Mercedes-AMG GLC63 S

Affalterbach eyes the medium-size hi-po SUV opposition, and flicks them a big V. Eight, that is

JOHN CAREY

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

ITíLL make you a straightline hero, the GLC63 S.

And then, just moments later, itíll turn you into a cornering coward. SUVs are like that. It may be true that Mercedesí development budgets are measured in cubic Euros and that AMG can probably afford the very best chassis engineers that money can buy, but the laws of good, old-fashioned Newtonian physics remain stubbornly inflexible.

It takes serious chutzpah to install an engine like AMGís twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 in an SUV weighing around two tonnes, but this is a quality thatís not in short supply at Affalterbach.

The brandís twin-turbo 5.5-litre V8 has already featured in a bunch of bigger and weightier SUVs; the GLE, GLE Coupe, GLS and, nuttiest of all, the ancient G-Class.

The new GLC63 S, due to arrive in Australia around June 2018, will be quicker than all of them. The 0-100km/h time claimed by AMG for its newest SUV is 3.8 seconds. Thatís a second swifter than the companyís own twin-turbo V6 GLC43. Itís also significantly quicker than any other six-cylinder performance SUV, including BMWís new X3 M40i, due early next year, the Audi SQ5 and the Jaguar F-Pace S. It also beats the new Volvo XC60 T8, with its potent plug-in hybrid petrol-electric drivetrain combining power from a four-cylinder engine up front and a volt-sucking motor in the rear axle.

Mercedes-Benz Australia will import only the GLC63 S, equipped with the 375kW/700Nm version of the twinturbo 4.0-litre V8 instead of the non-Sís 350kW/650Nm engine. This is the same engine used in the C-Class family of 63 S models, and itís been chosen for the GLC for exactly the same reason; when it comes to V8s from AMG, Australian customers prefer to buy the more powerful version.

Although official prices for the GLC63 S (and the GLC63 S Coupe; see sidebar) were announced last July, Mercedes-Benz Australia is rethinking some aspects of specification and equipment. But there will be little change from the $164,900, before dealer delivery and on-road costs. In round figures it will be $5000 more than the C63 S Estate.

The extra money buys all-wheel drive, something none of the AMG V8-powered C-Classes have. The GLC63 Sís 4matic+ system was given FIRSTDRIVES SPECS Model Engine Max Power Max Torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Fuel economy Price On sale Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S 4matic+ 3982cc V8, dohc, 32v, twin-turbo 375kW @ 5500-6250rpm 700Nm @ 1750-4500rpm 9-speed automatic 1935kg 3.8 sec (claimed) 10.7L/100km $165,000 (estimated) June 2018

a workout at the international launch. The intro was staged in south-west Germany, on a day featuring non-stop grey skies and wet roads.

The AMG-tuned permanent allwheel- drive system is effective.

Despite the slippery bitumen, the ferocious thrust of the V8 was readily accessible. At least on straight roads. An electronically controlled limited-slip rear differential is standard in the S model. Itís quicker and cleverer than the mechanical limitedslipper in the basic GLC63.

Mercedes-AMG provided only very highly specified S versions for the drive program. These were equipped with 21-inch wheels and tyres, plus a Performance exhaust system which allows the driver to open sound-quelling flaps in the mufflers at any time, regardless of which Dynamic Select driving mode is in play.

Both these are optional in Europe (but the situation could be different in Australia).

With its mufflers uncorked, the GLC63 S can sound like a visit to the zoo. The engine growls, roars, bellows, cackles and spits. Mercedes-AMG obviously understands how to make the right noises to satisfy lovers of V8 exhaust notes.

If thereís a weakness in the drivetrain, itís the transmission.

AMG replaces the torque converter of Mercedesí standard nine-speeder with a wet clutch to create the Speedshift MCT. Itís a snappy shifter, especially in Dynamic Selectís racier modes, but it can sometimes be jerky and clumsy at low speeds on light throttle openings.

Three-chamber air springs and adaptive dampers are standard across the GLC63 range. The ride in Comfort mode is, well, comfy. Surprisingly so, in fact. Sport, Sport+ and Race modes dial up suspension stiffness in stages. At the same time the drivetrain becomes more and more eager to please.

Despite AMGís carefully graduated calibration work, the GLC63 S feels heavy and high when it comes to corners. The sporty drive modes never manage to eradicate the impression of ponderousness thatís amplified by steering that seems slow in comparison with the speed of response always available from the drivetrain.

Itís no sports car, and was never going to be. But the GLC63 does import some sports car glamour that works, more or less. The SUV borrows the Panamericana grille previously reserved for the GT family.

The toothy look of the vertical chrome bars works better on the SUV than you would expect, and the look-at-me bling makes the GLC63 S stand apart visually from its lesser relatives.

Interior upgrades include sports front seats and steering wheel, AMG instrument cluster and aluminium cabin trimmings.

Itís a classy environment that is also usefully spacious.

There can be little doubt that the GLC63 S will be a hit.

Australia is a market that loves SUVs and likes AMGs Ė they currently account for around 20 percent of the local Mercedes- Benz model mix.

But for anyone who believes driving satisfaction must be measured by more than simple speed, the GLC63 S will inevitably disappoint. Its height and heft dull the precision of its responses to steering inputs and make the braking system work hard. It has the pace to excite, but lacks the grace to involve.

Thereís an old song titled ĎI Fought the Lawí, memorably covered by The Clash in 1979.

The lyric continues: ďand the law wonĒ. It always doesÖ

The GLC63 S has the pace to excite, but lacks the grace to involve

PLUS & MINUS

Stonking pace no Ďrivalí can match; traction; soundtrack; comfort Fundamental dynamic compromises blunt the experience

01 HIGH ROLLERS

Itís official: in hi-po SUV land, 21-inch wheels are the new 19s. However it seems likely Australian cars will roll on 20s, with 21s optional. The switchable Performance exhaust should be standard.

02 TURN IT UP

Final specification of Australian cars has not yet been set, but carbonfibre trim will need to be selected from the options list, while the premium Burmester audio, as fitted here, will be standard.

03 DONíT PLAY THAT DE-TUNE

Anyone want a non-S version, with the puny 350kW/650Nm tune of the 4.0-litre twin turbo V8? No, Mercedes-Benz Australia didnít think so, which is why power-hungry Aussies will only get the big bopper.

Trim that turret

Also headed for Australia is the GLC63 S Coupe (shown above). Weighing only 10kg more than the SUV version, performance is an exact match. The Coupe accelerates from standstill to 100km/h in the same time, 3.8 seconds. It also slurps fuel at the same high rate, 10.7L/100km in the European combined cycle test. Both versions are scheduled for the same June 2018 launch date, but Mercedes expects the $172,000 Coupe to sell at a much slower rate than the less costly SUV.

OR TRY THESE...

BMW X3 M40i xDrive $100,000 (estimated)

All-new X3 borrows heavily from 5 Series; brings much improved cabin and equipment. M40i arrives in June with a 265kW/500Nm 3.0-litre six, and performance in a bracket below the mighty AMG.

Porsche Macan Turbo $133,500

Prior to the AMGís arrival, the outputs of Macanís twin-turbo V6 Ė 294kW/550Nm Ė seemed ample, as did its 0-100km/h speed (4.8sec.)

Console yourself with a $30K saving and sharper dynamics.