By: Jeffrey Zygmont
My first response to the Mercedes-Benz AMG GLB 35 was, why? Mercedes gives the AMG treatment to models to create high-performance halo cars: higher priced, less populous versions that look spiffier and move faster than a model’s standard version, to enhance the image of the particular model and of the Mercedes brand overall. But as luxury vehicles go, the GLB-Class is nondescript and unexciting. Why make a go-fast version of a smallish sport-utility whose greatest asset is practicality – and which looks the part?
But car companies employ lots of intelligent, highly educated marketing experts and product planners. So I’ll give Mercedes the benefit of the doubt and concede that there is a need and a driver desire for an AMG variation of the GLB-Class compact SUV.
I wonder if some of that research and planning pointed the company toward a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing effect – make a high-spirited speedster from an unassuming sport-utility vehicle because, the greater the surprise, the greater the pleasure.
And there is pleasure to be had driving the AMG GLB 35. It starts with the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that ups horsepower by more than 20 percent, to 302 horsepower for the AMG variant, compared to 221 for the GLB’s standard-grade engine, a 2.0-liter without the turbo. When you also factor in the AMG’s sport-oriented eight-speed automatic transmission and its more athletically tuned suspension, the high-performance model earns praise from the reviewers at caranddriver.com, a source I enjoy and trust.
Drivers who want that added oomph pay close to $10,000 more for the AMG model, with the GLB 35 starting at $51,000, compared to $41,650 for a straight GLB 250 that’s equipped with all-wheel-drive. (The Mercedes 4Matic all-wheel-drive system comes built into the AMG variation.) They’ll also pay more at the pumps, with the GLB 250’s combined city/highway rating of 26 miles per gallon easily outdoing the 22 mpg rating of the AMG GLB 35.
But owners may not pay much more at the pumps if they drive with some care and moderation. I’m averaging very close to 33 miles per gallon in mixed driving after more than 300 miles.
Except for the high-luster finish that Mercedes characteristically applies to its cars, the side view of the AMG GLB 35 is unexciting, even a little lumpish. But the straight-on frontal view makes up for the lackluster profile with a girthy, large-mouth grille and low intake, and with a predominance of matte black and even smokey headlight assemblies, all with just enough bright-work to keep the sport-utility from looking sinister.
The treatment turns out to be a nice visual complement to the audible engine tone, which is more of a subdued grumble than a full-throated rumble, as if announcing, I’m not the baddest, but I’m bad.
Inside, the two-tone leather seats in white and black – the theme mirrored in the door trim – are like sock-hoppin’ 1950s saddle shoes, bold and energetic.
I don’t feel as upbeat about the cabin controls. They could be simplified – a criticism I’d make of all Mercedes models I’ve encountered. Its center-console touch- and swipe-pad, and the pair of haptic selectors on the steering wheel, lead to a seemingly endless selection of setting, functions, features. The setup is confusing and distracting, and requires some care to operate. That can be dangerous. But my biggest gripe is that the befuddling operation and presentation distracts from the pleasure of driving this scampish, small SUV, a shame since there’s a lot of pleasure on offer, hidden in a model that overall is deceptively plain.