2020 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 drive review: Scaring the neighbors
AMG’s twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 lives in the engine bay of this mighty family truckster
Once applied sparingly to mysterious autobahn beasts that passed you at triple-digit speeds somewhere outside Affalterbach, the AMG badge has now been applied to everything including the pocket SUV end of the range. That included the GLA 45 AMG more than five years ago, making it one of the smallest and angriest AMG models, and the AMG 63 badge is now available for GLC-Class purchasers.
With the 2020 refresh of the GLC-Class, née GLK-Class, the AMG 63 party is here to turbocharge one of Mercedes’ best-sellers, a vehicle that over the past decade has come to represent a commanding share of all Mercedes-Benz sales stateside. In fact, it became the best-seller just last year, finally edging out the C-Class sedan, and now presides over 22 percent of Mercedes’ U.S. sales.
Since the SUV is now Mercedes’ bread and butter in the U.S., Mercedes has readjusted its priorities when it comes to how it wants its SUVs to behave — on-road performance is now a bigger priority than it was with the first-gen ML-Class, which was a global model not particularly happy with trying to emulate sedan-like dynamics. The 2020 GLC-Class is now not too far from the dimensions of the original ML-Class, and in that quarter-century, it has been refined down to a micron of where Mercedes wants it. And it will soon be joined by the ever-so-smaller but more spartan GLB-Class that should further loosen the remaining grip of sedans in Mercedes’ lineup.
Just how much performance does the GLC 63 offer over the run-of-the-mill GLC-Class?
Short answer: a lot. The twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 that’s been spreading through the AMG lineup churns out 469 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque, sent to all four wheels via a nine-speed automatic transmission. Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel-drive system is the only option with this model, even if it never snows in your area. The SUV version makes the sprint from 0-60 mph in 3.8 seconds — a tad slower than the GLC 63 S coupe mode. But the fact that it’s below 4.0 seconds is what counts because it’s very impressive for something with so much heft and so much metal and leather on board — these were supercar figures a decade ago, lest we forget — but the 503 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque of the S coupe only allow you to shave off 0.2 seconds off of that sprint time.
Aside from its 3.8-second-to-60 time, the GLC 63 has other charms. For one thing, it looks like a GLC-Class SUV and offers the versatility of the tall wagon body style, which is handy for hauling all the gear that one’s overscheduled scions need during the course of a single day. There is plenty of new tech inside, courtesy of the update the GLC-Class has received for 2020. This means the latest MBUX with voice commands, an AMG Sport suspension system based on Air Body Control and plenty of driving modes. The interior is different as well, with seats built to cope with the g forces of being late to piano practice, and an AMG Performance steering wheel for taking corners a little too close in an attempt to not be late to piano practice.
How will you communicate to the outside world (aside from the badge) that you’re driving a GLC 63 and not one of the run-of-the-mill GLC 300s? Well, for starters, there’s the AMG 20-inch wheels, as well as the AMG Performance Exhaust System. On the inside, the GLC 63 AMG model also offers AMG logos on most, if not all surfaces, including the doorsills, so that your guests (who own something else) know that they’re not entering just another GLC 300 4Matic. If the illuminated doorsills don’t get the AMG-ness of this model across when your in-laws are in town and you have to pick them up in the airport, the 64 colors of the ambient lighting will give them a little hint that this particular GLC is something special.
I set out to the quaint towns lining the Hudson River in upstate New York, just a couple hours north of NYC to find out if the GLC lives up to is AMG branding.
It’s tempting at first to view the GLC 63 AMG simply as a grocery getter with an AMG mill shoehorned into the engine bay, and while that’s kind of the point of this particular model — taking a best-seller and dialing it up to 11 for those who can afford to overspend on a GLC-Class — the finished machine is well-balanced and can actually be quite subtle when left unprovoked.
Leaving the GLC 63 in comfort mode allows it to travel with a relaxed posture and a slightly more forgiving suspension setting, without losing all of the stiffness that’s available in the sport and sport-plus settings. In fact, comfort mode is what I’d pick most of the time, just to allow the suspension to soak up the roads of upstate New York, some seemingly unattended to since the New Deal public works projects that created them.
But as the pavement improves a bit, it’s time for sport and sport-plus modes to show why one would pay tens of thousands north of the base price of a GLC-Class, which starts in the low-$40,000 range, to still be in a GLC-Class at the end of the day.
With my foot planted almost to the floor, the twin-turbo V8 roars into life with a mechanical soundtrack and an effortless rush of power but without a hint of uncontrollability even on soaked, misted roads. A few straightaways provide the opportunity to test the GLC 63 close to the top of its acceleration envelope, if not top speed, as the GLC 63 delivers surefooted performance with a compelling sound to match. On looser pavement, such as the dirt roads barely shown on the console-mounted navigation system, 4Matic all-wheel-drive still keeps everything together. The GLC 63 resists the temptation to fishtail even as I give it plenty of opportunity to do so on a mixture of gravel and mud, trying to make it play the role of a Group B racer — not too far from the formula when you consider horsepower and all-wheel-drive ability, if not curb weight. Pressed outside of its comfort zone for a few seconds on unpaved roads, the GLC 63 keeps it all together with the sound insulation keeping most of the outside world out, if not the exhaust soundtrack.
Back on paved roads, where I imagine most owners will use the GLC 63 every day, this plush SUV is a compelling mix of luxury and everyday performance, even if that performance could be the impatient kind. The kind that invites you to plant the accelerator on the floor after a car that has been camping at 5 mph under the limit in the left lane finally moves over to the right, and you just need the satisfaction of giving the drivers behind you a full blast of the exhaust sound. And that is ultimately how the performance attributes of the GLC 63 will be used by most drivers: accelerating past slower, annoying traffic on the interstates and rocketing up the on-ramps at well beyond highway speeds. Because the GLC 63, at the end of the day, is not a track car even if it will invite you to make it play like a rally car when you’re out of sight of various scolds, snitches and The Man out in the woods.
The GLC 63 is as much about interior tech now as on-road performance, and the latest dump truck that backed up and unloaded all the tech into the cabin came right on time. The 12.3-inch instrument cluster has no shortage of information to share with you, along with cool graphics including ones that keep track of the speed limits, thanks to traffic sign recognition. There’s also the very horizontal infotainment screen, which is controlled via a touchpad located on the center console, just ahead of the center armrest. This latest stab at an intuitive and efficient interface is a solid system, even if the “Hey Mercedes” voice recognition system is triggered a little too easily, especially in conversation with a co-pilot that was 90 percent about various Mercedes cars.
The twin-turbo V8 is here to party once again in the GLC-Class, making the school run a challenge to be timed with a stopwatch. The GLC 63 also a curious alternative, when moderately optioned, to two base-optioned GLA 250 SUVs — one for each parent.
The alternatives won’t matter if you’re already looking at one of these — this is a compact SUV with almost 500 hp on tap. Logic doesn’t need to apply to purchases like this, and that’s fine. This concept might take some getting used to if you’re not used to the German horsepower wars by now, wars that are well into their second decade. The only alternatives will be found elsewhere in the range, also with an AMG badge, or with an M badge from the manufacturer from Munich rather than Stuttgart and Affalterbach.
2020 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 Specifications
On Sale: Late 2019
Base Price: $73,750
Drivetrain: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8, nine-speed automatic, AWD
Output: 469 hp @ 5,500 rpm; 479 lb-ft of torque @ 1,750 rpm
Pros: Luxurious, powerful, quiet when needed, corners well
Cons: Get ready to visit a lot of gas stations