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Is AMG's rapid GLC 63 SUV the answer to your prayers, or to a question nobody’s asking?

Given the nature of the website you’re reading, it’s probable that you already have an opinion on the Mercedes-AMG GLC63 S 4Matic+. And, well, it might not be entirely favourable.

This near-£80,000 car is nevertheless something of a poster child within the corporate headquarters of Daimler AG in Stuttgart, where all the product planning, the marketing and the accounting happens, and, bluntly, where the bottom line is the primary concern.

The fact that this two-tonne SUV can hit 60mph from a standstill in as little as 3.7sec boggles the mind. As party tricks go, that’s quite an impressive one.

It’s also where they’ll be giving themselves a big pat on the back, because demand for SUVs such as the Mercedes-Benz GLC has been nothing short of phenomenal. In fact, it has played a decisive role in Mercedes-Benz last year shoring up its position as the world’s biggest luxury manufacturer. Compatriot brand BMW previously held that title for a decade, so it’s a momentous achievement.

There is also the small matter that next year’s pure-electric EQ C SUV – a product for which the term ‘game changer’ could well prove to be something of an undersell – will share this SUV’s production underpinnings. For a model that has never particularly tickled enthusiasts, the GLC is building a significant legacy.

The line-leading GLC63 S 4Matic+ is (or at least should be) more obviously concerned with the matter of driving. As the performance-oriented coupé derivative of a medium-sized premium SUV, its taxonomy is idiosyncratic.

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And yet despite the niche-player status, it could be argued that this car is also everything that currently makes Mercedes such an aspirational brand condensed into one package: a glorious-sounding AMG engine of eight cylinders, a raised driving position and an urbane design whose heavy-set but strangely gentle curvature is calculated in its mass-market appeal.

Of course, were you to throw all your favourite ingredients into a salad bowl, the resulting concoction would probably be repulsive. But it might just be the best thing to ever hit your taste buds. So which is it for this multifaceted AMG?

What Car? New Car Buyer marketplace

DESIGN & STYLING

Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S road test review hero rear

AMG’s take on the GLC Coupé wants nothing for presence. It’s marginally more extensive of footprint but lower in stature than a Porsche Macan Turbo and adorned with matt black skirts, wheel-arch extensions and a deep rear splitter.

There’s also a particularly conspicuous duck-tail spoiler, and unlike the lesser of the AMG-fettled GLC models – the twin-turbocharged V6-engined 43 – the 63 features Mercedes’ open-worked Panamericana grille, which has until now been seen on only the Mercedes-AMG GT.

Front apron is said to be “inspired by the design of a jet wing”. No, that means little to us either, although the vast intakes do give the car a distinctive facial expression.

Through it, you get a view of the vast radiator needed to meet the cooling requirements of a 4.0-litre V8 that, as we’re now used to seeing, houses a brace of sequential turbochargers within its vee. In the GLC63 S 4Matic+ Coupé, it develops 503bhp and 516lb ft, the latter from just 1750rpm. The non-S version makes do with 469bhp and 479lb ft.

Much of the car’s mechanical construction is recognisable from the Mercedes-AMG E 63 saloon – encouraging, because that’s a machine we rate highly. The nine-speed Speedshift transmission is one such element and it is neither a torque-converter nor uses dual clutches, instead relying on an entire pack of clutches with a single input shaft.

In theory, such a set-up shifts faster than a traditional automatic but can cope with more torque than a dual-clutch gearbox, and there’s also a ‘sailing’ function that shuts down the engine while you’re coasting.

Through it, torque is delivered to the permanently driven rear axle and, if required, also to the front via an electronically controlled clutch in a fully variable fashion. The design of the widened, multi-link rear axle is also adapted from that of AMG’s hardest-hitting saloon, the E63, with the four-link arrangement from the smaller Mercedes-AMG C 63 charged with altering the trajectory of this 2020kg SUV.

The GLC63 does not, notably, benefit from an active anti-roll bar, although the volume of the AMG-tuned three-chamber air suspension can be altered to provide three levels of damping stiffness. Further parameters for the engine, gearbox and exhaust maps are altered through Mercedes’ Dynamic Select rotary controller and range from Eco to Race through Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus.

INTERIOR

Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S road test review cabin

The GLC’s capacious cabin is getting a touch long in the tooth. Will that be of much consequence for a four-cylinder diesel version costing less than £40,000? Perhaps not, but anybody spending double that for an AMG badge might expect more in the way of material quality and a digital showcase.

Certainly, dark fabrics and a high dashboard mean it’s suitably foreboding within, but compared with the vast glass displays that sit adjacent to one another in the dash of the E-Class, this car’s analogue dials and heavily bezelled screen seem a touch off the pace. It’s no surprise that a range-spanning update next year will introduce a digital instrument binnacle as an option.

GLC63 S not quite raucous enough for you? Hit the button below the volume control to turn the noise from the £1000 AMG performance exhaust up to 11.

One might also expect fewer plastics within the interior’s lower hemisphere and among the finer trim details (on the vents, for instance), and we’d readily trade some of the extensive carbonfibre trim for a greater sense of robustness. One tester commented on the flimsiness of the pivoting cover for the cubby in the centre console. Another noted the slight play in the window switches.

No such complaints arose when we tested Audi’s Audi SQ7, although the Mercedes’ cabin does boast a greater drama quotient. This is not least because of its firmly supportive, low-slung bucket seats and swooping transmission tunnel.

The most expensive GLC of all gets the same Comand Online set-up that you’ll find in a top-spec C-Class. As such, you get not only the same moderately well-resolved 8.4in display, DAB radio and satellite navigation, but also the unintuitive touchpad on the transmission tunnel. Fortunately, there’s a rotary controller positioned beneath it, and it’s this that you’ll mainly use to navigate the system’s generally straightforward functionality (albeit with some latency, it must be said, particularly just after start-up).

In the end, BMW’s iDrive system remains easily the more intuitive digital landscape to find your way around, and it looks neater too. This being an AMG model, there’s also the Track Pace app, which, in the unlikely event of the car seeing any circuit action, can send real-time parameters such as speed and steering angle to an iPhone app, saving lap and sector times all the while. If you record your lap, the software can then superimpose telemetry data on the imagery.

At 500 litres, boot space exactly matches that of the Macan and the similarly-profiled BMW X4, and as per the BMW, a sloping roof limits the capacity for carrying taller items. Factor in the awkwardly narrow boot opening and this car is about as suitable for a run to the tip as it is likely to be seen at one, although passenger space along the rear bench is adequate, even for six-footers. The central occupant will need to straddle the transmission tunnel, mind.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S road test review on the road side

An engine of this boorish strength gives you licence to disregard the laws of physics, it seems. With a full tank of fuel, our test car weighed in at 2055kg – a touch above the claimed figure but not deceitfully so – and then dispatched 60mph from rest in just 3.7sec.

Moreover, it rattled off the 30-70mph dash in 3.3sec, some 0.2sec quicker than Audi’s considerably lighter but not much less powerful RS4 Avant could manage. The Mercedes-AMG’s engine isn’t quite as flexible, though, taking just under a second longer to dispatch the same increment while locked in fourth gear, but you’ll find keeping the tachometer needle within and indeed extending it beyond the broad 5500-6250rpm window where all 503bhp is metered out to be no chore at all.

This chugging V8 can elicit a wry smile every time you so much as look at the throttle pedal. It’s not enough to make up for a few too many rough edges elsewhere, mind.

Twin-turbocharged it may be, but this 4.0-litre V8 spins freely out to the 7000rpm redline, and how. Indeed, where this car outshines anything else you might reasonably consider a rival – except, perhaps, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio – concerns its soundtrack. With the £1000 AMG performance exhaust fitted, there is simply no respite because, even at idle, you get a swollen chug audible from some distance away.

The more theatrical inclinations of Mercedes-AMG’s engineers are particularly evident when the chrome mode switch toggle on the centre console is used to select Race. At this point, the fuelling strategy ensures upshifts are accompanied by such a deafening crack that you really do have to exercise this engine with some sympathy for your surroundings.

And so to fuelling. Naturally, that V8 is unashamed in its thirst, returning a touring economy of 26.3mpg despite the on-board computer reading 31.3mpg. With a 66-litre tank, the car’s consequent motorway range will nudge 400 miles, which is poor without being embarrassing, although owners nevertheless seem destined for crushing fuel bills. Driven in anger on track, the GLC63 S managed just 7.9mpg.

Meanwhile, the nine-speed transmission is a mixed bag. Although fast-acting and tolerant of usefully early downshifts for engine braking, it is not always smooth in normal driving and particularly at low speeds. This contributes to the car’s general lack of refinement, more on which in the following section.

RIDE & HANDLING

Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S road test review cornering front

Here there is hope because, in a GLC, your hip-point immediately feels more akin to that of a hot hatchback than a typical SUV.

It is, alas, a hope tempered in part by AMG’s modifications, which have yielded a chassis that about town feels about as forgiving as a hot hatch. The rear axle is particularly firmly sprung, unceremoniously dumping the trailing edge of the car from speed humps and contributing to a general shortage of finesse concerning the low-speed compression characteristics of the air suspension.

With the GLC’s taller centre of gravity, off-camber bends need to be approached with a degree of caution.

It’s a theme that persists even at speed, albeit in the form of a high-frequency jostle exposed further by the firm seats. They provide precious little blotting between road and backside for a car of the GLC’s type and thus motorway stints are never quite as calming as they should be. Rarely, if ever, will you find yourself moving the air suspension out of the Comfort setting.

That, by and large, is the bad bit done with. This particular GLC’s indisputable forte is point-to-point pace, where its grip, wheel articulation and, relative to the elevated centre of gravity, iron-cast body control allow it to dismantle almost any road you care to point it down.

Natural balance in the manner of, say, a Stelvio Quadrifoglio is conspicuously lacking. Adjustability? Not much in the way of that, either, and the speed-sensitive steering ratio can become alarmingly quick following a somewhat lethargic response just off-centre. However, the set-up rarely gets the better of this chassis, which bookends an admittedly wooden mid-corner routine with impressive precision on turn-in and, aided by the electronic rear differential, unbreakable, squatting traction on the way out.

It quickly becomes apparent that the tight, winding corners of Millbrook’s Alpine Handling Circuit aren’t the natural stomping ground of a two-tonne SUV such as the GLC63 S Coupé. You need to lean hard on the optional ceramic-composite brakes before entering a corner, because an overenthusiastic entry speed will cause the front axle to fold over into understeer.

A restrained right foot is of paramount importance mid-corner too. Go anywhere near the throttle before you’ve properly exited a bend and the electronic stability control system will trigger. Still, the steering is quick and weights up nicely, and despite the GLC’s size, its air springs and adaptive dampers do a commendable job of keeping lateral roll in check.

The GLC63 S is not, then, a particularly effusive driver’s machine, and neither does it disguise its weight as persuasively as a Macan Turbo can. Its appeal is found in its outstanding technical competence – of which we’d happily trade that ultimate degree of B-road composure for a sliver more usability.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S road test review hero front

Having gone through the Affalterbach skunkworks that is AMG, this particular GLC Coupé bears a far loftier price than its more pedestrian range-mates. Where the standard Mercedes-Benz GLC220d Coupé costs from £42,365, the GLC63 S Coupé is priced from £78,560. Ours came in at £90,925 after options.

That makes it significantly more expensive than two of our favourite fast SUVs: the £63,981 Macan Turbo and £69,500 Stelvio Quadrifoglio. They outshine the GLC in the depreciation stakes, too, with the Stelvio expected to retain 58% of its value after 36 months and 36,000 miles and the Macan 63%. The GLC63 S, meanwhile, manages just 52%.

Forecasts aren’t terrible for the Merc, but it’s outdone by the Porsche by a huge margin and, interestingly, the Alfa too.

Standard kit is respectable, though. In addition to that thunderous V8, the Mercedes gets a sports exhaust, 20in alloy wheels, a 360deg parking camera, heated AMG performance seats, 8.4in infotainment system with navigation, DAB radio and Bluetooth connectivity, and more besides.

The £12,365 of options on our test car included the £2395 Premium Pack, which adds a Burmester sound system and glass sunroof, £4285 ceramic-composite brakes, and the £1695 Driving Assistance package with safety features such as active blindspot and lane keeping assist.

What Car? New Car Buyer marketplace

VERDICT

Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S road test review static

AMG’s interpretation of the Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupé is as prominent at the kerbside as it is inimitable in its whimsical conception. Few cars combine a commanding view of the road ahead with such a devastating turn of controlled cross-country pace, and for sheer bombast, the V8 accompaniment goes unchallenged by anything the more affordable side of a full-blown supercar.

True, these are relatively simplistic attributes, but so persuasive is the manner in which the GLC delivers them that their collective effect will effortlessly part from a target audience funds that would secure any number of rivals.

Charisma and performance appeal, but ultimately the GLC 63 comes up short

That’s just as well, because this car trades unreservedly on the intensity of its superficial appeal. From within the dated cabin, there’s little to suggest those who’ve bought a Macan or are awaiting their Stelvio Quadrifoglio should feel any regret, and Mercedes would do well to ensure this car’s eventual replacement provides better competition for its rivals in terms of ride quality.

It’s this, along with an interior unbefitting of a car of this price, that prevents the charismatic GLC63 S 4Matic+ from challenging the very best in this class.

What Car? New Car Buyer marketplace

Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 (2018-2023) First drives