by Gabe Beita Kiser
Somewhere between the debut of the Benz Patent-Motorwagen and the announcement of the AMG One, Mercedes got cocky. It went from supplying lawyers, executives, and world leaders with leather-lined status symbols to building SUVs that can do the former but also polish off a Nurburgring lap before the minute hand strikes eight. It’s as if reality doesn’t apply to Mercedes. It just looks to the sky, sets a target somewhere beyond the solar system, and reaches it. A few millennia from now, the real-life incarnation of the Death Star will probably wear a Mercedes logo too. Still, as efficient and intimidating as the Empire’s warship was in Star Wars, it had its weak spots. But what about Mercedes? Is AMG really crafting masterfully built examples of vehicular juxtaposition? Or is there an element of compromise that sneaks into each high-output SUV that follows its owner to the track?
To find out, we borrowed a 2019 AMG GLC 63 SUV from Mercedes and hit Northern California roads, where we learned the hard way that Michelin Pilot Sport summer tires are not ideal rubber for conquering snow-covered Sierra Nevadas.
Having replaced the Mercedes GLK in 2015, the GLC was split into two body styles to better suit the ever-growing demand for luxury SUVs. One is a five-door hatch and the other was given Mercedes’ "four-door coupe” body style. While you have to opt for the Coupe to get the Nurburgring record-holding GLC 63 S, we had the privilege of driving the GLC 63 SUV. To differentiate it from standard GLC models, AMG gave the GLC 63 its signature Panamericana grille that shows off the engine’s cooling hardware, more aggressive front and rear bumpers with air splitters attached, wider wheel arches for a more muscular look, larger wheels to fill out those arches, a quad exhaust, side sills that make the GLC look lower, and "Bi-Turbo V8” badging on the front quarter panels. The look is not subtle. Combined, the exterior hardware induces fight or flight responses in sports car drivers who pull up to a stoplight alongside the Merc.
Mercedes-AMG has given this compact SUV the highly versatile 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8. Under the hood of the GLC 63, it makes 469 horsepower and 479 lb-ft of torque with minimal lag thanks to the turbos’ position between cylinder banks. Output can go up to 503 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque in the GLC 63 S Coupe, but even without the power bump our GLC 63 SUV could hit 60 mph from a standstill in 3.8 seconds. With the help of a quick-shifting 9-speed multi-clutch automatic, we spent the better part of the week scaring passengers by letting loose on the Interstate 80's onramps, though never coming close to the SUV’s 155 mph top speed. But you don’t need to be breaking the law for the 4Matic+ all-wheel-drive system to sort out whether the rear wheels need 100% of the engine’s power, whether the front and rear axles each need a 50% split of it, or whether a ratio somewhere in between is ideal.
Unfortunately, that powertrain recipe isn’t very conducive to good fuel economy, with the only figure surfacing above the 20 mpg mark is highway mileage. The GLC 63 gets 22 mpg in that area, but only 16 mpg in the city and 18 mpg combined. Not like any of us who love the silliness of a compact SUV with a V8 really care.
Because our GLC 63 loaner was loaded with Mercedes’ optional Performance Exhaust system, we took every chance to switch it into the loud mode and bask in the deep octaves of its high-output V8. And while loudening the exhaust makes the drive more emotional, it does nothing to make it less luxurious. That’s because the interior can be considered a lap of luxury faster than it can be called a cockpit. Mercedes has been on a roll with its gothic interiors lately, and that’s put on display here by gorgeous shades of two-tone Black and Red Pepper Nappa leather. The visual candy is intensified by the clash between old and new, with silver lining the retro-themed air vents, switches, and trim, while a carbon fiber center console returns fire with modernity.
Ergonomics are good too. The drive mode switch and buttons that toggle drivetrain settings can be found alongside the Command control knob placed in the lower middle of the center console, where a driver can access them without taking their eyes off the road. While attractive metal air conditioning switches are placed higher on the center console where they can be seen and used by passengers. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto were noticeably absent on the 8.4-inch center-mounted display (it’s a $350 option), but Mercedes’ infotainment software is intuitive enough to be used as a stand-in. Our favorite piece of interior was the panoramic roof, which lets light into the otherwise dark cabin and highlights the handiwork put into the red stitching and carbon weave.
Modifications made to the GLC by AMG do play a part in altering its exterior dimensions. While wheelbase remains at 113.1 inches like the standard GLC, length goes up by 0.9 inches to 184.2 inches thanks to the AMG bodykit. Widened fenders bring overall width up to 76 inches and height has been reduced by 0.7 inches to 63.8 inches, in order to reduce the AMG’s center of gravity.
Cargo space is the only interior measurement that’s different from the standard GLC, with the GLC 63 getting only 17.6 cubic feet versus the GLC’s 19.4 cubic feet, but maximum storage capacity with the seats down is still 56.5 cubic feet in both cars. No concessions are made in the legroom and headroom department, with the AMG retaining 40.8 inches and 37.3 inches of front and rear legroom, respectively, as well as 37.8 inches and 38.5 inches of front and rear headroom, respectively.
Size, however, is the last thing you notice when climbing inside. What you do note is how light the doors are, which is more of a testament to this AMG’s aim to be a daily driver than a sign of obsessive weight-savings tactics. The seats are comfortable and the Burmester sound system is crisp, but once the starter button is pressed, much of the sophistication goes out the window. This AMG skews on the raw side, eschewing ettiequte for performance and even feeling undercooked in the comfort department depending on where your tolerances lie.
The engine is loud and feels smooth, just the way we like it, but after venturing out of our parking garage and hitting Bay Area streets, a problem arose. It has to do with how power is delivered when pulling away from a stop. Lift off the brake, and the stop/start system cranks up the hand-built engine.
It all feels normal until you put your foot on the gas. That causes an awkward series of jolts to commence while the transmission struggles to send power to the wheels smoothly. Once the engine and gearbox have established an open line of communication, there’s no trouble using your right foot to send this AMG bounding over San Francisco hills at scary speeds. Suspension that features rear-axle architecture similar to the AMG E 63 helps the GLC 63 feel planted and bolstered in the turns. But over bumpy roads, the three-chamber air suspension does little to soften blows from potholes and steel plates, making the interior rattle and squeak. The GLC 63 feels rougher than your average luxury car, and while that’s to be expected from a machine sharing DNA with a Nurburgring record-holder, it doesn’t give credence to the idea that modern AMGs are great city cars.
Whether we were driving around town or on below-freezing roads north-west of Lake Tahoe, the steering was quick and well-weighted, with sharp turn-in making the GLC 63 drive like a sports car and the brake pedal’s progressive nature hiding the fact it can demolish speed if stomped on in panic. The chassis, put simply, is a work of art. It lets this 4,475-pound (curb weight) SUV feel nimble in the corners with the help of a rear limited-slip differential. Try to push the SUV past its limit, however, and you start to feel the weight come out of hiding. By nature, most cars with horsepower reserves like the GLC 63 and the sporting prowess of an AMG encourage a driver to drive fast. The GLC 63 does that when the road is straight, but in the corners, not so much. In the heat of the moment, you have to divert attention to dealing with the GLC’s weight, which saps fun out of the experience.
Demanding that the AMG GLC 63 defy physics so it can feel as natural on the track as a Porsche 911 is asking a lot, but that’s the check AMG tends to write. The fact the GLC 63 doesn’t quite cash it is our only real complaint. If all those AMG modifications didn’t make the GLC less comfortable on the road, or if the GLC was a more natural athlete when at the limit, it’d be an easier car to fall in love with. But it falls a few hairs short, and that’s not what people willing to spend $89,590 on a luxury SUV with an attitude want.
So how did our AMG GLC 63 tester reach its $89,590 price tag? For starters, the donor GLC with AMG modifications retails for $71,795 including destination. Then add $4,285 for Selenite Grey Metallic paint, the two-tone Nappa interior, and carbon fiber trim, an extra $2,200 for the Multimedia Package that brings Mercedes’ Command system with it, and another $750 for the AMG Night Package that adds black accents to the exterior. Don’t stop there because the LED headlights and high-beam assist cost $800, then add $1,290 for the Parking Assistance Package, another $1,800 for Mercedes’ extensive suite of driver aids that include steering assist, cross-traffic alert, and blind spot monitoring, and a final $6,670 for miscellaneous add-ons like 21-inch AMG wheels, the performance exhaust system, heated rear seats, and the panoramic roof.
When Germany’s luxury automakers first started bringing tuning shops in-house and building cars that were somehow just as fast as they were luxurious, it was hard not to think that BMW M and Mercedes AMG had nailed down the magic recipe. The AMG GLC 63, unfortunately, shows us that’s not the case. The GLC 63 is a machine full of personality and has an insatiable lust for fun, but each of its two pursuits - for comfort and for performance - undermines the other. Its stiff suspension means it has manners to learn if it wants to be a comfortable city cruiser, but weight gives it wobbly legs when the jaunts get aggressive. That’s why it’s more of a prep school bad boy rather than a track toy for busy adults. It’s brash, it has all the right looks and makes all the right noises, but it falls short of the belying belief of past AMGs. At least Mercedes' latest crack at the AMG GLC 63 is due in dealerships later this year…