It’s a heavyweight brawler in a sea of middleweight fighters, the 2020 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S. From its raucous soundtrack to its astonishing performance, AMG’s hardcore high-rider really does elicit guttural growls from deep within your soul every time you get behind the wheel.
Refreshed and tweaked for the 2020 model year, the GLC 63 S remains as potent as ever. The changes are minor, and largely cosmetic, its stonking 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 making the same 375kW and 700Nm as before. No performance bump either, the GLC 63 S sprinting from 0–100km/h in just 3.8 seconds.
Instead, your list price of $164,600 (plus on-road costs) nets you a cheaper buy-in over the outgoing model ($165,395), and a smattering of minor exterior design tweaks such as the LED head- and tail-lights, the grille opening and exhaust tips.
Inside, there’s a new 10.25-inch touchscreen running Merc’s new MBUX operating system, the MY20 GLC 63 S missing out on Merc’s bells-and-whistles twin infotainment and driver display screens found in some other models. It will come in time, but for now it’s the tablet-sized offering mounted on the dash.
Operations are slickly controlled in myriad ways: via a trackpad, akin to those found on a laptop; small touchpads on either spoke of the steering wheel, helpfully, left spoke for left screen, right spoke for right; of course, it’s a touchscreen; or, via the clunky, intrusive, and, let’s call it what it is, downright annoying ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice command that is supposed to work like Siri, say, or Amazon’s Alexa, but doesn’t quite nail it.
There’s also gesture control, which is both gimmicky and not very functional, as well as annoying when, for instance, you reach forward to adjust the air vents and the gesture control kicks in, changing your screen. Of course, all this can be mitigated with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, both more functional and intuitive than Merc’s native system. And neither will interrupt your podcast or music every time you utter the word ‘Mercedes’.
Annoying, yes, but ultimately none of these foibles dilute the drive experience that is, we’d venture, the number-one reason people buy an AMG-fettled Benz.
It doesn’t disappoint. Fire up the bent-eight hulking under that impressively sculpted bonnet and the GLC 63 S thunders its approval before settling into a baritone burble at idle.
There is a richness to the engine note; a reminder there’s life left yet in the internal combustion engine, even as Mercedes begins rolling out its future-proofed electric SUV and in-house GLC rival, the EQC.
Acceleration from standstill belies the GLC’s portly two-tonne-plus kerb weight. The nose lifts sharply into the air as the twin turbos nestled snugly inside the vee of the cylinder banks spool up, and propel the family SUV towards the horizon in a manner as ridiculous as it is intoxicating.
Transmitting its 375kW and 700Nm to all four wheels is Merc’s nine-speed multi-clutch automatic transmission, and it’s a beaut: slick, with a razor-sharp ability for swapping ratios by itself. Opt to use paddle shifters to control your own gearing and you won’t be disappointed, each shift accompanied by a crescendo of sound as thunderous as a gathering of Vikings summoning the Norse gods.
Straight-line speed is not up for debate. Any vehicle capable of sprinting to 100km/h in under four seconds is fast, even more so if it’s an SUV tipping the scales in excess of 2000kg. Tipping that mass into corners is where the real worth of a performance machine becomes evident.
The news, in the case of the GLC 63 S, is good. It’s a capable corner carver, although some circumspection is required, if only to combat the inertia of 2088kg of kerb weight that wants to keep going in a straight line even if you don’t.
Yes, there’s a hint of understeer inherent in the GLC when cornering hard, but a softer right foot and belief in the technology at play underneath countermand any propensity for the GLC to push.
It never feels uncontrollable, however, the rear-biased 4Matic AWD system underneath working away tirelessly to provide maximum grip. So, too, the limited-slip diff at the rear that shuffles torque to the wheels most in need of grip. It is, in short, more than capable of being hustled with confidence.
Accelerating out of corners provides plenty of laughter, the big Merc squatting down with purpose and poise, and firing off towards the next corner with the consummate ease expected of the twin-turbo V8 beating at its very core.
Stopping power comes courtesy of ventilated and perforated discs front and rear, with six-piston calipers up front and single-piston floating calipers at the rear. There’s plenty of surety under braking, the AMG pulling up hard and effortlessly. If you want to get even racier in your AMG-fettled SUV, there’s an $8300 optional ceramic brake package available.
Of course, any performance vehicle brings with it a level of compromise, certainly in terms of ride and handling. Yes, there’s a trade-off between ride comfort and dynamic ability in any high-performance car. Sometimes, this trade-off errs on the side of comfort, other times dynamism is the winner.
The good news here is the GLC 63 S offers a decent blend of both. Leave it in Comfort mode, and the ride over even roughshod bitumen remains composed, thanks to the three-chamber air suspension and adaptive dampers tucked away underneath.
It’s still stiff, but the edges have been knocked off, making for an altogether more pleasant drive around town than we’ve experienced in the past in other three-pointed-star models wearing the famed AMG acronym.
Dialling up Sport or Sport+ adds some meatiness to the suspension, which translates through to the seat of the pants, but not to the point that it leaves you needing a trip to the dentist. If anything, being able to feel every bump and every ripple on every road provides a connection that inspires confidence and a willingness to go that little bit harder.
Of course, the GLC 63 S's ability to remain flat and composed through even the most ardent of cornering is a trade-off worth living with.
Being a family wagon brings with it an expectation of comfort and safety. The cabin gives off a suitably sporty vibe befitting a high-end performance SUV. There’s an opulence to the interior bordering on the blingy and designed for excitement. Austerity? Leave it to others.
The leather seats are comfortable and supportive, with the usual array of electric adjustment and lumbar support. The steering wheel is chunky in hand; although, one thing worth mentioning are the flattened areas at the nine-and-three position, which take some getting used to in terms of how you hold the tiller.
If, like me, you like to feel the full girth of the wheel in the palms of your hands, you will need to adjust your wrists to accommodate these flattened sections. Slightly uncomfortable at first, but you do become accustomed to it.
The second row offers enough space for two adults, along with amenities such as air vents with separate climate controls. Swathes of leather continue the prestige vibe.
The boot measures in at 550L, and the rear seat backs can be folded away via switches in the boot area.
The GLC63 S doesn’t lack for safety technology with autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, active safety bonnet, lane-keep assist and rear cross-traffic alert the key highlights, alongside the mandatory ABS and TCS acronyms. A full complement of airbags covers both rows of seating.
Mercedes claims the GLC 63 S will chew through 12.2L/100km of 98RON on the combined cycle. Surprisingly, after an engaging stint behind the wheel that encompassed some tootling around town and a raucous and spirited test of its dynamic abilities, we saw a figure of 13.1L/100km. Mind you, a quick glance during our squeal-of-delight-inducing corner carving saw that number jump to the high 18s before settling back down to 13s following a highway run. The price of performance.
It’s a price many are willing to pay, we’d venture, and once paid, the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S rewards with its brawny musculature married to phenomenal speed and dynamic ability, all while singing from the songbook of the gods of thunder.