This hot-rodded edition of a favourite medium sports utility wagon is certainly a wild ride.
AMG has grown from being a small part of the Mercedes programme to become a dominant presence, but some models are patently so niche you’d have to imagine they’d potentially struggle to generate return.
Even though sports utilities are driving the global sales machine, that situation potentially could have arisen for the GLC 63 S, the ultimate edition of a medium crossover drawn off the C-Class platform.
For all the Cool Wall status that comes with it being the world’s fastest sports utility, the realities are that the extreme performance buy-in asks for a huge degree of owner commitment. Beyond being a big spend – figuring at a walloping $189,900 - it’s a hardened weapons-grade machine. One that is simply not suited for wusses; you need to be seriously committed to this cause.
Given all this, AMG and Benz must at least feel vindicated this model is on the right track simply because the path it has trailblazed is not being taken by a big rival.
In deciding to mete the X3 and X4 with the full M Division treatment for the first time, thus offering M3 levels of performance in a more practical family-friendly package, BMW is acknowledging that this is a market sub-sector to be taken seriously
With BMW having also determined to go into this ultra-hot zone, then it is only a matter of time before Audi, perhaps Lexus and quite probably Alfa Romeo follow suit. Doubtless Porsche will also sharpen up its Macan all the more, too.
Munich’s muscle-building outfit will centre its effort on making its fare look, and go as hard as the Mercedes barometer. The BMWs will use a newly developed 3-litre twin-turbocharged straight-six. The current M3/M4’s ‘S55’ straight-six already develops 331kW in Competition Pack form, so we’d expect a jump in brake horsepower, possibly rivalling the standard GLC63’s 350kW.
Having the brawn as the AMG engine will be exciting – I’ll be interested to know if they manage to make the six-pot sound as brilliantly as the GLC 63’s four litre 'hotvee' V8. That’s a heck of a challenge because, as things stand, the AMG engine is in a class of its own for baritone blast.
It is more vocal and more brutally-edged than any performance V8 I’ve heard outside of a motorsport arena. How loud? I happened to have this car and a BMW M5 co-existing in my driveway.
Every visitor – and, yes, unsurprisingly there were a few – was asked: Which do you imagine would be the noise king? Everyone picked the M5 and no surprise there: It has a massively overwhelming physical presence. And yet, though it certainly has a magnificent engine-exhaust note, when it comes to expressing optimal malevolence, it was drowned out from the moment the GLC’s unit thunder-clapped into life.
The bellowing bombast, which enhances all the more when the drive mode slicks in a performance setting, will be too much for some, yet it wholly befits the breeding and an ethos of the centrepiece of any AMG Mercedes always being the engine.
Of course, you might wonder if such overt bravura ultimately asks too much of the car as a whole.
It’s certainly fair to suggest the AMG-ised edition is as far removed from the standard GLC as a C63 is from any everyday C-Class, yet at the same token there is an equal gulf between the performance brigade’s hot-rodded sedan (wagon and coupe) and this elevated load-all which arrives in orthodox format as driven or an alternate quasi- coupe (since it is also five-door) shell.
Much comes down to finesse and functionality. It’s amazing what this car can do, in respect to actioning as a fast and fluid A-to-B driving choice. Yet the provision of a ‘Race’ setting – beyond ‘Performance’ and ‘Performance Plus’ options - on the drive select programming should potentially not be seen as a tacit invitation to hit a race track.
Even though it has all the hard-core engineering ingredients, pushing hard out requires a higher degree of resolve I possess. The brakes, suspension and tyres might prove heroic enough, yet I suspect that the conclusion would be that a C63, simply by virtue of being lighter and lower-slung, would be the more natural, and easier-contained choice.
While this GLC does a good job of hiding its bulk, it’s not delicate. The steering, while sharp and well weighted, feels a touch twitchy around the straight-ahead.
Still, gotta love the grunt. The M177 eight is a very familiar unit now and its wallop impresses even more forcefully in real life than it probably does in writing. With 700Nm of torque arriving at just 1750rpm, it feels fantastically, almost farcically, fast.
When you read about this model able to snap off 0-100kmh in under four seconds … well, it’s impressive. When you feel it do that? Well, it’s more than that. You need a moment to collect your sense and to reconcile with what just happened.
Yes, I know there is a Jeep out there that is quicker still, and that’s fine. The GLC is fast enough for me, not least when it’s quicker off the mark than the new Porsche Cayenne Turbo. There was no occasion to check if the cited top speed of 280kmh is kosher, but it’s ability to snap into just half that velocity with no obvious effort suggests there’s nothing to say that Merc’s measurements are off.
Is this a good thing? I must say that I’ve always thought there’s a point when sports utility vehicles become too sporty. This one rides a fine line; it’s quite alarming how quick this thing is. Regardless that it has a traction control, you’d want to watch your step on less than solid surfaces.
It’s challenging to ease off with an engine like this egging you on, so intoxicating is the soundtrack. Yes, it’s bi-modal so can be dialled down, but somehow I kept forgetting where that button happened to be. You are certainly become grateful for the grip, afforded by the expensive tyres, and the traction accorded by the 4MATIC-Plus all-wheel drive system. The engine’s oomph transmits first, of course, through a nine-speed multi-clutch (MCT) gearbox.
The transmission is well-attuned to the tasks that AMG expects but the 4MATIC is what will keep you out of trouble. In being tailored to allow the GLC to handle more like a rear-driven wagon than a fat four-wheel-drive, thanks to fully variable torque distribution, it also factors more for fun than feel. Certainly, you learn not to let its size, semi-highish ground clearance standing or substance fool you – this thing will slip and slide with the best. A limited-slip diff and performance brakes complete the package. Carbon ceramics are optional.
The AMG gets air suspension, adaptive damping and configurable drive modes, too, though no amount of adjustment will make it ride as softly as the standard edition. Even in Comfort, it is sometimes too stiff; our coarse chip transmits through the car and, if you strike ruts and divots, expect to feel them. Still, that’s just how it goes in this league.
Same goes with the car’s look. Enlarged wheels through which the big boy brake sets can be seen, bulging wheelarches a more hunkered stance are orthodox AMG ingredients, but the heat turns up all the more with it adopting a grille design inspired by the AMG GT coupe. Is that toothy Panamerica grin too much? Maybe just a bit, however it does ensure this model gets noticed.
The stupendous thrust and exclusivity of an AMG does little to erode the high degree of practicality this model line delivers. Eligibility to tow seems unlikely – that’s not a thing for AMGs – but it otherwise looks reasonably well sorted as a family wagon that will always get the lad to Saturday morning school sports on time.
The interior differs little from the standard GLC's, apart from the AMG badging on the centre console and steering wheel, which is part Alcantara and leather. A Premium package adds keyless-go, the truly excellent Burmester surround sound system, a panoramic glass sunroof and LED lighting. An electric tailgate, privacy glass, park assist with reversing camera, sat-nav and heated front seats are also all fitted.
Just like the regular GLC, the quality of the finish inside is excellent. Only the free-standing infotainment screen looks out of place, appearing more like an aftermarket add-on than factory fit, but that’ll be remedied come mid-life facelift, assuming the look-in at the EQC provides an accurate indication about what’s coming. The all-electric model features the wonderful MBUX system and a much wider, better quality screen.
Adoption of bespoke enhancements of actual metal and carbon fibre trim filaments enhance the interior and though AMG Performance sports seats up front are bulkier than the standard items, they are no less comfortable.
The AMG-ised GLC is a wild ride, then, and quite special, too, in that it belongs to a special club of ultra-sizzler SUVs, other members including the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk that beats it to 100km by 0.1 seconds costs $10,000 less (but mightn’t be quite the same quality experience) and the Lamborghini Urus, which clocks 0-100km in 3.6s – and is almost twice the price.