the driver, both measuring 10.25-inches, controlled through twin trackpads on the steering wheel. The central screen is also touch-sensitive and can be manipulated by a touchpad between the front seats. Lots of choice.
The crisp screens run Benz’s MBUX infotainment suite, which has plenty of functionality and lovely graphics, including excellent mapping quality. Shame it’s still way too hard to do basic things like change the song – this requires careful swiping of the trackpads. And there’s no wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Unlike in a BMW or Audi, you have to plug in your phone.
Of course, the GLB 35’s trump card is its third row. This is a practical car if you have a couple of kids and they both want to take a friend to the movies: you suddenly need a sixth or seventh seat. In the GLB, you’ve got that … as long as said friend isn’t too tall. Six-footers will really struggle in the third row, but below that, it’s acceptable for short trips.
The second row is more spacious – and it’s on rails, so you can prioritise legroom for those in the back two rows, or boot space if you’re operating in five seat mode. There are air vents back here, as well as a centre armrest with cupholders.
Boot space with all seven seats up is minuscule, but in five seat mode it measures a healthy 565 litres – plenty of room. If you drop both rear rows and use the GLB with two seats, there is a van-like 1,800 litres of room on offer.
Mercedes-Benz are quite transparent about the AMG GLB 35’s running costs.
First, the service intervals for the GLB 35 are quite generous. Scheduled maintenance needs to occur annually, but the GLB can be driven 25,000km between those services. Most rivals only give you 15,000km leeway.
You can purchase a service plan up front when you buy the GLB 35 to save some money on those scheduled services. A three year / 75,000km pack costs $2,200, which Mercedes-Benz says represents a $550 saving. Still, $733 per year on average is quite high for this kind of car.
A fourth and fifth year can also be added at $750 and $1,800 apiece – these are major services, hence why you aren’t forced to buy them in the standard pack. Some will want to sell their GLB 35 before hitting those markers.
Mercedes-Benz offer a five year, unlimited kilometre warranty across their range, and that includes the GLB 35. That’s normal for most brands, but in the luxury space, BMW and Audi have not followed suit – these marques still offer a paltry three years of coverage.
In terms of fuel consumption, the Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 requires premium petrol of at least 95 octane – though there are very few European cars that do not have this requirement.
The brand says the GLB 35 will consume 8.3L/100km on the combined cycle. Our launch test drive took place on fast country roads in rural Victoria, where we observed the GLB 35 using 9L/100km. Expect less consumption on the highway, but more in the ‘burbs – especially if you’re tapping into the seven-seat capacity regularly.
To us, a fast and fun family car means a rapid station wagon. But we’re car journalists, and we are funny like that.
That being said, you can’t get a seven-seat wagon. If you want a third row, you need to step up to an SUV. But when that three-row SUV is as good as the Mercedes-AMG GLB 35, it doesn’t feel like a chore.
AMG have built a balanced, quick crossover here that is a remarkable pleasure to drive on Australian country roads. The size is right, the interior is smartly presented and fashionable, and of course – this vehicle carries the prestige of the Mercedes-Benz star.
We’d carefully consider semi-premium options like the Skoda Kodiaq – but the fact Audi and BMW do not have a direct competitor to this car is a huge advantage for AMG, because the GLB 35 makes so much sense for family buyers.
Key specs (as tested)
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