2018 Mercedes-AMG GLC63 S review

The fastest SUV in its segment sounds as good as it looks.

Who really needs a family-friendly SUV that can go from 0-100km/h in 3.8 seconds and sound like a German tank in the process? Absolutely no one. But who wants one? Pretty much every car-loving family man or woman.

That all but sums up the Mercedes-AMG GLC63 S. No one needs it, everyone wants it. Available in both coupe and wagon body styles, the upcoming super-performance SUV from Mercedes-Benz’s high-performance arm has the potential to dominate the segment it competes in - and for good reason.

Previously announced pricing of $164,900 for the wagon and $171,900 for the coupe may yet see a further revision, but that should remain minor. A 'launch edition' will also join the party.

As the GLC63 S doesn’t arrive in Australia till around middle of 2018, we flew all the way to Stuttgart in Germany to drive it and were pleased to see that the SUV looks much nicer in the flesh than in the photos. After the GT coupe, this is the first model from AMG that wears what the company calls the new Panamericana grille. It not only looks tough but allows a deeper look into the SUV’s cooling technology.

No matter how you look at it, the GLC63 S doesn’t try to look subtle or blend in, but, then, it’s hard to when riding on massive 21-inch wheels with red brake callipers. In fact, the company claims the wide apron front is inspired by a jet wing. I can sort of see it. The rear is just as angry, with the coupe wearing a noticeable spoiler and both body styles sporting quad-exhausts. It’s also helped tremendously by designers not having gone shy with the extended wheel arches.

Whatever the inspiration for the hyper-SUV’s looks, both the coupe and wagon look mean and ready to do business. Slight changes in practicality aside, if we had to pick a body style, it would probably be the wagon - because it looks more at home on the road - while the slightly heavier coupe tends to look like a really fast sports car that has been raised.

Jump inside and the Mercedes-AMG GLC63 S feels rather familiar. There isn’t all that much to differentiate its interior from its direct relative, the C63 S, which Mercedes-Benz Australia thinks the new model will likely outsell.

The floating instrument screen is powered by Mercedes’ COMAND interface, which is fast and relatively easy to use but it lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which seems like a rather odd omission for a brand-new model (considering its availability on lesser Mercs).

The front sports seats are comfortable enough and in the back there is enough room to carry two adults in comfort or two bulky child seats. Just like other GLC models, the rear isn’t as wide as some competitors in the segment, but it will happily carry four occupants without complaint. It will struggle to manage a fifth if both left and right hand sides are sporting child seats, but otherwise it can manage a middle rear occupant for short drives.

There is great use of carbon-fibre across the centre instrument cluster and dials that really help set the GLC63 apart from its slower siblings. The steering wheel and other switchgear are very much part of the AMG family of parts, with nothing noticeably new or unique inside the cabin. This is a good thing, because like its extended family, the GLC63 S is very pleasant to be inside.

We did find some peculiar mismatches in the fit and finish of our car, however, with the top plastic part above the dashboard not lining up as it split in two from the left- to the right-hand side. We suspect this is due to the early production run of our test vehicles.

Press the start button (or in the case of our test cars, insert and turn the key), and the 4.0-litre biturbo V8 comes to life. In Australia, much like the C63 S, we will only take the high-performance GLC63 S, leaving the standard ‘63’ car behind.

That configuration sees power output pushed to 375kW, with 700Nm of torque for good measure. Using Mercedes’ 4Matic+ all-wheel drive system sees the GLC able to send torque to whichever wheel it deems necessary, unlike the mechanical rear axle limited slip differential (LSD) of the standard GLC63, the ‘S’ gets an electronic LSD. Fuel economy is rated at 10.7L/100km on the European test cycle.

All that equates to what is an almost unbelievable 0-100km/h time of 3.8 seconds. Quicker than the C63s and only third in the AMG range to the GT and E63. It was only a few years ago where supercars that managed a time under four seconds were celebrated. Indeed, we tested launch control off the lights in Stuttgart’s torrential rain and it resulted in four-wheel spin off the line. Rather amusing.

But despite the terrible weather endured, it’s hard to argue with the vehicle’s outright speed. With 700Nm, it pulls hard in every one of its nine gears and just like the C63, once you get over that very slight initial turbo lag, the rest of the journey through the rev range is a roller coaster ride of German proportions.

We spent most of our time in either comfort or sport+, but there is also an individual setting that will allow you to change the engine, steering, suspension and exhaust settings individually. The performance exhaust option (may be standard in Australia), sees the note of the GLC63 S change ever so slightly from the C63 S. It’s a little deeper (if that’s even possible), with a bit more growl as you downshift through the gears.

With all the windows up, the exhaust doesn’t seem that loud, but those that see it scream past will have a different opinion. We thoroughly enjoyed our time through German tunnels, the crack and pop on downshifts is deafening. It does, however, portray a rather manufactured sound that we’ve come to expect from all AMG cars utilising this great engine.

Not in the sense that the sound is fake (it isn’t), but that every down or upshift results in the exact same sequence of noise, almost as if controlled by software rather the randomness of traditional engine overruns. Such is the advancement of technology.

Whilst the wet weather and extremely limited visibility dampened our drive somewhat, we took it as a means to test the GLC’s 4Matic drivetrain. On more than one occasion we pushed our SUV hard into a hairpin corner climbing a German mountain and accelerated out without the slightest fuss. There is tremendous grip, even in the wet, and it possesses none of the rear-wheel-drive oversteer characteristics of other AMG models.

In Sport mode, the GLC63 S behaves impeccably. It brakes hard, turns in nicely and accelerates out ferociously. It would be fair to say that for the average punter, this is actually a quicker vehicle to drive than the C63 S. Not only because it possesses significantly more grip, but it feels more confident and sure footed, especially in the wet. Consequently, it doesn’t feel as alive or playful as other AMGs.

The mating of the V8 to the nine-speed transmission also proved faultless with effortless gear changes in low crawling speeds, flat-out around the mountain and everything in between.

We did, however, find the ride to be rather firm and that’s saying a lot, considering how smooth our German roads were. In comfort mode the suspension was more forgiving (though the weightless steering made it unbearable), but even then one could feel every small imperfection on the road. It’s not so much jarring but just firm.

The ideal mode to drive it in, as far as we are concerned, is individual with the engine, transmission and steering set to sport, exhaust turned on and suspension set to comfort. This way the GLC shows its best character.

We also tested the GLC’s active safety features as well as its low-level autonomous driving capabilities in heavy fog and found our vehicle more than able to follow the car in front and maintain its position inside any given lane.

The GLC63 S will provide an option to those that really want a C63 S but require the benefits and practicality of an SUV. In the ever-growing absence of fast wagons, this will undoubtedly bring serious performance fun back to family motoring. Thankfully, there is still the C63 Estate for those that want it...

As it will likely remain the only V8-powered SUV in its class, the GLC63 S seems to have the high-performance segment all to its own for now. BMW will release an X3M at some point (powered by the same six-cylinder engine as the M3) but until that happens and we can test them back to back, the GLC63 S will reign supreme.

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