Review update: 2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLB35 combines power and practicality

If the Subaru WRX isn’t mature enough and the Mercedes-Benz AMG GLA35 isn’t practical enough, where can an auto enthusiast turn?

The answer is the 2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLB35 with its boxier, shrunken-down GLS-Class profile and hot hatch powertrain.

This compact performance crossover SUV applies the AMG formula to the GLA-Class’s larger, boxier sibling, the GLB, adding power, an angrier look, and an expensive price tag.

I spent a week with the 2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLB35 hauling the kids around town, picking up groceries, and getting a second COVID-19 shot (hooray, science!). Here’s where it hit and where it missed.

2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLB35

2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLB35

Hit: B stands for Brick

The GLB is based on the hatchback-like GLA but with a longer wheelbase and a boxier SUV look. The upright greenhouse, squared-off rear end, and stepped roofline give it an SUV-like look despite its low ride height. AMG bits include the Panamericana grille above the front splitter up front and a rear diffuser with an integrated dual exhaust in back. To my eye, however, the GLB35 looks like a late-’90s Subaru Forester with modern STI bits. You’ll never unsee that now.

2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLB35

2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLB35

Miss: Crawling isn’t its thing

The GLB-Class isn’t made for rock crawling, but the 8-speed dual-clutch transmission in my tester wasn’t particularly a fan of crawling at slow speeds in the preschool pickup line. The clutch engagement shuddered lightly and wasn’t as smooth in low-speed operation as Mercedes-Benz’s 9-speed automatic transmission. The quicker 9-speed works well in other AMG-badged models, but it’s only offered for longitudinal applications.

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2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLB35

2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLB35

Hit: Properly sized wheels

The 2021 GLB35 is available with wheels as large as 21 inches. My tester was supposed to be equipped with the available $1,050 AMG twin 5-spoke matte black 20-inchers, but it rode on more practical $300 matte black 19-inch 10-spoke aluminum wheels wrapped in Pirelli PZero 255/50R19 winter tires. While the winter tires added a bit more noise to the ride, the smaller wheel diameter and larger tire profile gave the GLB35’s adaptive suspension less work to do on Midwest expansion joints and broken pavement. This is the softer ride I prefer, and they even looked great thanks in part to an inner ring that almost perfectly outlined each brake rotor.

2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLB35

2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLB35

Miss: Where’s the tint?

Most crossover SUVs sold in the U.S. have tinted glass on the rear doors and hatch, but not the GLB lineup. Due to its ground clearance, the EPA classifies the GLB-class as a mid-size station wagon, and that prevents it from being imported with factory tint. Everything else that looks like this is tinted, so the GLB looks odd. Tint protects the interior from UV rays and keeps passengers cooler in the summer.

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2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLB35

2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLB35

Hit: Great visibility

The upright greenhouse gives the GLB a lot of glass. Combine this with thin A-pillars and a low-set dashboard and the GLB35 has terrific visibility in an era of form over function that creates blind spots.

2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLB35

2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLB35

Miss: Expensive little thing

The GLB35 ups the output of the GLB250’s turbo-4 from 221 hp and 258 lb-ft to 302 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. It also ups the base price from $39,100 to $50,550. My tester cost $64,110 thanks to a laundry list of options including the $1,500 panoramic sunroof, a $1,700 driver-assistance package with a host of active safety features, and $1,450 for the red and black leather interior. You could buy a legendary vault-like W126 S-Class from the late ’80s/early ’90s for the price of my tester’s options. It requires a careful hand to keep the options from driving the GLB35’s price into orbit.

Part hot hatch, part luxury crossover SUV, and absolutely expensive, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLB35 exists for those who want a boxier, more practical GLA35.

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2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLB35
Base price: $39,100
Price as tested: $64,110
EPA fuel economy: 21/26/23 mpg
The hits: Great visibility, traditional brick-like design, low dashboard
The misses: Transmission doesn’t like to crawl, lacks tint, confused as to what it is, expensive

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