With the best will in the world, it’d be tough to describe a single German SUV as genuinely good-looking. Aggressive? Plenty of those. Brawny? Imposing? Beefy? Brutish? Consider those boxes ticked. But what Deutschland hasn’t yet brought us is an SUV that we can honestly call a looker. Until now.
This week Mercedes-AMG unveiled the latest addition to its semi-skimmed performance range, the GLB 35. And, to pretty much exclusive shock around the CT office, it’s handsome. This is a German SUV that you actually want to keep looking at. It’s only when you start to count off all the models that have failed on that score that you realise what an achievement this actually is.
From the architectural barbarism of the BMW X6 to the overly busy Audi Q3 and Mercedes’ own half-hearted GLC, the record is not good. The warmed-up GLB has dropped like a sack of roses into a swamp. Here’s what we like about it.
First and foremost it’s a boxy shape. Start to think about 4x4s with iconic, joyful or charming looks and you cover off the Land Rover Defender, Mercedes G-Wagen, certain Mitsubishi Pajeros and Shoguns, the Jeep Wrangler and the current Suzuki Jimny. All of them look awesome. All of them are boxy, angular designs.
The GLB’s slabby sides and large wheels, which in turn are framed by subtly but significantly flared wheel arches, gives it a sort of utilitarian echo that belies its blatantly on-road bias. It looks low, chunky and purposeful where most other SUVs just look ungainly.
The second factor is proportion. The model-specific grille is big, but in the large, stubby and flat expanse of the GLB’s nose, it looks the perfect size. Frankly, in 2019 that’s a reason to celebrate all on its own. The grey body trim is placed tastefully; there’s just the right amount, and the same can be said for the lines of silvery trim from top to bottom.
For some reason I can’t quite place, the GLB reminds me of the Skoda Yeti, itself a much more attractive predecessor to the technically better Karoq that replaced it. Whatever the link is, the GLB is the closest thing we’ve yet seen to an elegant SUV.
It earns a black mark or two for its fake front lower vents and the bizarrely out-of place silver exhaust surround, which looks like it was added from an early-2000s parts catalogue. At least the exhausts themselves look genuine.
Then let’s consider the ride height. The side sills fall way below the centres of the wheels and the end result is ground clearance much more typical of a hatchback. But, for the implicit loss of off-road ability, which it won’t get used for anyway, the GLB 35 brings a much deeper and better-balanced display of bodywork without making your eyes feel like they’re drowning in paint.
To call all this a pleasant surprise is a bit of an understatement. We weren’t looking for it, we weren’t expecting it, but we’re very happy it’s here. Long may Mercedes, not to mention their German counterparts, follow the chunky and balanced wisdom of its teachings.