- What’s Good: The sheer insanity of this thing.
- What’s Bad: The uncertainty. Buy now, or wait for 2020?
“Hey, want a free drive to wine country?”
When I’ve got my hands on a good car, I’ll often go well out of my way to find a twisty stretch of road. But when I’m driving something especially cool, I find an excuse to bring my best friend along.
“I’ll be your designated driver,” I tell her. “We can go anywhere you want. The catch is that I need to find some Escarpment back roads to get us there. And I might take them hard enough to make you queasy.”
Okay, I may have left that last part out. But she knows. By now, the drill should be well-established.
This resulting extended and high-powered Sunday drive to Niagara-on-the-Lake is brought to us by the letters GLC and the number 63, and a bonus letter S – and wouldn’t have been as easy to pull off had we attempted to head to Sonoma or Napa instead.
Unique to Canada
Because here’s a quirky fact about Canadians: per capita, we make up one of the top performance car markets in the world. One in every four Mercedes vehicles sold in this country is an AMG, a percentage that lands us among the top five on the planet. And Mercedes is not the only luxury brand that reports this, either. Our driving season may only be six months long, but it seems we’re darned well determined to make the most of it.
As a reward for our dedication, we’ve been tossed this delightful little gem: the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S. It’s more than 500 horses and $100,000 worth of pure insanity, wrapped up into the luxury compact SUV package that makes it Canada’s perfect storm. The United States gets the GLC 63 S Coupe just like we do, but the closest they get in the regular-bodied version is the 469 hp GLC 63. That means that within North America, this precise configuration, the GLC 63 S, is all ours.
Really? A Performance SUV?
It hasn’t stopped sounding preposterous yet, but the concept of performance SUVs really has begun to take legitimate shape. Does it handle as well as an AMG GT Coupe? No, and it never will, and no one should expect it to – although Mercedes is serious enough about the GLC 63 S that they’ve given it the Panamericana grille that was formerly reserved purely for AMG GT cars. But I don’t know very many people who would try to back an AMG GT Coupe over what the plow left at the end of the driveway or up a dirt track to the cottage, either, while the GLC 63 S handles these and more tasks suitably well. It provides four-season versatility, and it makes a wider variety of driving enjoyment accessible to a one-vehicle household.
The key to this seems to lie not so much in the powertrain, although the Mercedes-Benz 4Matic+ all-wheel drive system with situational 100 percent rear-axle power delivery is standard, as is a limited-slip rear differential. Rather, it’s often an air suspension, which is also included here, that fully fleshes out a performance SUV’s character. The three-chamber setup in the GLC 63 S reacts automatically to situations such as heavy cornering load, throttle, or braking, while also adjusting its height between the three drive modes – Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus, plus a Race mode for good measure and an Individual mode for customizability – which means that it can lift to clear obstacles but set down when the road is clear and it’s time to get to work.
Need it? Maybe not. Want it? Well, yeah.
There’s no getting around it: this thing is ridiculous. It’s insane. It’s gorgeous. It’s unhinged. Its 503 hp, 516 lb-ft, hand-built 4.0-litre biturbo V8 hustles it from zero to 100 km/h in 3.8 seconds – that’s faster, on paper at least, than both the higher-powered Jaguar F-Pace SVR and the Porsche Cayenne Turbo with the Sport Chrono package.
And it’s also far more car than any reasonable human being will ever make adequate use of on a regular basis. Honestly, you throw it into Sport Plus mode, then grin devilishly and smash the throttle, and at the next chance you have to look down you’ve blown past the speed limit, your best friend is clinging white-knuckled to the holy-crap handle, and old people are standing on their lawns shaking their fists at you – ahem, not that I’d know anything about any of that.
Anyway, a lot of that urgency is helped along by the in-house AMG nine-speed multi-clutch automatic sport transmission. That’s a mouthful, but the upshot of it is that it’s got legitimate performance chops, and it leaves little doubt of that once it starts laying down shifts. The trade-off is that gentle, lower-speed cruising is not a concept it plays well with; through a more relaxed cadence, things get choppy quickly.
In short, if you’re going to drop six digits on one of these, although technically it starts at $90,500 and this one only gets pushed over that threshold by options, there are a few things you need to accept. Unless you’re planning to take this thing to track days – and are you really? – there’s not a chance that you’ll get it anywhere close to its limit often enough to justify the price tag. There are lower-priced options out there that will likely serve you just as well, such as a GLC 43, a BMW X3 M40i, or an Audi SQ5.
If you find that you thoroughly and deeply want it anyway, you’re buying it because you can, because it’s special, because within its specific subset of SUVs it presents the best available balance right now between performance, capability, cachet, and price. And if that’s the case, more power to you.
But wait – there’s one more thing you should know.
The biggest problem with the 2019 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S… is the 2020 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S.
A facelift is coming soon for all GLC models, including this one, and the details have been announced. Mechanically, very little is changing, including that hand-built V8, which mercifully carries on while others continue to fall. But there will be one enormous difference: the MBUX infotainment system, the one with the 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster and the 10.25-inch touchscreen with multiple input options, including the Hey Mercedes digital-assistant style voice interface. That’s a big deal, and it’s well worth waiting for if you care even the slightest bit about IT techy-type things.
If you don’t, well, there’s a BMW X3 M coming soon as well, and waiting for pricing on the 2020 GLC 63 S might allow enough time for further details and pricing on that to become public before you make a decision.
But if you know you want it and you just can’t put it off any longer, have a blast. That fist I’ll be shoving into the air, which you’ll blow past too quickly to see, will be supporting an enthusiastic thumbs-up.