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2018 Mercedes-AMG GLC63 S first drive: A class of one?
How much power? The GLC63 gets AMG’s 4-liter twin-turbo V8, one of those Midas engines that turns everything it touches to gold — 510 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque worth in the S trim. Unfortunately, in America the S will be available in the frumpy “coupe” body style only, a moniker applied these days to anything with a sloping roofline. The more useful and better-looking GLC63 SUV uses the same engine maxed out at 476 hp, which, to borrow a line from Rolls-Royce, is more than adequate.
Performing support duty is Mercedes’ now-familiar multichamber air suspension; the basic tune is adjustable between comfort, sport and sport+ via an in-cabin Dynamic Select switch. If the GLC detects hard cornering or heavy braking, it’ll automatically firm up the appropriate dampers to keep things stable. The speed-sensitive electric power steering also responds to Dynamic Select settings with variable assist between comfort and sport modes; again, the system can automatically dial in more or less assist based on driving conditions. Bringing everything to a stop are 15.4-inch ventilated discs front and rear.
What pops the most upon first laying eyes on the GLC63 is the so-called Panamericana grille, that toothy vertical statement evoking Mercedes’ AMG GT sports car. Behind it, the GLC’s compact body lends itself to AMG’s assertive styling touches, which include 19-inch wheels standard on GLC63 models; S trims get 20-inch wheels, and optional rims run up to 21-inch front and rear. From the driver’s seat, the already good GLC design continues with AMG badging, synthetic suede detailing and additional switchgear on the center console to control Dynamic Select, stability control, suspension settings and, optionally, the exhaust flap. Optional packages let buyers tailor the interior to their hearts’ content with fancy quilted leather, carbon-fiber trim and badges galore among the available choices.
Weather, a limited number of test vehicles and German tire laws conspired to shortchange my GLC63 drive: It was 40 degrees and raining, we only had S-trim GLCs to drive and all were on 21-inch wheels with Pirelli winter tires. Thus your experience will almost certainly vary, but hopefully not by too much — even in these conditions, the GLC63 was way more fun than an SUV has any right to be. The drive mode controller delivers very different experiences, and after some experimentation, Sport ended up being just the right amount of aggressive fun for the murky conditions. In dry weather on performance tires, sport+ almost certainly would have gotten the nod, with race best reserved for controlled track conditions or loud, showboating rolls through your high-end shopping district of choice.
Like any AMG63 product, the GLC63 is perfectly content to eat up miles at triple-digit speeds, behaving like a proper luxury vehicle in the process. In the right settings, it’s neither harsh nor loud. A flick of the drive-mode switch can instantly dial up that glorious V8 bark and firm up the suspension, though, letting the driver rip up mountain roads at least up to the limits of the squishy Pirelli winter tires. Yes, there’s a more dramatic sense of weight transfer than one would experience in a C63 sedan, but it’s not alarming, though the initial steering turn-in can be slightly too sharp until you get used to it. There’s also real, usable cargo space behind the three-person rear bench seat, at least in the proper SUV version of the GLC63. The Coupe is just pointless.
If there’s a flaw, it’s one not exclusive to the GLC63: Mercedes’ latest infotainment system offers multiple ways to interact with it, none of them intuitive. Best to sync your phone, pick a radio station and then ignore the rest, instead placing both hands on the wheel and pointing the GLC toward your favorite twisty road.
The 4.0-liter twin-turbo AMG V8 is what sets the GLC apart from its peers.
If you absolutely have to have an SUV instead of a lighter, better balanced sports sedan –- and, looking at sales numbers, a lot of you do –- it’s hard to imagine a more entertaining choice than the GLC63. Dynamically, the Porsche Macan is at least its equal (if not slightly better), but when you squeeze the throttle and that AMG V8 bellows its full song, the Porsche’s advantages get lost in the sound of an era that may soon be behind us. Enjoy it while you can.