It’s an interesting proposition, the 2020 Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 Coupe, a high-riding mid-sized SUV eschewing the traditional boxy design of its more conformist contemporaries.
With five doors, a sloping roofline and AMG goodness under the bonnet, does the appearance of a swoopy, sportier looking SUV make up for the compromise in practicality? We took one for a short blast, at the updated AMG GLC range’s soft launch to find out.
Debate rages in the CarAdvice office over the definition of coupe. Some define a coupe bodystyle as one where the roofline slopes from the b-pillar, regardless of how many doors it has. Others, okay me, define it in the traditional sense where a coupe is car with two doors, and a fixed roof which may or may not slope aft of the B-pillar.
Adding to complexity of the argument, ISO 3833 – aka the International Organization for Standardization – defines a coupe as “having two doors (along with a fixed roof, usually with limited rear volume, at least two seats in at least one row and at least two windows)”.
That’s along with the grenade lobbed by the Society of Automotive Engineers in the US which, in its J1100 publication defines a coupe as having a rear interior volume of less than 33 cubic-feet (or 934 litres).
Various dictionaries too, define a coupe as a car with two doors and a fixed roof, traditionalists one and all, while respected US automotive authority Edmunds stated in a 2013 definition of vehicle types that “the four-door coupe category doesn’t really exist”.
Tradition, of course, is there to be challenged, ignored even, and car makers increasingly are thumbing their collective noses at traditionalists by making a coupe anything it wants it to be, a triumph of marketing over design principles. So here we are, in the era of the SUV coupe.
At $120,200 plus on-road costs, the coupe is around $10k more than the GLC 43 wagon ($109,900) but almost 50 grand cheaper than its GLC 63 S Coupe twin and around $40k less than the 63 wagon. Style, subjective or otherwise, is worth around $10k then, according to Mercedes-AMG.
Where the 63 twins receive a stonking 4.0-litre twin turbo bent-eight with a soundtrack matched only by its performance, the 43 hits the road with an altogether more dignified powertrain.
Refreshed for 2020, the GLC 43 gets a power bump, its 3.0-litre, twin turbo V6 six now making 287kW (up from 270kW) and 520Nm with those outputs sent to all four wheels via Merc’s excellent nine-speed automatic transmission.
The dash to triple figures takes just 4.9 seconds, significantly down on the 63’s 3.8s claim, and it does it in a more sociable manner.
There’s a muted thrum to the six-pot, with little of the aural symphony exuded by brawnier AMG models. It certainly sounds sporty, with a characterful purr that hints at undeniable performance enhancements under the bonnet.
Ask the big questions of the GLC 43 and it responds with an eagerness that belies its muted undertones. Rapidly quick off the mark, the Coupe surges forward with ease, the speedo nudging triple figures in a manner as quick as it is surprising.
It’s difficult to not draw comparisons with the GLC 63, having driven both at launch on the same day and on the same roads. Where the 63 assaults the road with its noise and its pace, the 43 is altogether more caressing of its environment. It’s not quicker, but neither is it as brutal.
The nine-speed auto works away seamlessly if left alone, charging through the ratios with no sign of hesitation and with an unerring ability to select the right gear at the right time. Better yet, write your own story by using the paddle-shifters, the GLC eagerly allows the engine to run out to redline. No over-riding here, just a simple acknowledgment that a playful punt is the order of the day.
Like its siblings in the AMG GLC stable, the Coupe rides on standard air suspension with adaptive dampers that can be toggled through Comfort, Sport and Sport+ settings. Slightly lighter than its 63 brother, the GLC 43 offers a compliant ride, absorbing smaller bumps and ruts without rattling your bones. Yes, there’s a firmness associated with a performance car, but it’s not unworkable.
Dialling up Sport and Sport+ adds some brittleness to the ride, but compliance remains and the reward is an engaging drive experience, even when hustling through some twisty backroads deep in the bowels of country NSW.
The steering is direct, although the wheel itself, like in the 63, features flattened areas at nine and three that takes some getting used to. Throw the Coupe at some corners with any sort of intent, and you’re rewarded with sharp turn-in and the ability to power out effortlessly and with traction.
The tauter suspension tune plays its part in keeping the GLC 43 flat while the rear-biased AWD system makes a decent fist of apportioning drive to the axle that needs it most. The overall feeling is of a balanced and composed performance SUV, one that allows a full exploration of its abilities in confidence.
Inside, it’s a familiar story. The MY2020 updates to the AMG GLC range are largely in the cabin. There’s a new 10.25-inch touchscreen running Merc’s new MBUX operating system. With clean graphics and sharp resolution, it’s a step up over the older screen and previous Comand operating system. Yet, there are annoying quirks, such as an over-eager gesture control and the insistence of ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice control to interrupt music, conversation or just the general ambience every time you whisper the word ‘Mercedes’.
A digital driver display replaces the outgoing analogue dials, and is configurable in any number of ways to display myriad information. At its most extreme, with g-meters and torque outputs, it looks and feels a bit 1980s sci-fi movie try-hard. We opted, ultimately, for a ‘Classic’ interface with (digital) tacho and speedo and minimal ancillary information.
Of course, the biggest impost on comfort inherent to the coupe bodystyle is in rear seat comfort. That sloping roofline doesn’t come cheaply (around $10k more than the wagon, remember) and yet perhaps the biggest cost is in headroom. It’s tight back there and anyone over about 180cm will find themselves wedged against that sloping roof. The price of style. Boot space is a claimed 500 litres, down 50 litres on the wagon.
Merc claims the GLC 43 Coupe will gulp down 10.4 litres per 100 kilometres of 98RON on the combined cycle, and after our test loop encompassing urban, highway and back road enjoyment, we saw an indicated 11.9L/100km. Decent.
Mercedes-AMG’s play for the somewhat niche SUV coupe segment might fly in the face of the true definition of what a coupe is, certainly to some. Whatever side of the ‘coupe’ debate you find yourself on, one thing that’s not up for debate is just how much AMG has been crammed into the GLC 43.
What it lacks in outright theatre, it more than makes up for with refinement and subtlety. And with that V6 purring away gracefully, the GLC 43 – in Coupe or wagon – might just be all the AMG you’ll ever need.