If there was a performance SUV god out there, this might be it.
BMW X3 M Competition. Jaguar F-Pace SVR. Porsche Macan Turbo. Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio. These are just a few of the rivals that stack up against this week’s 2020 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S 4MATIC+ test car. The luxury compact crossover sport utility market is a pretty spicy one, and the Mercedes gets to do battle against some real fire breathers in its class. For a short time, the GLC 63 S was the fastest SUV around Germany’s fabled Nurburgring race circuit, until it was usurped by the bigger Audi RS Q8. Either way, a humble brag like that is nothing to scoff at, and suggests that the top dog GLC is capable of something really special in terms of its performance.
For us Canadians, our appetite for AMG products makes the GLC 63 S 4MATIC+ something of a unicorn for North America. South of the border, only the GLC 63 is available in this body style, so Americans have to make do with a bit less power for their top-line model. If they are looking for an S, they’ll have to go for the more awkward looking, less practical Coupe body style. Starting at $93,000, standard features include paddle shifters, cooled front seats with ample bolstering, a seven-inch infotainment touch screen, rain sensing wipers, 20-inch wheels, a Nappa leather performance steering wheel, a panoramic sunroof, illuminated front door sills, and five USB-C ports.
On the test car, options included the $1,900, which adds adaptive LED head lights with high beam assist, and bumps the infotainment screen size to 10.25 inches. The $6,200 Premium Package brings to the table a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, an integrated garage door opener, a 360 degree camera, Burmester Surround audio, a foot-activated tailgate release, and KEYLESS-GO. AMG carbon fibre trim (inside and out) is $1,500, a trailer hitch is $800, and a head-up display is $1,500.
Designo red seatbelts are $250, the Intelligent Drive Package (forward collision warning/automatic braking, active blind spot assist, active lane change assist, map-based speed adaptation) is $2,700, and the AMG Driver’s Package (Nappa/DINAMICA performance steering wheel with AMG DRIVE UNIT drive mode controls, AMG performance exhaust system, 21-inch wheels) is $3,300. Among a few other things, the as-tested price for the GLC 63 S SUV came to $112,350. Compared to its peers, it’s pretty well in line, and is a pretty good set of kit for a small performance SUV.
Getting into the real meat and potatoes of any 63 series AMG product – motive power comes from a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 engine. With both turbos nestled at the top of the engine in a “hot-V” configuration, this helps with turbo spool-up time, and the AMG GLC just about drives as if it was naturally aspirated. Peak output is 503 horsepower between 5,500 and 6,250RPM, as well as a brawny 516 lb-ft. between a low 1,750 and 4,500RPM. In translation, hauling ass takes place at any point in the rev range, whether it’s idle or redline. Thanks to the turbos muffling the exhaust note, the sound of the V8 may not as extreme as AMG models of the past, but it’s still wonderfully visceral and is enhanced greatly by the AMG Performance Exhaust system. Compared to others, only the Jaguar F-Pace SVR (reviewed here) is comparable in terms of soundtrack.
Between the engine and the pavement, a nine-speed AMG SPEEDSHIFT MCT 9G transmission is kind of a mix between a conventional torque converter automatic and a dual-clutch transmission (DCT) setup. Instead of a torque converter, the MCT makes use of a wet start-off clutch to get going, and the GLC 63 S feels a little more like a DCT in this regard. In sedate driving, it’s not quite as refined as BMW’s benchmark ZF 8HP eight-speed, but when the going gets quick, the MCT becomes quite telepathic. While it’s perfectly happy to allow drivers to control gears manually with the paddle shifters, the performance-oriented driving modes predict upshifts and downshifts with great accuracy.
In terms of selectable driving modes, there are Basic, Advanced, Pro, and Master. Basic is best suited to slippery conditions and comfortable, quiet driving. Advanced and Pro are two respective notches for sportier driving, and Master is pretty much a dedicated track mode: it amps up the agility on the steering and neutralizes the handling balance. During the week of testing, the “Individual” driving mode was selected to provide the best of all worlds: softer on the suspension, second-from-the-lowest on the engine and transmission response, and full stiff on the steering. These parameters will let drivers have their cake, and eat it, too.
As the Nurburging lap time suggests, handling and on-road dynamics of the GLC 63 S 4MATIC+ are out of this world for an SUV, and are great compared to other cars in general. The ride and handling performance are particularly reminiscent of something like a Cadillac ATS-V with Magnetic Ride Control – which boasts some of the best steering and chassis tuning out of any modern car. The AMG RIDE CONTROL+ air suspension certainly helps as well, and can lower the rear end of the GLC for easy loading of cargo.
Tires on the GLC 63 S SUV are a meaty 265/40R21 up front, and 295/35R21 steamrollers out back. Extra starch in the steering makes corner carving an absolute delight, and makes drivers forget that they’re in a family-friendly crossover. Combined with the unflappable traction of the 4MATIC+ system, the badass lowered stance, and 21-inch wheels, this is more like an awesome hatchback or wagon than anything. Mercedes-AMG has nailed the balance on this thing!
With a fire-breathing twin-turbocharged V8, fuel economy is certainly not going to be a highlight of the GLC 63 S, and the nominal government ratings are registered at 15.0L/100KM in the city, and 10.9L/100KM on the highway. Observed consumption came in at 14.7L/100KM in mixed driving, but do note that generous throttle use is practically mandatory in one of these. Tank capacity is 66 litres, which makes fill-ups a little more frequent, and as expected, premium fuel is required.
Inside the GLC 63 S SUV, Mercedes continues to demonstrate that they are an industry leader when it comes to interior design. All the right bits of aluminum and colour contrast come together to make a cabin that’s extremely pleasing to the eye, even with copious amounts of carbon fibre trim. The buttons and switchgear are a delight to operate, and the 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster is clear as day in all lighting conditions. The Premium Package’s Burmester audio is a real treat to the ears.
The 10.25-inch infotainment screen is no exception either, and the MBUX infotainment is pretty decent: with both a touch screen and a touch pad, the menu system is laid out well, and definitely trumps any other touch pad design out there today, though the use of the pad itself is much more distracting to drivers. The use of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are a boon, and overlay onto the MBUX system well.
Seating-wise, there’s room for five passengers in the GLC, and the optional red seatbelts up the sporting pretenses a bit more, though some might find it tacky. Power seat adjustability (with memory) is good, and includes the ability to tweak the thigh support cushions. The seat bottoms are quite firm however, and some may find their derrieres going numb after extended driving. Cargo capacity fluctuates between 550 and 1,600 litres (19.4 and 56.5 cubic feet, respectively), which is enough for most families of four.
With the sheer heft of the heavy hitters making up the compact performance-luxury crossover SUV segment, the 2020 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S 4MATIC+ emerges as a clear leader of the pack. By comparison, the BMW X3 Competition (reviewed here) is more isolated and numb, and doesn’t evoke as much emotion. The Jaguar F-Pace SVR has arguably the best powertrain, but is hamstrung by a ho-hum interior and frustrating infotainment. The Porsche Macan Turbo is truly competitive with its driving dynamics, but is a bit more money. And the Alfa Romeo – it’s really capable, but you really have to love Alfas and perfectly unperfect Italian cars in order to want to buy one. The bottom line: the Mercedes does it all – it carries a big swagger to its look, shoots at or near the top of its class in every metric, and is just an absolute hoot to drive, period.