17 December 2020
17 December 2020
At first glance, waving the AMG wand over the Mercedes-Benz GLB SUV feels like putting an exceptionally square peg into a round hole. I mean, look at the sensible size, practical shape and boxy dimensions of the first seven-seater to be developed off the company’s new compact platform.
And yet, here I am, carving through the rolling green hills of West Gippsland in the newly minted Mercedes-AMG GLB 35, with just cows and the odd farmer’s ute for company – and chuckling aloud at the experience. I definitely did not imagine that a fang in a compact seven-seater – itself an oxymoron that Mercedes-Benz has managed to dispel – could be this involving.
To understand how it’s possible to make this tall, skinny, box-on-wheels hustle along with so much pace and poise, it’s useful to take a closer look at its DNA. The GLB family – the Mercedes-Benz GLB 200 and 250 4MATIC, plus this Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 4MATIC – is built upon the same compact underpinnings as the A-Class, B-Class, GLA and CLA models.
It’s such a capable and versatile platform that Mercedes-AMG used it to develop what it calls “the supercar of the compact class”, the A 45 S 4MATIC+. This performance-fettled hatchback features the world’s most powerful four-cylinder turbocharged engine in series production, and a 0 to 100km/h time that would shame many V8s.
While genetically joined to the frenetic A 45 S, the GLB 35 is clearly a different beast. Its heart also beats to the tune of an AMG-tuned turbocharged 2.0-litre, sending 225 kW and 400 Nm to all corners via AMG Performance 4MATIC all-wheel drive. Its acceleration is also astonishingly rapid – 0 to 100 km/h in just 5.2 seconds – and there’s virtually no hesitation as it leaps out of slower corners with brio.
But the GLB 35 is also many things the A 45 S is not. The driver’s tall seating position commands an excellent view of the road ahead, and there’s Tardis-like space inside for people and all the various accoutrements of family life. With its tall hipline, squared-off dimensions and high centre of gravity, it’s the very antithesis of its hyper-performance cousin. Pitch the GLB 35 into a fast directional change, though, and be astonished at the inherent stability and lack of body roll that owes much to the standard AMG RIDE CONTROL sports suspension with electronically controlled damping.
No, the GLB 35 is definitely not the result of some lightweight badge-engineering and a few splashes of carbon-fibre trim – there’s evidence in all the right places that this is, indeed, a pukka AMG. Witness the throaty AMG exhaust with silent start (the neighbours can thank you later), an AMG high-performance braking system, and AMG speed-sensitive power steering, not to mention the distinctive AMG 20-inch 5-twin-spoke alloys.
The driver gets a gorgeous flat-bottom tiller that has contours in all the right places and a pair of cool alloy paddle shifters that fall perfectly to the fingertips. The addition to the wheel of a set of AMG actuators enables on-the-fly modifications to driving parameters without claiming an unsafe share of the driver’s attention.
And speaking of attention, plenty has been paid to the details both inside and out. The Comfort Sport Seats in Lugano leather sound like another oxymoron, but somehow manage to deliver just the right amount of support and just the right dose of sporty-sexy. Even the driver’s pedals are brushed stainless steel with rubber studs in true sports car style. And yes, there’s also lashings of AMG-specific trim both inside and out, and the steering wheel is finished in gorgeous Nappa leather.
And, as with all members of the GLB family, there’s the inherent flexibility of three rows of seating, each adjustable to maximise space and comfort every occupant, or folding into the floor for those times when bikes or bookcases are the most important cargo.
It’s the dichotomy of this practicality with overt performance potential that really marks the Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 4MATIC as something unique and special. One out of the box, if you like.
By Steve Colquhuon