by Adam Lynton
A luxury SUV used to equate to a raised ride height, lethargic performance and the dynamics of an elephant - slow and steady, but temperamental and, frankly, dangerous if rushed. The Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 is no elephant. Still solid like an SUV should be, but far faster and more agile than we once imagined they could be, it's more of a tiger. Animal kingdom references aside, this isn't even the wildest variant in the range - the even madder GLC 63 holds that honor. Yet, the 43 remains a potent performer, with 362 horsepower from its 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 enabling a 4.7-second dash to 60 mph. It's the perfect bridge between the non-AMG GLC 300 and the over-the-top AMG GLC 63 variant. The GLC's talents don't begin and end with performance either, with this Mercedes going toe to toe with the BMW X3 and Audi Q5 for excellent practicality, quality, and style. A pliant suspension setup ensures that the available power doesn't come at the expense of comfort, which is a Mercedes hallmark - all of which makes the GLC 43 a fantastic all-rounder in a competitive and hugely popular segment.
With a more significant update on the way in 2020, Mercedes has made a few more subtle updates to the GLC 43 for 2019. AMG performance seats and an AMG Nappa/Dinamica performance steering wheel becomes available, and there are new designo packages in combination with the AMG performance seats; the AMG performance studio package will now also include an AMG optics package. The latter adds several gloss black accents to the GLC's exterior for an even sportier look. Heated front seats are now standard.
There's just a single variant of the AMG 43 GLC and it carries an MSRP of $57,000, with this price excluding tax, licensing, registration, and a destination charge of $995.
See trim levels and configurations:
|AMG GLC 43 4MATIC SUV||
3.0L Twin-Turbo V6 Gas
AMG's adaptive air suspension is perfectly in tune with the engine's all-round ability. Using AMG Dynamic Select, you can alter the car's throttle response, shift points and steering effort by choosing between one of four modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport +. There's also a special Individual mode, which allows the driver to set up the transmission for manual shifting. Eco dulls the throttle response too much, so we'd stick with Comfort if you're not in a hurry.
Even with its large wheels, in Comfort mode, the GLC 43 impresses with its ability to smooth out surface scars without transmitting them to the cabin. Only some additional tire noise is evident over GLCs with smaller wheels. It's certainly more comfortable than the harder-edged X3 M40i.
The rear-biased 4Matic all-wheel-drive system (31:69 front/rear torque split) endows the AMG with surprisingly fun handling characteristics, with accurate steering allowing you to blast out of corners with a reassurance you may not have anticipated. No, there isn't the same degree of agility on display as you'd find in the Porsche Macan - and steering feel is limited - but the GLC appears to be spot-on for its intended application. This is far from a boring SUV to pilot, and again, it's the GLC's ability to do everything well that shines most brightly.
As a middle-ground between the GLC 300 and the fire-breathing AMG GLC 63, the 43 is a compelling performance SUV. Inside and out, it looks and feels like a premium product, with the interior being both superbly trimmed and appreciably spacious. In fact, this could be the most stylish cabin in the segment. The powerful V6 twin-turbo engine and 4Matic all-wheel-drive operate in concert to provide a much sportier driving experience than the GLC 300, all without sacrificing the refinement and comfort of the range. Rivals from Porsche and BMW may outperform the Mercedes at the limit, but the GLC 43 strikes the ideal balance between ferrying the family around in comfort and tackling a mountain pass on the weekend. Weaknesses are few, with the infotainment system due for an upgrade - hopefully, this includes the standard inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Other compact SUVs also have superior cargo capacities, but the GLC is hardly stingy in this respect. So yes, AMG-lite is more than just a marketing gimmick: the GLC 43 is a bonafide performance SUV.
With just one engine and transmission to choose from, it's up to the options list to determine what your final product will look like. Unless navigation is essential, we'd immediately throw in the $350 Smartphone Integration package to get Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration. While the standard seats are excellent, the AMG performance seats really transform the appeal of the cabin. Together with the $1,500 AMG Performance Studio package, you'll go some way to making the average GLC 63 driver stop to take a second look. These three upgrades will add $4,350 to the total price, still well below the GLC 63's MSRP.
Each adhering to the same philosophy, both the AMG GLC 43 and BMW X3 M40i are positioned as tamer versions of these brands' fastest SUVs. Getting to grips with each of these hot SUVs tells a familiar story: the BMW is sharper and the keener overall performer, while the Mercedes-Benz is the classier and more comfortable alternative. Both have superb power plants of the same capacity (V6 for the Merc and an inline-six for the BMW) and all-wheel-drive. Both have extremely comfortable interiors, with the X3's infotainment system having the edge, but the GLC fighting back with a more impressive design. As has been the story for decades, choose the X3 M40i if you want the more dynamic driving experience, but go for the AMG if a better balance between comfort and handling appeals.
Giving up just 14 horsepower to the Mercedes, the similarly-priced Porsche Macan S also features a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 and all-wheel-drive. Even sportier than the X3, the Macan S is all about offering as much of the 911 experience as is possible in the body of an SUV. As a result, it corners like no other rival in the segment, with superb body control and generous driver feedback through the major controls. However, while the Macan S is better at being a sports car than the GLC 43, the Mercedes is better at being an SUV. There's loads more rear legroom in the GLC - a result of a longer wheelbase - and total cargo space is also superior. While the Macan is far from uncomfortable, it's also the GLC that provides a smoother ride quality. One area in which the Macan does have an edge is in the quality of its infotainment system - it uses a larger screen and is also easier to use than the GLC's current system. Which one is best? It depends on what kind of SUV you want. The Mercedes pampers with its lavish interior, while the Macan thrills.
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