2018 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S first drive

2018 Mercedes AMG GLC 63 S Front

WHAT IS IT?

Simple… the only medium-sized premium SUV with a V8

WHY WE’RE TESTING IT

Could there be a reason no-one else has done it? The international launch in Germany was a chance to find the answer to this question, around six months ahead of the AMG GLC 63 S’s arrival in Australia

2018 Mercedes AMG GLC 63 S rear
MAIN RIVALS

There aren’t any. Audi, BMW, Jaguar and Volvo all have performance versions of their GLC competitors (Q5, X3, F-Pace, XC60) in the showroom or on the way. None of them has more than six cylinders which is why the Mercedes-AMG due to launch around June 2018 is something different. It’s more extreme. And much more expensive

THE WHEELS VERDICT

The laws of physics still apply. The GLC 63 S is high and heavy, so it’s no agile corner-carver. But it is powerful, quick and, if you want, loud. Sensibly, Mercedes-AMG doesn’t fight the inherent dynamic disadvantage of the SUV, giving it an air-spring and adaptive damper suspension set-up that prioritises comfort. The GLC 63 S delivers a much smoother experience than the rough-riding, slightly less expensive, and slower, C63 S sedan or Estate wagon.

Plus: Performance, exhaust sound, decent comfort, looks
Minus: Handling, clunky auto, efficiency, price

2018 Mercedes AMG GLC 63 S interior
THE WHEELS REVIEW

It’ll make you a straight-line hero, the GLC 63 S. And then, just moments later, it’ll turn you into a cornering coward. SUVs are like that. It may be true that Mercedes’ development budgets are measured in cubic Euros and that AMG can probably afford the very best chassis engineers that money can buy but the laws of good, old-fashioned Newtonian physics remain stubbornly inflexible…

It takes serious chutzpah to install an engine like AMG’s twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 in an SUV weighing in at around two tonnes, but this is a quality that’s not in short supply at Affalterbach. They’ve already put their twin-turbo 5.5-litre V8 into a bunch of bigger and weightier SUVs; the GLE, GLE Coupe, GLS and, nuttiest of all, the ancient G-Class.

The new GLC 63 S, due to arrive in Australia around June 2018, will be quicker than all of them. The 0-100km/h time claimed by Mercedes-AMG for its newest SUV is 3.8 seconds. This time is more than a second swifter than the company’s own GLC 43. It’s also significantly quicker than any other six-cylinder performance SUV, including BMW’s new X3 M40i, due early next year, the Audi SQ5 and the Jaguar F-Pace S. It also beats the new Volvo XC60 T8, with its potent plug-in hybrid petrol-electric drivetrain combining power from a four-cylinder engine up front and a volt-sucking motor in the rear axle.

Mercedes-Benz Australia will import only the GLC 63 S, equipped with the 375kW/700Nm version of the twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 instead of the non-S’s 350kW/650Nm engine. This is the same engine used in the C-Class family of 63 S models, and it’s been chosen for the GLC for exactly the same reason; when it comes to V8s from AMG, Australian customers prefer to buy the more powerful version.

Although official prices for the GLC 63 S (and the GLC 63 S Coupe; see sidebar) were announced last July, Mercedes-Benz Australia is rethinking some aspects of specification and equipment. But there will be little change from the $164,900, before dealer delivery and on-road costs, according to company spokesman David McCarthy. In round figures it will be $5000 more than the C 63 S Estate.

The extra money buys all-wheel-drive, something none of the AMG V8-powered C-Classes have. The GLC 63 S’s 4matic+ system was given a workout at the international launch. The intro was staged in south-west Germany, on a day featuring non-stop grey skies and wet roads.

2018 Mercedes AMG GLC 63 S frontThe AMG-tuned permanent all-wheel-drive system is effective. Despite the slippery bitumen, the ferocious thrust of the V8 was readily accessible. At least on straight roads. An electronically controlled limited-slip rear differential is standard in the S model. It’s quicker and cleverer than the mechanical limited-slipper in the basic GLC 63.

Mercedes-AMG provided only very highly specified S versions for the drive program. These were equipped with 21-inch wheels and tyres, plus a Performance exhaust system which allows the driver to open sound-quelling flaps in the mufflers at any time, regardless of which Dynamic Select driving mode is in play. Both these are optional in Europe (but the situation could be different in Australia).

With its mufflers uncorked, the GLC 63 S can sound like a visit to the zoo. The engine growls, roars, bellows, cackles and spits. Mercedes-AMG obviously understands how to make the right noises to satisfy V8 exhaust note lovers.

If there’s a weakness in the drivetrain, it’s the transmission. AMG replaces the torque converter of Mercedes’ standard nine-speeder with a wet clutch to create the Speedshift MCT. It’s a snappy shifter, especially in Dynamic Select’s racier modes, but it can sometimes be jerky and clumsy at low speeds on light throttle openings.

Three-chamber air springs and adaptive dampers are standard across the GLC 63 range. The ride in Comfort mode is, well, comfy. Surprisingly so, in fact. Sport, Sport+ and Race modes dial up suspension stiffness in stages. At the same time the drivetrain becomes more and more eager to please.

Despite AMG’s carefully graduated calibration work, the GLC 63 S feels heavy and high when it comes to corners. The sporty Dynamic Select modes never manage to eradicate the impression of ponderousness that’s amplified by steering that seems slow in comparison with the speed of response always available from the drivetrain.

It’s no sports car, and was never going to be. But the GLC 63 does import some sports car glamour that works, more or less. The SUV borrows the Panamericana grille previously reserved for the GT family.

2018 Mercedes AMG GLC 63 S rear parkThe toothy look of the vertical chrome bars works better on the SUV than you would expect, and the look-at-me bling of the Panamericana grille makes the GLC 63 S stand apart visually from its lesser relatives.

Interior upgrades include sports front seats, a Performance steering wheel, AMG instrument cluster and aluminium cabin trimmings. It’s a classy environment that is also usefully spacious.

There can be little doubt that the GLC 63 S will be a hit. Australia is a market that likes AMGs – they currently account for around 20 percent of Mercedes sales here – and loves SUVs.

It won’t hurt that the GLC 63 S will be easily the least costly of the really quick Mercedes-AMG products to be sold here. Only the E 63 S – another AMG with all-wheel-drive – and the top versions of the GT sports car can beat the coming SUV’s 0-100km/h time.

But for anyone who believes driving satisfaction must be measured by more than simple speed, the GLC 63 S will inevitably disappoint. Its height and heft dull the precision of its responses to steering inputs and make the braking system work hard. It has the pace to excite, but lacks the grace to involve.

There’s an old song titled “I Fought the Law”, memorably covered by The Clash in 1979. The lyric continues… “and the Law Won”. It always does…

SPECS

Model:  Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S 4matic+
Engine:  3982cc, V8, dohc, 32v, turbocharged
Max Power:  375kW at 5500 to 6250rpm
Max Torque:  700Nm at 1750 to 4500rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Weight:  1935kg
0-100km/h: 3.8 sec (claimed)
Fuel economy:  10.7L/100km (European combined cycle)
Price:  $165,000 (est)
On sale:  June 2018

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