Carmakers absolutely love a niche at the moment. If there’s a gap in a line-up it’ll be plugged, filled with crossover and mid-size SUVs catering for all manner of buyers. So it was little surprise when Mercedes introduced the GLB, a compact seven-seater designed to slot neatly between the GLA and GLC in the firm’s range of slightly smaller SUVs.
And, following suit from the rest of the range, we’ve now got an AMG version. Badged as the Mercedes-AMG GLB35, it packs the same punchy engine as you’d find in the A35 hatchback, but brings a more practical bodystyle which should make it a better option for families. But is this a niche too far? We’ve been finding out.
When it comes to the exterior this new AMG model packs the same boxy, upright stance as the regular GLB, affording the interior with a good degree of headroom as a result. Of course, it’s got the muscular add-ons that we’ve come to expect from go-faster Mercedes models, beefing up its presence even further.
Underneath the skin we have, of course, that punchy engine while a range of changes to the suspension should ensure that the GLB is up to the task of handling corners too.
The GLB makes use of the hugely potent turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine used in a variety of other AMG models. Here it kicks out a healthy 302bhp and 400Nm of torque, which is sent to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox. It’s enough power to push the GLB from 0-60mph in just five seconds and onwards to a top speed of 155mph. Not bad for a practical little SUV.
Mercedes claims that you should see up to 32.1mpg combined, while CO2 emissions stand at 200g/km. The GLB’s four-wheel-drive system – badged 4Matic by Mercedes – has been designed to offer the best possible traction without losing out on any driver involvement, which is why torque can be divided between front-wheel-drive only and 50:50 between the front and rear axles.
Sit behind the wheel of the GLB and you’re met by a predictably high seating position, giving you a somewhat commanding view of the road ahead. Your legs do feel slightly stretched out ahead of you, but it’s comfortable and easy to get along with. The seats are a touch hard, mind you.
The 2.0-litre engine affords the GLB with a surprising turn of pace, rocketing off in a straight line without the merest hint of protest from the wheels. There’s grip whenever you want it and even heavy bouts of acceleration do little to extract even the tiniest bit of wheelspin.
Most surprising is the way it corners. You’d take one look at the GLB’s upright, blocky structure and expect it to fall to pieces when shown a bend, but it’s the opposite – it remains composed and sure-footed even through twistier sections. It might not be the most rewarding of driving experiences, but it’s one that allows you to make confident progress.
Initially at least the GLB35 looks a little awkward. The rear three-quarter section is bulbous, whereas the rest of the car is quite blocky and square. However, live with it a little longer and this car’s appearance soon makes sense. It’s somewhat imposing without being outlandish, while its upright design has been used to make sure there’s plenty of space inside – so it’s practical, too.
The doors open nice and wide while access to the boot is good too. It’s also got roof rails to which you could attach a top box or bike rack, so you can see how it could easily slot into family life.
It’s inside where the GLB pushes ahead of competitors. That’s because it, unlike so many of its rivals, offers seven seats. Sure, that rearmost row is quite compact and small, but it’s roomy enough for children or shorter adults. It also gives you the added flexibility to carry more passengers should you need it.
That said, with that third row in place there’s very little boot space offering up barely enough room for a small weekend bag. Fold them down and there’s a very decent 570 litres of space, however, rising to 1,805 litres with the middle row put down. It does mean that for five people there’s enough boot space, but if you’re planning on taking seven people frequently, it’s unlikely that the GLB will have enough load area.
Mercedes often lavishes its AMG models with plenty of standard equipment and the GLB35 is no different. You get a panoramic sunroof – which really helps to brighten up the cabin – a reversing camera with 180-degree view and two-zone climate control.
In the middle of the dash sits Mercedes’ latest MBUX infotainment system which is arguably one of the best in the business. Accessed via a touch-sensitive pad, it’s packed with features and has clear, easy to read menus. Our only complaint is that it gives perhaps too much choice; there’s an almost dizzying number of options available for the screen ahead of the driver, allowing you to change displays, view different types of information and even display a G-meter. Once you’ve settled on one it’s fine, but getting there can prove to be a time-consuming process.
AMG’s effect has provided some much-appreciated theatre to the otherwise rather sensible GLB. Sure, the regular car might prove adequate enough, but the way that this 35 variant manages to slingshot itself down the road will undoubtedly put a smile on the face of whoever is behind the wheel.
Running costs will be higher than those accompanying a regular petrol or diesel-powered GLB, but for those who want a practical SUV that’s capable of carrying seven yet able to deliver a hot hatch-style experience, the GLB35 represents a truly interesting prospect.