Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: March 12, 2019
Compact SUVs stuffed with 500-horsepower V8 engines don’t come along very often. Afterall, it’s a recipe for an overweight, tractionless, and expensive disaster bound for disappointment. There’s a reason why we don’t see a Lexus NX F or Ford Escape RS looming over the horizon. But that’s beginning to change. Mercedes has found a way to harness that nuclear eight-cylinder energy into their GLC platform, and have given us the most hardcore compact SUV they have ever produced.
They call it the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S 4MATIC+. I call it one of the most well-rounded, versatile, and visceral SUVs I’ve ever driven. Not only does its biturbo 4.0-litre V8 produce over 500 horses but it’s got all-wheel drive, decent ground clearance with a raisable air suspension, five-passenger capacity, and a trunk large enough to silence any daily driver skeptics. There’s even an optional trailer hitch and a rated towing capacity of 1,588 kg. The GLC 63 looks downright sinister too with its vertical-slat Panamericana grill, oversized wheels, and flared fenders. There’s definitely no confusing it with its lesser 300- and 43-series siblings.
Part of its initial allure is that I’ve never driven anything like the GLC 63 before. This segment never existed two years ago, but automakers are quickly hopping on the bandwagon. Alfa Romeo has the Stelvio Quadrifoglio, and BMW is closely following suit with the X3 M, X4 M, and their respective Competition models, boasting twin-turbo straight-sixes, 500+ horsepower, and AWD. The Porsche Macan Turbo with Performance Package is potent but unfortunately doesn’t even compare to what the GLC 63 S is packing, and would be like comparing the turtle to the rabbit. We all know how that story ends. Yet, notice how only Mercedes is rocking a V8.
Resisting the charm of an eight-cylinder wardrum thrumming at the command of your right foot is difficult. There’s a divergent feel here from its bigger V8-brethren like the GLE 63 and GLS 63. Instead, the GLC is lighter and more compact, giving it a more agile and athletic vibe. Sure, the center of gravity is much higher than that in the C 63 and no, it doesn’t feel as hunkered down, but the GLC doesn’t feel penalized because of it. It embraces its boundaries and plays on its core strengths, one of which is straight line acceleration.
With 503 hp and 516 lb-ft on tap, a staggered tire setup, and all-wheel drive, the GLC 63 S launches from 0-100 km/h in a hasty 3.8 seconds, faster than the Mercedes-AMG C 63 S Coupe (3.9 s), Porsche Cayenne Turbo (4.1 s), Macan Turbo with Performance Package (4.4 s), BMW X5 M (4.2 s), X3 M (4.1 s), and even proper sports cars like the Porsche 911 Carrera GTS with a manual transmission (4.0 s). To put it into better perspective, the GLC 63 S is only one-tenths of a second shy of the Mercedes-AMG GT C Roadster (3.7 s) and Jaguar F-Type SVR Coupe (3.7 s). Not only is that an achievement on its own, but really puts this AMG onto its own pedestal.
This V8 is one hell of an engine, and is an organ that can be found not just in the C-Class, but also in the Aston Martin Vantage and DB11. With such a broad powerband and what feels like endless amounts of torque, the GLC just gets up and goes without hesitation, flinging unsuspecting occupants to their seatbacks with an inevitable flurry of chosen expletives. And while some could argue that going fast in a straight line is easy, the real challenge of molding a sports SUV is what happens when you rotate the wheel. This is where the GLC 63 S shows its masterstroke of technical prowess.
Chuck it around a corner and the tires never seem to let up, offering layers of grip even when you thought it had nothing left to give. I found myself preemptively countersteering and trying to catch an impending slide when in reality, the GLC 63 never even lost traction in the first place and consistently kept its front nose biting down hard. After time, it just became so easy to approach a corner at high speeds and feel confident that this 2,000 kg brick will not lose any of its composure. The GLC 63 doesn’t feel as nimble as the equivalent C- or E-Class but it’s definitely right up there in terms of intensity and emotion. No Drift Mode here though, sadly.
But if straight line propulsion or corner-devouring antics doesn’t get your blood pumping, the GLC 63 S has one trick left up its sleeve: the exhaust. Set the driving mode to Comfort and this AMG will let out a pleasing purr as it putters around town, progressively growing in volume the deeper you push the throttle. Open its vocal cords via the dedicated exhaust button and it transforms into a baritone orchestra spewing out bursts of artillery on downshifts and addictive crackles on upshifts. There are none of those uncouth screeching pops and bangs on overrun like Jaguar’s V8 sports cars. Instead, the AMG’s sounds mature yet sonically dominating, and will have you flooring the gas pedal at any given chance. Have a listen to our Exhaust Notes video above to hear it for yourself.
Now at this point you might think I’m head over heels for the GLC 63, and you’d be right. This is an SUV that personally fits my own lifestyle like ball in glove. It’s four-season usability, five-seater capability, acceptable trunk space for a future pet, and all of the benefits of an arousing V8 engine, make this one of the most appealing deals of the century. Well, it’s a deal in a relative sense. The GLC 63 S SUV starts at a whopping $90,500 and ours is spec’d out to $109,000 (the coupe variant costs an extra $1,800). That’s significantly more expensive than the $84,600 C 63 AMG Coupe, and is creepily eerily close to BMW M5 territory.
Price aside, the GLC 63 S is weak in a few aspects related to daily driving. One, it’s not understated at all. The ignition noise is loud, no matter what mode you have the exhaust in. The ride is incredibly stiff too. On smooth pavement, the GLC rides with composure and demonstrates excellent road manners but start hitting bumps, potholes, cracked surfaces, or you know, pretty much everything except a smooth German highway, and the GLC will crash, bob, and undulate, giving occupants a sudden jolt to the brainstem. That’s one way to wake up your sleepy co-driver. I also found the traction control system, even in its “sport” handling mode, overly intrusive and cuts power way too quickly before the rear end has any chance of slipping.
The steering comes with a slight learning curve as it’s elusively twitchy and nervous. It relays a significant amount of feedback through the wheel but reacts like a teenager with an extra dose of their morning amphetamines. Rather than a progressive build up in rotation, the steering feels almost over-reactive and prefers to get there in a jiffy, making it difficult to predict and control at higher speeds. Don’t confuse over-reactive with overboosted however. The latter, the GLC 63’s steering is not.
On occasion, the 9-speed transmission hesitates when shuffling between gears, most notably at low speeds and gears. It will lunge back and forth, leaving you scratching your head at what just happened. I had similar issues in the E 63 S that used the same gearbox, and while it’s not a common occurrence, it would be safe to say that this 9-speed needs some extra attention in the tuning shop. Luckily, downshifts are as ferocious as they come, and are followed by a divine thunderclap on each aggressive swap of the nine cogs, enough to startle the peaceful drivers in your vicinity.
The GLC 63 S also drinks fuel like an Escalade. I averaged 15.8 L/100km on “conservative” driving. But let’s be honest, who in their right mind would drive an AMG conservatively when it taunts you with 503 horsepower and an obsessive soundtrack. Yeah, 22.2 L/100km is nothing to be ashamed about until it comes time to fill up. A small price to pay for automotive entertainment.
But if there is one area that makes up for these slight shortcomings, it’s the top notch interior with quality fit and finish, and a premium feel. There really is no automaker that does it better than Mercedes. That said, and this is us being incredibly nitpicky, the interior is beginning to show its age, and a few of my colleagues have taken note of that as well. The steering wheel, small 8.4-inch display screen awkwardly mounted on the dashboard, and control layout, is something we’ve seen since the launch of the current C-Class in 2015. I’m sad that this 2019 model hasn’t received the changes from the new lineup just yet (larger infotainment widescreen, digital instrument cluster, new steering wheel, updated software and graphics), but that’s hardly enough to be considered a demerit. It’s more than effective in providing occupants with a clean and clear-cut interface, though with a bit of a learning curve with the rotary dial and redundant touchpad flanking it up top. The graphics are crisp, and I love how it actually shows the correct vehicle image when customizing driving modes, and not say, a GLC 300 instead.
Personally, I’m willing to accept the harsh ride, poor fuel economy, and twitchy steering, if it means I will get a hair-raising driving experience, smile-inducing soundtrack, and drop dead gorgeous looks in return. No question about it. The way the GLC 63 S finesses its way around town is pure theatre, and is nothing short of adrenaline injected straight into the veins - that doesn’t sound very PG-rated now does it? Maybe let’s call it a recreational EpiPen? Take my money, AMG. The BMW X3 M had better be worried. This whole performance compact SUV is a new niche segment, yes, but the bar has just been set incredibly high.
Model: 2019 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S 4MATIC+ SUV
Paint Type: Obsidian Black Metallic
Base Price: $90,500
Price as Tested: $109,590
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,679 / 2,096 / 1,625
Curb weight (kg): 2,024
Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8
Horsepower: 503 hp @ 5,500 - 6,250 rpm
Torque: 516 lb-ft @ 1,750 - 4,500 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 15.8