The performance SUV realm is a small one – particularly so when you focus on compact performance SUVs. It’s primarily limited to a two – the Mercedes-AMG GLC63 and Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio. But beneath these ‘full-cream’ models, the Mercedes-AMG GLC43 AMG fills the gap, a more accessible AMG-light SUV to rival the new BMW X3 M40i, Porsche Macan, and the Jaguar F-Pace S. Based on the hugely successful GLC Class and the C Class sedan, the 43 equips it with V6 power and upgrades to take the fight to the rest of the middle-class performance SUV segment.
The C Class underpinnings in the AMG GLC43 are easy to spot. The shared architecture also shares most of the interior, so those hopping from a C43 into this will immediately feel at home. Large door apertures and the tall ride height make entrances into the cabin simple. Once inside, you’re perched atop supportive bucket seats, with excellent side bolstering and quality leather upholstery. The dash is elegant, and dominated by aviation-inspired vents and controls, and the familiar stuck-on looking COMAND infotainment screen.
The interior of the GLC43 is impressively spacious, with front occupants never at a loss for head and shoulder room. The 3-seat rear bench also offers impressive levels of space, and unlike the GLC43 Coupe, head room is generous. The rear bench folds in a 40/20/40 split, offering up a total cargo volume of more than 50 cubic feet, compared to the standard 19 cubic feet with the rear seats in place.
Performance SUVs are inherently flawed – the raised center of gravity and extra weight counter to the ideology of handling prowess. Somehow, the GLC43 defies logic by handling impressively well. The standard air springs adjust based on drive mode, and in their sportier modes offer a firm ride that resists body roll and even creates a jittery ride on poor roads. Flip the drive selector into Comfort mode, though, and the ride becomes genuinely plush – the extra ride height soaking up large and small bumps alike.
With the extra ride height, it helps to corner the GLC43 with finesse and fluidity, tipping it in with balance that it responds to kindly. The hefty steering is weighted perfectly, but is devoid of feel and doesn’t inspire particular confidence in the front end. Manage the weight, keep the front wheels pinned, and apply the throttle liberally and the rear-biased all-wheel drive system defaults to oversteer – however mild – to give a most un-SUV-like experience mid-corner.
The Mercedes-AMG GLC43 is the latest baby-AMG model to feature the brand’s AMG-tweaked twin-turbo V6 powerplant. It’s 3.0-liters in displacement, and outputs 362 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque, sent to all 4 wheels in a pairing with Mercedes-Benz’s latest 9-speed automatic transmission. Some might say 9 are too many, but the auto ‘box shifts impressively and keeps the growly V6 on the boil. It lacks the theater of AMG V8s, but for efficacy it can’t really be faulted. From standstill, it’ll aid the GLC43 in a sprint to 60mph taking just 4.8 seconds.
Dual-zone climate control, 14-way power front seats with heating, heated rear seats, and a powered tailgate are all standard in the well-appointed GLC43. Options include ventilated seats, fragranced cabin, a heated steering wheel, and full Nappa leather upholstery – but it’s best to choose the options carefully as the price piles on… fast.
From a safety perspective, few offer more than the GLC, with pre-collision warning and avoidance braking, crosswind assistant, blind spot assist, rear view camera, and trailer stability assistance all standard. That’s why the GLC is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ for 2017.
The laws of physics, we’re told, cannot be surmounted. The Mercedes-AMG GLC43 openly challenges that – offering sportscar-like dynamics, with the raised ride height and space of an SUV. It’s most certainly not a C43 in the way it handles, but it’s closer than you’d think.