Despite 2016 looking to be another record year for SUV sales in Australia, very few of these flip-and-fold multi-tool wagons hold true to the first letter of their own constructed acronym.
Sure, they may be ‘sporty’ looking, or drive the kids to ‘sports’ practice or even offer a ‘sport’ mode. But only a few actually return the sense-twitching, skin-tingling, pulse-accelerating sensation of real performance.
The Porsche Macan gets closest to the mark, and the BMW X5M does a pretty good job (albeit with a $200,000 price tag), but now there is a new player, which seems to have a spot-on gin-to-vermouth ratio to mix the perfect SUV martini: the 2017 Mercedes-AMG GLC43.
If you are not familiar with the regular GLC, we have covered it in detail in both coupe and wagon form, but a quick summary is that it’s a stylish and practical little SUV that just doesn’t offer enough pizazz from either of its 250-model engine options.
The 270kW/520Nm twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 under the bonnet of the GLC43 sees to that.
The new M276 ‘red top’ V6 doesn’t fit the usual one-man one-engine AMG profile, though. As we learned with the E43, the 3.0-litre ‘six is produced in the Stuttgart factory and not down the road in Affalterbach.
The GLC43 comes down the line with all the other GLCs at the C-Class plant in Bremen.
Does that lessen any of the exciting AMG-ness though? Not really. Compared to the cooking-model GLC, this thing is a hoot!
Outward changes are minimal. There is just a deeper front airdam and diamond-set grille with a subtle AMG badge at the front, and nothing more than wider wheel arch flares at the rear to set the '43 apart.
But somehow it works.
The standard 21-inch wheels are as attractive a design as we’ve seen in a while, and at the rear, the 11-inch wide (285mm tyre) rims have a distinct concave face, that with the wider track give the AMG GLC a really tough stance.
The rear track is just 4mm wider by the way, but the rear wheels are a whole 30mm wider. Nice.
It’s lower, too. Air suspension is standard (Airbody Control) which lowers the GLC by around 15mm when in the Sports-plus setting. These aren’t big changes but the combination of ride height, arch extensions and snazzy wheels really help the look of the GLC.
The 320mm brake rotor at the back look tiny, though. The cross-drilled 360mm front discs have a bit more street credibility.
Other than this, it looks and feels just like every other well-specified GLC on the road.
Everything is included for the $101,400 (before options and on-road costs) list price, including the panoramic sunroof and powered seat package. If you like numbers, it’s basically $15k worth of options on top of a $70k GLC250, which makes the selection of the twin-turbo six work out to be roughly a $15,000 option.
Not bad, considering you can match pace with a Macan GTS at the lights - but more on that in a tick.
I won't dwell much on the interior details of the GLC43 here, as it really is the same as the regular car or coupe, but I will say that spending more time with the GLC has helped that C-Class dashboard layout grow on me a bit more.
I’m now much more comfortable with using COMAND, and have found the ‘star button’ shortcuts particularly useful for jumping around between functions. The 360-degree camera, that adjusts from a front to a rear view when parking has become almost too familiar, and should be the benchmark in both quality and execution in other cars in this segment.
AMG models get a nice digital tacho as part of the head-up display graphic set, too.
Practicality wise, there is again no change from a regular wagon, although the standard air suspension allows you to lower the rear when loading the boot to help get bigger ‘stuff’ or less leapy dogs in the back!
Boot space is 550 litres with the seats up and 1600 litres with everything folded down.
But enough about that.
If you’ve got to this point, you know how a GLC works, and you want to know how the 43 runs. Simply put, you wont be disappointed.
This engine gives the GLC the athletic performance it needs, but without the brutal skittishness of the bigger ’63 models.
There’s a sweet purr at idle from the quad exhaust tips that stays muffled but still pleasant in the Comfort drive mode, and changes to a bugle-like wail high up in the rev range with the sport-plus setting engaged. And yes, there is a plain 'Sports' mode, but who honestly uses that. No-sport or all-sport for this little black duck.
Again, it doesn’t have the harsh rasp of the Porsche, but for a medium-sized family truckster, it’s a nicely addictive noise. However, having heard what the same engine sounds like with the sports exhaust system on the C43 Coupe, it could be even better!
From a standing start, Mercedes claim a 4.9-second sprint to 100km/h, which is faster than Porsche’s claim of 5.2 for the Macan GTS. We didn’t have our V-Box available during our short time with the GLC43 to check (we will at some point), but it feels pretty quick.
Under heavy throttle, the GLC43 squats and just goes. The AMG tune to the AWD system sees the rear drive bias rise from 55 to 69 per cent and the nine-speed 9G-Tronic automatic transmission is fast enough to keep things moving, while maintaining an inherent drivability should you want to relax the g-forces and get back to trawling for a parking spot at Chadstone.
Manual changes up the interactivity, but there’s no punch-in-the-kidney sensation of the Porsche’s PDK. It’s plenty of fun, though, zipping through traffic with a nice little crackle on up-shift. We did experience the typical ‘shudder’ when coming to a stop, as the G-Tronic essentially ‘catches up’ its ratios.
The V6 revs out nicely to the 6500rpm redline, which does come up fast in first gear. Peak torque is available between 2500 and 4500rpm, giving the GLC plenty of midrange punch. We’re not talking Nissan GT-R performance here though, just the right amount of sportiness that an SUV should have.
Mercedes even claims an 8.8L/100km combined fuel consumption. We were unashamedly un-economical with our driving and only pushed as far as 11.1L/100km, which is pretty impressive.
Again, handling isn’t race-car sharp, nor is it as direct as a Macan or even a BMW X4, but it’s jolly good for a Mercedes, especially in the sport settings.
Where the larger AMG SUVs tend to have more power than balance, the GLC mix is much more on point. The twin-chamber air suspension stiffens the ride enough, but not so much that the GLC will crash about.
There’s still a good amount of compliance and forgiveness in the way the GLC43 deals with bigger bumps, and the electrically assisted steering is light and reasonably communicative. Given an open road, and ideally no passengers, the GLC really starts to feel balanced on the tarmac, allowing you to explore the full range of its power, without feeling that the car is going to bite back.
We did find that tighter corners or even suburban u-turns would push the front end in a strange way. It's to do with the AWD system, and certainly not a deal breaker, but just something that really should have been tuned out.
It’s a versatile car, something that can potter around on the school run then zap up through the hills with some real exuberance.
Consider too, that while it may not have the badge cachet of the Macan, it doesn’t have the option list either, so will likely be rolling out of the showroom in a much higher spec for tens-of-thousands of dollars less.
We know that the 2017 Mercedes-AMG GLC43 is just the start of the mid-sized AMG SUV campaign, with the ’43 Coupe to follow in early 2017 and a pair of ’63 models some time in 2018. But it’s a great start, and to be honest, probably the finish for the majority of buyers.
The GLC43 is a practical, usable and entertaining little SUV, that has just the right amount of sports up its sleeve and value in its corner to become a category winner. Make it sound like the C43 Coupe, and it will be almost impossible to resist!
Click on the Photos tab for more images by James Ward