As ideal as it would be to have one car for every purpose -- sports car for the weekend, crossover for commuting, etc. -- that's generally not realistic. More often than not, even enthusiast drivers must compromise and find one vehicle that fits all their needs. Hence the appeal of high-performance SUV: your need for speed can be sated by the same vehicle that can transport your family to the lake house at the weekend. And when it comes to sporty SUVs that still boast a high level of luxury, the ranks very highly indeed.
Strong first impressions
You instantly get the impression this is a serious performance machine from a block away. The GLC63 exudes AMG's brash style, with a deep front fascia boasting intakes greedy for air, the flashy "Panamericana" grille inspired by the AMG GT sports car, flared fenders, quad exhausts and, of course, giant 21-inch wheels. In fact, with the wheels pushed out to the corners and its lowered ride height, the GLC63 almost has the squat stance of a hot hatchback. Almost.
And yet my test car, done up gorgeous cardinal red metallic paint and with its exterior trim blacked out thanks to the optional AMG Night package, somehow isn't too extravagant to slip under the radar. Sure, there's carbon fiber on the outside, but only a little bit. The styling tweaks that make this SUV look muscular do not make it too uncouth for the country club parking lot.
Accepting the premise that someone might buy the GLC63 for daily-driver duties, it's worth noting that the SUV offers reasonable amounts of space for people and their possessions. Open the power liftgate to reveal up to 56.5 cubic feet of space with the seats folded down. Then slide into the back seat and discover ample head- and legroom for most adults to sit comfortably over long journeys.
Interior materials are exceptional and nicely designed, with brushed-metal trim, leather and Alcantara. The bolstered front seats are snug yet comfortable while the Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel feels great in my hands. The one bum note is the way the infotainment screen is integrated into the dash -- or rather, isn't. It's simply affixed atop the dash, tablet-style; while it's a design choice seen in many new cars, it's the one part of the cabin that doesn't look effortlessly sleek.
When it comes to infotainment, a 7.0-inch display is standard but my GLC63 tester has an 8.4-inch screen as part of the $2,200 Multimedia package. (The pack also adds navigation and five years of SiriusXM traffic and weather data.) It's not the newest Mercedes infotainment system, but this version of Comand works pretty much flawlessly in all circumstances. Both a rotary controller and a touchpad are available for operating the system, the latter allowing for "writing" letters and numbers for entering navigation addresses or phone numbers. To add Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, you'll need to spec the $350 Smartphone Integration package.
The color trip computer also provides a wealth of information, from various fuel-economy details to supplemental displays for navigation, audio and phone. As this is an AMG variant, it also has racy model-specific gauges with data like engine boost and oil temperature, G forces and more. A head-up display, a $990 option, offers up more info right in my line of sight -- including a big tachometer and digital speedometer.
Active safety technology is also in abundance, though most of it is in paid option packages. Precollision warning and braking and blind-spot monitoring come standard. My tester also features the $1,290 Advanced Parking Assist package, adding self-parking, parking sensors and a 360-degree camera system. The $2,250 Driver Assistance package, meanwhile, adds adaptive cruise control with lane-centering steering, active lane-keeping, pedestrian recognition, speed-limit recognition and an active blind-spot system designed to prevent drivers from steering toward traffic in their blind spot.
As on other Mercedes models, all of these features work seamlessly and easily. While the Steering Assist function does not drive autonomously (it prompts you to put your hands back on the wheel regularly), it does help ease the driver's workload a little on the highway.
The heart of a sports car
Those assists all fall to the back of my mind when I nudge the GLC63's drive-mode switch to Sport or Sport+. A version of AMG's well-known, hand-built, 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 is up front, serving 469 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque through a nine-speed automatic transmission. The engine purrs at idle, snarls and barks under full throttle and, of course, pops and crackles when you lift. Its throttle response is near-instant in all driving modes, and it'll rocket the GLC63 to 60 miles per hour in just 3.8 seconds.
The GLC63 uses the same AMG Performance 4Matic+ all-wheel drive and electronically controlled rear differential as the wickedly fast E63 S sedan, while the suspension is a performance-tuned air setup. All the chassis features work to give the GLC incredible poise and precision on the few winding roads one can find in southeast Michigan. There's also more than enough grip to unleash the V8 at any time. With very little body roll through bends and very sharp steering, it's easy to imagine I'm piloting a C63 coupe, not a GLC63 SUV.
There is, however, some bad news on the performance front. Mercedes will offer the GLC63 S Coupe with 503 horsepower, but if you elect this traditional (and more spacious) GLC-Class body style, 469 horsepower is the most oomph available. First world problems, y'know? The GLC63 is so effortlessly quick, what with peak torque available anywhere from 1,750 to 4,500 rpm, that I never really miss those extra horses.
That's not to say the GLC63 can't slide back into Bruce Banner mode. Dial up Comfort mode for reasonably supple damping, steering that's light enough to steer one-handed through the suburbs (not that you would, of course) and powertrain mapping that has the automatic slipping through its ratios effortlessly. Mercedes also offers an Individual driving mode that lets you customize the driving feel. I set it up on my tester with the powertrain, steering and exhaust set to Sport, but left the suspension in Comfort to better cope with broken pavement.
Ride comfort is decent for a performance SUV, but even in Comfort mode you will feel every bump, crack and expansion joint in the road. That's likely due in part to this tester's optional 21-inch wheels, which look fantastic but wear tires with relatively skinny sidewalls. In tight, low-speed turns (think getting out of a narrow parking space) you'll also feel some hopping as that rear differential binds a bit; it's a habit familiar in quite a lot of high-performance vehicles.
The GLC63 is rated for 16 miles per gallon city and 22 miles per gallon highway on premium fuel, figures that proved fairly realistic in my use and don't seem too bad for a performance SUV. However, as points of comparison, the 440-horsepower Porsche Macan Turbo and the 505-horsepower Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio deliver slightly better EPA figures, at 17/23 mpg. They both use V6 engines versus the GLC's V8.
Still, AMG's engineers deployed various tech tricks to help save fuel: the driveline can operate as a rear-wheel-drive car at times, the clutch can disconnect so the GLC63 "coasts" under deceleration in some situations and there is, of course, an engine stop-start function.
How I'd spec it
Pretty much exactly like this test car. The 2018 Mercedes-AMG GLC63 starts at $70,895 with destination, so the fact that my tester had $20,225-worth of options seems egregious. I could probably live without options like the 21-inch wheels, heated rear seats and AMG Track Pack smartphone app integration, saving $2,230. But I'd want to keep all the driving-assistance, visual upgrade and other options included on this test car. I mean, it drives great and looks great -- why change that?
That should be your key takeaway from the GLC63: It does a lot of things and it does them all well. It drives with the verve and capability of Mercedes' sports coupes, it offers up all the practicality and utility we expect from an SUV and it retains a high level of luxury. It's for those reasons that the GLC63 should be high on your list when shopping for go-fast, do-it-all luxury SUVs.